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On xenophobia between Roma and whites, domestic violence and music

Fast Confession - Singer Radek Banga a.k.a. Some members of my family have not accepted my white wife until now

Karolína Lišková
08.Oct 2021
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10 minutes

Singer and producer Radek Banga did not slack off during the coronavirus pandemic. Besides the fact that he learned the printing trade by himself at home and committed to creating his merch, a new, slightly pop-inclined album, called "Věci jinak" (Things Different), as well as a book called "(Ne)pošli to dál" ((Don't) pass it on) where the singer speaks about his life story, came out. The book tells the story of a little Roma boy with a big heart, whose narration of unpleasant experiences behind closed doors brings tears to the reader's eyes in many instances. Radek has thus opened a new chapter that is little talked about.

Radek s manželkou Veronikou.
Radek a kniha (Ne)pošli to dál.
Radek u klavíru.

Radek, the last time I saw you was when StarDance was on. That was a long time ago. How are you doing?

I'm doing very well. I think I'm a little happier now since the pandemic. We've got gigs, we've got things planned, we've got other activities. That's great.

Why did you quit drinking coffee?

I don't drink coffee because once in a while I find that it not only doesn't affect me anymore, but on the contrary, it makes me tired. It kickstarts my digestion and then I'd just sleep all the time. That's when I feel I need a break from coffee. Because I always start drinking one or two cups a day and end up at six, and that's bad.

How does your body react to that?

Not great, really. Digestion's messed up, sleep's messed up, bad moods. That's when I feel it's time to start skipping coffee. It's hard because I like coffee.

Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m
Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m, Praha 10

At the deepest point of the pandemic, you couldn't lecture or perform. Was that of any benefit to you?

It was definitely beneficial. I never see anything in life as strictly bad, I always try to take the good out of it. First of all, after all these years you understand what it's like to be without people. You understand that without people, without fans, you're nobody, it's meaningless without them. You start to appreciate them more, which is nice. It makes you remember why you started doing it in the first place. I was really looking forward to seeing them. When you've been gigging for a long time, like twenty years, you don't even look forward to it anymore, it's a routine for you. Now you're really looking forward to it, and you appreciate it. At least that was a benefit.

And we finally got our merch, our e-shop, up and running. We've realised how many new things you can still learn, even if you feel like there's nothing new out there anymore. There's always something you can do. That's the thing, not to lose hope and always just ask what are my options, what else can I do, and be open to opportunities. That's what I learned during the pandemic.

What did you learn during the pandemic, Verča?

We both started building a TikTok channel.

That's one of my next questions. Radek, you'll be 40 soon, but Tiktok is said to be more for teenagers. Are you looking for new people there, are you trying to influence other, younger fans through this?

Yes and no. It's half and half now, where half the clientele is older, it's not just teenagers. What's interesting is that most of the creators there are older. For example, there's a guy who's 50, he's started a job channel there, that's great. Tiktokers know each other. On the other hand, I think it's very important to provide the younger ones with some experience. You can find all sorts of stuff on social media nowadays, even total fluff, bullshit. But you can make content that makes sense and you can teach them something. I think the young ones want that, it's not that the young ones are separating us, the older ones. They're listening.

The other thing is you obviously have to look for new clientele. I've been in the music industry for 26 years, I've got a third generation of fans. When one of my generations outgrows it, they become such couch potatoes, they don't have time to go to concerts anymore and take in new trends. That's why I'm looking for the next generation, and I enjoy that because they can always teach you something.

Is it easier to influence younger fans these days, thanks to social media?

It's not clear-cut. In some ways it's easier, in some ways it's much harder. Before there weren't many people, now you have an awful lot of content and information everywhere and tons of people in the business. That's where the competition gets a lot harder. The speed has definitely made it easier. If I need to get important information out to people, it's out there in fifteen minutes. That used to be unthinkable. There are pros and cons, every era brings something good and something bad.

You've moved from your characteristic rap and hip-hop to a more commercial scene. Why is that?

I didn't just swing over there, I've been in the commercial scene for a long time, but also as a producer. What people don't know is that I started out as a pop singer. I put out a pop record when I was 18. I always wanted to do that, but I was afraid people wouldn't believe me. Again, it wasn't until the pandemic gave me this moment, a message from above that it was now or never. To fulfil some dream of mine, to make a pop record, which is what I always wanted to do. Especially since the tour with Karel Gott. Karel inspired me a lot, and actually supported me in that. He said, why not, you can do it. I said to myself clearly, if I was lame, I'm probably not there, I'm not singing with Karel. The pandemic was an impulse from above that now was the time.

Verča, what do you think about it?

I love it. I like songs like that and above all, I think it suits Radek. He's a really good singer. Perhaps a lot of people don't know that, because they see him only as a rapper, and suddenly they see how great he can sing and what a showman he is.

Did you say you were producing something on Tiktok?

I'm doing tips and tricks, various lifehacks.

For what?

A lot of things. How to remove a stain from a carpet, a wall, cooking tips, that kind of thing.

Do you make any money from that? Can you make money on Tiktok?

(Radek:) At the moment, the social network is still quite young, the money is not there that much. For us, it's more valuable to get a new audience. But I believe that the network will become, or is already becoming, profitable, and it will be profitable just like Instagram, although it will still take time. But that's not why we're there in the first place. We've done some collaborations, but we're primarily there for the people.

If I'm setting up an interview with you, I can't imagine Verča not coming along. Even if you don't sing. Why don't you make videos together?

Sometimes we do, actually (both answering).

** byt/top2**

Radek: Sometimes some parodies.

Veronika: Some sketches.

Radek: Or we launch new things together, an album, a book.

Check out my new music video:

Yes, you have that new book of yours, I've heard a lot about it. I know roughly what's in it, and I was terrified.


My friend mentioned a scene where your dad took a puppy and threw it against a wall. That's when I wondered if I even wanted to read it. It scared me. Why did you write down all these behind-closed-doors nooks and crannies of life that people don't talk about? And what was the reaction?

I did it precisely because people don't talk about it. Because these things, and much worse things, happen behind different closed doors more often than many Czechs think. And not just domestic violence. There's an awful lot of it going on. By doing prevention programs for ten years, of course, you get in contact with children, sometimes parents, and when you start to find out... for a long time I actually waited for something to happen, for someone to do a book like this, and it still didn't come. People often asked me if I had a book. Gradually, I started thinking that maybe it would be worth writing about. I was just wondering what it was going to cost me.

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 10 - 303m
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 10 - 303m, Praha 10

What did it cost you?

When I started writing the book, there were a lot of things I had to cross out.

Even worse than the puppy thing?

Yeah, it was. But I wanted to put the puppy in there so that the reader could experience it with me, so that they could understand what it's like to have a troubled family, where there's domestic violence. And it doesn't have to be just domestic violence. The family leaves some marks on you, and what I'm trying to say with this book is that a child is like a sponge, they see everything. You think they don't perceive these incidents because perhaps they suppress it, but the child notices everything. And what it notices has to come out one day. It's energy, it's going inside of you, so it has to come out somehow. And this is the ideal environment to create drug addicts, psychopaths, cause suicides.

I've been thinking that if somebody is going through this or something like this, maybe even the mom who stays in that environment, I want to make everybody aware of what they're causing and that the victim is the child. You don't have to stay in that environment. Also, what I'm trying to say to the child with this book is that, well, even if you go through something like this, I know it too, and I still got to where I am now.

So how come you're not a drug addict, suicidal, a psychopath? How did you do it?

I can't tell you that right now, you'd have to read the book. You have to find the strength within yourself and look for answers. If you don't ask, you don't get the answers. I asked why. I was a curious kid, and I wondered why my dad was like this, why my mom was like this. When you ask, you get answers. And it's up to you to process those answers. What I'm saying with the book is that it's not about me hating my dad. I feel sorry for him. That's different. I understand he's been through something, he's got a story, my mom's got a story. For example, my mom's mom died when she was three years old. She doesn't know what a mother's love is, she doesn't know it. How do you expect someone to know how to give the ideal motherly love when she hasn't experienced it herself? It's so hard.

I'm trying to show you that if you ask the right questions, the answers will come. Maybe that's why I went to therapy, because I knew there was something going on inside me, that I had some problems too. My dad didn't go. I didn't drink, but I had panic attacks. I couldn't control it at all, it could even happen in the middle of a concert or at night. I figured if my dad made the mistake of not going, I wouldn't make the same mistake and I'll go.

Verča, you must know all these stories. When you read the book, how did it, leave you feeling when you suddenly saw it all written down in its entirety?

It was completely different when you read it and see it in its entirety like that. Some of the things, like the puppy thing, made me tear up. Even though I knew the stories, they still got to me. I have a lot of admiration for Radek, that he was able to pull through all that. I think it can be motivating for a lot of people, even if they may not have experienced some of it. It makes them realise that some of the things they are dealing with are actually pointless and that almost anything can be handled. I have a huge admiration for what Radek has done and what he has experienced and is doing.

Radek, what was the reaction of the family?

I don't want to be specific. There are people who are nervous about it. It was obvious that someone would have to be nervous. But there were also people who said, yeah, everything you wrote in there is true and needs to be talked about. It doesn't matter if it's family, friends or strangers. I'm saying that this stuff shouldn't exist in the 21st century. Domestic violence, beating women and children. In the 1950s, this wasn't an issue at all, but we're not in the 1950s. Today, these things need to move on, and I hope this book moves things on.

Do you know how many people have been helped by the book, for example, by seeking professional help?

Dozens of women have written to me thanking me for writing a book like this. They write that they know this, they may have divorced a guy like that, but of course, it's dragging on with them. It is not easy for a woman to get out of such an environment, especially in a society like the Czech Republic. The law here is completely blind to this. It is still not taken seriously enough.

Even if only five people write to me saying that it has helped them, I personally would be happy. And maybe I know some people got mad at me, but at least they read it. That's important to me as well, that they were curious, given the hype around the book, about what was going on, and in the end, they said it was great, that things really need to change. That's it. I want to change something.

Were there also reactions that this is simply what happens in Romani families? Racist slurs?

I'm sure, but I always prove them wrong. A lot of people think it's a book about a Roma family. They're completely mistaken. First of all, we were a fairly assimilated family, and the second thing is that domestic violence, and worse things, happen even in non-Roma families where the fathers are lawyers, policemen, doctors. The way they do it is very hardcore. For example, the cop will do it in a way that doesn't get him punished, the doctor so that it won't be visible. It is not a dominant feature of Roma families at all, on the contrary, it is a problem that's widespread, I would say, throughout all of Eastern Europe.

When we met about twelve years ago, I got a feeling that someone in one of your families had a problem with the other. But I don't know if it was Radek's side or yours, Verčo...

Everyone in my family accepted Radek and no one had a problem with him.

Then it was your family, Radek. That you found a non-Romani, white girl.

There's a lot of talk about white xenophobia, not much talk about Roma xenophobia. Too many Roma are xenophobic.

How long did it take to get Verča accepted?

Some of them haven't accepted her yet.

You've been together for 12 years...

I don't want to be specific. But there are Roma people who are most upset that my wife is white.

What do you think will happen in our society given the situation in Afghanistan? There's already talk of a future wave of migration. How do you think Czech society, which often has problems accepting Roma, let alone Afghans, will deal with this?

This is happening on two levels. First, there's the general one, on which xenophobia is terrible, you can see that on social media. Then there is the personal level, in which I think the Czechs can give it a chance. There are very few of those extremes. It's always about personal experience. I think our big problem is that we don't know anything about Afghanistan. We don't know how people think, and we don't really know what is going on there.

We have verified this a lot in Algeria, where we have been twice, for quite a long time. Suddenly you have personal experience, and you start to understand it a lot more.

On the general level, it will, of course, cause a stir in Czech society, there will be those „Facebook experts“, but I think they just create an illusion. I see them as people who sit at home, they have nothing to do and all they can do is write these hate posts. But on a normal level, I don't think anything will happen. There are plenty of refugees here, Muslims, and I think most of them have integrated and are functioning normally.

What new things are coming up in the near future?

A lecture for an adult audience. We're planning public discussions. I'm already rehearsing stuff from my solo album Věci jinak with my new band and we'll be presenting it live to the fans soon. And I'm really looking forward to that.

Will these be domestic violence discussions?

Motivational. We're gonna start that in the fall, that's kind of a new thing.

Thank you for the interview.

Fast confession:

What has been your greatest success in life so far?

That's a good start... I guess the things that have helped someone else - lectures, the book.

What should I not pass on?

The kind of family burdens that could hurt you or others in your family. Learn from them and don't continue them.

When I say the name Ortel, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

The synonym to it - judgment. And I think people should learn not to judge too quickly when they don't know the whole story.

What do you think the Czech population is missing?

The Slovak population. I agree with a lot of Czechs and Slovaks that we just belong together.

Can you imagine the Prime Minister or the President was Romani?

Wait... I imagine what kind of president I would be... yeah, I can imagine that.

Who are you gonna cheer for in StarDance?

As always, I guess whoever does the best, whoever deserves it.

What was the fan reaction to your book in one sentence?

Remarkable and positive. I've been very touched by the feedback many times.

Finish the sentence: "When I'm 40 years old, I'm gonna...“

That'll be soon. Definitely another record in the pop vein, that's what I enjoy, that's what I want to continue.

If I gave you a million crowns, what would you do with them?

Just like that? I'd give it back to you, that's too suspicious. There's always a catch.

What's worse for a singer than a pandemic and a national lockdown?

I think there are worse things than a pandemic, of course it's terrible, but it's gotten overblown. I think the worst thing is a life without love when you're really all alone.

What do you think young people today are afraid of?

Coincidentally, I'm addressing this now in my TikTok video which I haven't posted yet. They're afraid of something that doesn't exist, and that's the future. They don't see the beauty that they have around them.

What would you say to our government?

Better nothing at all.

The last good deed you did?

My wife and I saved a bird. It fell in the water, it was drowning. So we thought, what if our little dog walks by, it's gonna be dead for sure... so we took it in, warmed it up, it finally woke up and flew away, and we were really happy about that.
Interviewee asks the editor:

What wouldn't you pass on?

Anger, envy and a bad word.
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