Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fiddling up a Storm in Budapest

It has been a couple of years since I was last seen in the United States, but tomorrow I am boarding a plane out of Budapest and heading to New York City. Hungary will be the featured national culture at this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC from June 26 to July 7, and I have been asked to perform some Hungarian Jewish and Carpathian Jewish repertoire. My band, Di Naye Kapelye, will not be travelling with me, however, and I am looking forward to doing some concerts with the capable band of violinist István Pál, also known as Szalonna - the Hungarian word for 'bacon." Here is your chance to catch a concert of Jewish music with a band named after a tasty smoked pork product! (This will not go over well in Williamsburg or Boro Park, I can assure you.) Among the other musicians going are the Tukros Band and three of Transylvania's best Gypsy fiddlers: Istvan "Kis Csipas" Varga from the Kalotaszeg region, Jambor Istvan (the original 'Dumnezeu') from Szaszcsavas, and Florin Codoba from Palatka. 
Florin was in Budapest last week for some concerts and played a dance at the Picasso Point Bar on Hajos utca in the sixth district. Spring tends to bring out the best in music in Budapest, and after catching Florin;s set at the Picasso Point, we biked over to the New Godor Klub in Kiraly utca to catch some of the Athe Sam Roma festival.  
These guys were busy playing a burning Gypsy-Ska-Jazz set to the crowd. The next day it was over to the Gondozo Kert bar in the ninth district for a Moldavian tanchaz with Jam de Strune ("String jam" in Romanian) who play very hard core old time western Moldavian music on fiddles and koboz lutes.  
The session is on every Sunday, and attracts a small but dedicated crowd of dancers. Musicians are encouraged to play in the older style of Moldavian Csango music - no jazz chords, no chromatic sax runs, just foot stomping fun music. Last month was the 40th anniversary of the first tanchaz - folk dance house - and a festival was held to celebrate on Ferenc Liszt ter in Pest. I caught one of the last sets, featuring Bela Halmos on fiddle.  
Bela is one of the founding fathers of the Hungarian folk music revival movement, and still manages to get out to a lot of tanchaz events and fiddle late into the night alongside the younger generation. In other notable events, the Danube flooded at record levels this year, and came dangerously close to overflowing its upper banks and making downtown Budapest look like a swimming pool.  
This was the scene on Saturday night when the river was at its highest level - that is the stairway leading down to the river, usually about eight feet down below this level. In other  news, it has started to become hard to find a pack of cigarettes in Budapest, or at least harder, especially for some of the more widespread brands.  Here is an about-to-be-opened "National Tobacco Shop" at Kalvaria ter. 
Starting in July, all cigarettes will be sold by the newly 
re-nationalized government cigarette shops. All concessions for the shops seem to have been given only to supporters of the ruling coalition party, so you can imagine a lot of small businesses are not happy about this at all.  Below: Drinks, No Tobacco, Candies.
The word "scam" has been flying around a lot concerning the whole deal, and rather than dwell on the consequences I will simply congratulate myself for having made it through one year as a non-smoker. I gave up cigarettes last June after spending a weekend chain smoking in the 
company of Taraf des Haidouks, the Tecso Band, and the Kocani Orkestra at the Tilburg Gypsy Festival. By the time I got home I was pretty burned out on butts. And now I can pedal a bike uphill at full blast without effort and ... I noticed that almost everything smells bad. I'll be posting a bit more often during the summer: I always do when I am in the USA. Next  stop: The Fish Market in Washington DC with Transylvania's best Gypsy fiddlers!