Thursday, April 07, 2011
Táncháztalálkozó 2011: The Unpronounceable Power of Music
The surest sign that spring has arrived in Budapest is the National Folk Festival, otherwise known as the Országos Táncháztalálkozó és Kirakodóvásár, or but if that is too many Hungarian consonants to pronounce you can shorten it to simply Táncháztalálkozó (Dance House Meeting.) Don’t worry - by the end of the weekend, even the most linguistically challenged foreigner can pronounce it. I wrote up the festival on the blog last year, a post which unexpectedly turned into a tempest in a teapot when it was reprinted on the Táncháztalálkozó web site and in a Hungarian folk music magazine. Hungarians don’t react well to criticism, whether constructive or not. Rather than run through that gauntlet again, this year I went to the festival with a different attitude: I wasn’t going to expect anything other than a good time hanging with friends and hearing good music. Which is what I did. I managed to avoid the consumer zone although it is hard when you have stands selling books and CDs of things as minutely focused on the ‘Hey, you! Bob! Buy Me!’ market as regional Hungarian bagpipe repertoire books and rereleases of Moldavian Csango fiddle music recorded in the 1950s. I used to snatch these up and come home wondering where all my money had disappeared to… no more.I am able to resist temptation, even while passing through the Room of Many Transylvanian Peasants Selling Stuff: wall hangings, table cloths, embroidered shirts, dancing boots, old ceramic painted dishes and pottery. But I already have enough of that to stock a small museum, so much so that most of it lives in cardboard boxes in my small flat and only comes out when I have need of a special birthday gift. But the real attraction was the outdoor bar area – actually the rear parking lot of the sports arena. Sure, it is a party in a cement walled bus parking lot, and everybody is complaining nonstop about it, but you can smoke there, which is something that the Hungarian folk scene definitely likes to do, and there is beer, and you can dance, so bus garage or not, this is the party. A group of Gypsy musicians from Gőmőr, a Hungarian minority region of Slovakia were playing at a table when I arrived, and this was some of the old fashioned Gypsy music that was the basis for the modern Gypsy restaurant music that most people associate with Hungarian folk music.Ethnologist Gergely Agócs was there with an elderly Hungarian shepherd who sang and played tarogato as well. Think of that. It is the year 2011 and you can still find shepherds who play shepherd music in this part of the world. Of course, they aren’t parked nose to nose in every village, but there still is some tradition out there if you look for it. And at least at the Táncháztalálkozó you don’t have to travel far to bump into it. Our old friends the Gypsy Band of Palatka were there after a stage set, playing for younger dancers and musicians for whom they are living legends.I was standing there listening when Sue Foy and Portaleki László showed up. We watched the amazing synchronized bow strokes of the two fiddlers and reminisced about how the village kids in Palatka grow up playing alongside their parents. To them it "comes naturally" after years of playing. “Poros” is a fiddle legend on his own: the original fiddler with the Teka band, he now shares lead fiddle work in Muzsikás and has his own band comprised of family members which is about to tour in the USA – do not miss them, they are one of the best things happening in the Hungarian folk music scene these days.When the leader of the Palatka band, Kodoba Marton (father of Florin, the younger lead fiddler today) passed away a few years ago the band asked Poros if he would step in and become their new lead fiddler, an offer that Poros considers one of the greatest honors ever bestowed on him. I spent a few hours just chatting with old friends who I don’t see as often anymore, since we aren’t; all meeting every weekend at some dance house or another. Kids, career, the same old reasons. But the vibe was like the old days and the hang was great. Before I left I passed a crowd of young musicians singing their lungs out while the musicians stood on a table for room to play.One of the Transylvanian Gabor Gypsies who sell handicrafts at the festival was listening… and this is a first for me… recording the whole thing on her I-phone. Like the old folk song says: Nem úgy van most, mint volt régen. Things just ain’t like they used to be.