The Spirit Of Folk

Hungarian band ‘Muzsikás’ wins International ‘Womex World Music Award’

One of Hungary’s renowned  folk groups, Muzsikás (‘Musician’), recently returned home after a U.S. tour that included Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego and Washington, in collaboration with ‘Takacs String Quartet’. Mihály Sípos, playing the violin and zyther, László Porteleki, playing the violin, kobza and vocal, Pétér Éri playing the flute, mandolin and violin and Dániel Hamar playing the drum and cymbal, are now in their fourth decade of bringing the music of Hungary to a world where Hungarian folk music is mostly unknown. Their special repertoir combined traditional Hungarian folk music with the classical compositions of Béla Bartók, which American critics and press described as ‘elegant and revolutionary’.

Urban and Rural
Previously, the quartet has performed to a full-house New York Carnegie Hall and Barbican Center in London, with exuberant audiences. Group leader Dániel Hamar said that at times like these, he feels more appreciated abroad than in his homeland. He also expressed pessimism about the current state of Hungarian folk music. He believes that urban and rural cultures in fact oppose each other, with the latter  being readily displaced. The two of them separated to the point that reconsiliation seems very unlikely.” He highlights that critics and experts tend to ‘pigeonhole’  folk, excluding it from ‘mainstream’ culture. “We’ve long dreamt that sometime pure folk music could travel the whole world, but now just hope Hungarians will someday embrace their very own and very rare music which could even be said to represent this nation.” Muzsikás is about to inspire Hungary’s young generation to understand the beauty of their own rural traditions. “We have decided to launch a new project in Hungary, visiting schools in Budapest and the countryside to perform for children.  “We’ve recieved positive responses even from the most ‘vitriolic’ critics, which is wonderful. However the greatest challenge is still to play  for children, who don’t even know what folk is,” Hamar said. 
“They seem to be the real critics and it is our task to win them over.” The band plans to tour about 50 schools each year and in the course of a program sponsored by Hungarian MOL, to spread the word on Hungarian folk music. 

Shift Towards Folk
“We formed the band in the 1970s during a wild house party,” Hamar said. “In the beginning we’d listened to the Rolling Stones, but later on that night we shifted towards traditional and authentic Hungarian folk music,” he recalls. Since founding Muzsikás 35 years ago, they have performed world-wide, including Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, North America, Singapore and Taiwan. But Hamar said the most memorable and dearest one was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in London in 1994.  “That’s a concert hall of 1,100 seats and on the very day of our concert only 70 tickets were sold in advance. We were terrified to hear that but when the actual concert began all the tickets had been purchased and in fact 300 people couldn’t even get in. Most of the people thought they could buy the ticket just before the concert,” he remembered. Today, all seats are booked months before a concert of the Muzsikas who has shown their multiple talents, having performed with the Symphonic Orchestra of Radio France, the Danubia Orchestra and with guests like Hungarian folk singer Márta Sebestyén, classical solists like Alexander Balanescu or Roel Dieltiens, but also with hard rock bands. Their tunes appeared in the Oscar nominated film ‘Music Box’ and the band also produced the soundtrack for the contemporary dance piece ‘Dancing Room.’

Countless Awards
Muzsikás has been honored with countless awards, among them the Kossuth Award and, just recently, the Womex Award. The latter is an international world music prize and in fact the Muzsikás is the only European band to win this award so far.  “It was funny because we didn’t even know we had been nominated for Womex. One day someone gave me a call from the Hungarian News Agency (MTI), asking for an interview on the nomination. I replied, “Are we really nominated?” he laughs. “To be honest, we think credit for this prize should belong to Hungarian folk music itself. We don’t complain since our calendar is full till September 2009, plus there is the upcoming 2009 Hungarian Season held in the United States, organized by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture.”

Réka Alíz Francisck

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