Song 115 – Chaje Sukarije

SONG: Chaje Shukarije

ARTIST: Esma Redzepova

YEAR: 1960

Listen to it here: 


Chaje Shukarije means “The Little Gypsy Girl” and the song, written by Esma Redzepova, has been described as an anthem for Yugoslavia before it became a part of Macedonia. The lyrics of the song describe a boy whose unrequited love haunts him. This song is also the feature song in the 2006 Borat movie, which Redzepova claims was used without her permission. 


Esma Redzepova-Teodosievska was born a Romani gypsy in 1943. Throughout her life she wrote hundreds of songs promoting Romani culture, earning her the nickname “The Queen of the Gypsies.”

Redzepova started to sing when she was a teenager, which was the beginning of a five-decade career. Her musical success was closely linked to her marriage to Stevo Teodosievski, who was a composer, arranger, and music director. He wrote many of her songs, and fully managed her career until his death in 1997. She came up in the music industry at a time where Romani music was denigrated in Yugoslavia, and among the Romani people it was considered shameful for a woman to sing in public. 

Redzepova made her career singing songs heavily inspired by Romani and Macedonian music, but she also ventured into pop music styles.

She and her husband fostered 47 children and did a lot of humanitarian work as well. She supported Roma and women’s rights and was involved in local politics.


Redzepova was one of the first people ever to sing in Romani on television or the radio.

In 2013, she represented Macedonia in the Eurovision Song Contest


Macedonian Romani music?  Definitely not something I’ve heard before!  And I’ll be honest – when I heard the first few notes my first few thoughts were ‘ohhhh no.  This is nope”.  But then as the song continued I could really hear the power in Esma’s voice and I was intrigued.  Then after the brief recitatif the song launches into this upbeat number, which feels almost flamenco.  If I had no previous knowledge of what we were listening to I would have assumed it was Latin.  Her background singers are stellar – the smoothness and evenness of their voices perfectly counteracts Esma’s rough and powerful voice.  Showing my ignorance here but I can’t place the instruments – drums…mandolin?  Accordion?  Some sort of wind instrument as well.  They really lend themselves to the more Eastern European/Middle Eastern flavour of the song.  I know that the Romani people have a rich and well-traveled history, but I honestly never really considered their musical history, and how different it might sound depending on where the Travellers ended up.  For a song about unrequited love, it does sound like a lot of fun, and joyful, save for what sounds like pained and lonely howls at the beginning.  Esma’s music is definitely something I want to hear more of.


Stop. Unpause your youtube, and continue listening. The first few notes of this song were a huge turn off for me, but give it a few seconds, and I think your opinion will be changed, or at the very least softened. I love what a melting pot this style of music is. You hear some klezmer-esque clarinet, and some Eastern-European accordion stuff, a latin-ish dancing beat, and some sort of Middle-Eastern stuff in here too. It’s super cool, catchy, and what a powerhouse voice on Esma – very gritty and rough, yet also sweet, and her background singers are tons of fun. There was a lot about how you have to watch Esma and how she interacts with the other musicians and especially the background singers, and I can believe it. You can hear the big smile on her face the whole time. This was a first for me and I really enjoyed it!

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 8.5/10

Kelly: 8/10

Other notable versions of this song:

There’s not a ton as far as covers of this song go, but here’s Esma in 2016, with the Folk Masters:

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

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