Friday, February 09, 2007
Mihailo Csernavec, Hutsul Tsymbaly player, 1947-2007.
Sad new arrived this week. My good friend and musical collaborator, Mihailo Csernavec, known to us as “Misha” passed away at his home in Tjaciv (in Hungarian: Técső) a Hutsul village in the western Ukraine near the Hungarian and Romanian borders along the Tisza river. He was 60 years old. [All photos by Fumie Suzuki.]Misha was the tsymbaly (small cimbalom) player for the Técsői Banda, a traditional Hutsul band that has been playing in Hungary over the last few years through the work of Ferenc Kiss of Etnofon records in Budapest. The Técsői Banda identify themselves as Hutsul or Ruthenian more strongly than as Ukrainian. Their language is closely related to Ukrainian, but for most of their history they lived reather isolated in the higher Carpathian mountains in areas controlled by the Austo-Hungarian empire. Ruthenians in Slovakia, Poland, and Byelorussia call themselves Lemko or Boyko. The Hutsuls live farther south, spilling over into the Romanian regions of Maramures and Bukovina. They were of great interest to me because they are one of the last bands that maintain a repertoire of Jewish tunes from Maramures and Zakarpatia, and are still called to play for the Jewish community in Munkács (Munkachevo, Ukraine.) I’ve known them for about ten years, so when my band recorded our new CD, I invited the Técsői Banda to join me as guests on some of the cuts playing the tunes I had collected from them. The Técsői Banda was formed around the dynasty of the sons of Manyo Csernavec, a gypsy fiddler whose repertoire was broad and archaic, as he was the preferred musician for not only the local Hutsul Ukrainians, but also for the Jews, Romanians, and Hungarians of this multiethnic region. Manyo’s sons, Josika (accordion) Misha (tsymbaly) and Jura (drum and plonka. The plonka is a flexible reed made of negative film – originally bark or a leaf – held in the mouth between the gums and teeth and blown.) Ivan Popovic, originally from Visk, married into the Csernavec family and became the fiddler. Misha was a real gentle soul, a fine musician, and a generous host who generously shared his knowledge with us and our friends such as Tim Meyen and Pip Thompson from Australia. While the Csernavec brother could all speak Hungarian, Ivan the fiddler never learned it, so we would all speak in Romani when we were together, causing Misha to really let loose with his sense of Gypsy humor.Misha was by no means the last player of the small cimbalom. The Hutsuls maintain one of the strongest folk traditions in Europe, and their lives are filled with ritual calendar events that demand the presence of musicians. One of the reasons the Técsői Banda are so good is that they actually earn most of their living as musicians playing for Hutsul weddings. In the western Ukraine, at least, folk musicians are still a necessary part of daily life. Below is a bit of video I made of the band last October at the Fono in Buda - as a trio (with Adam Good of Nikitov sitting in on bass) when Misha was already too ill to travel.