Muzsikás in this, their 35th year. This is the group of artists who put Hungarian folk music on the international map. With their collaborations with Márta Sebestyén, and now in their superlative work since she departed, they have been the foremost ambassadors for music from Hungary, with a special emphasis on music from Transylvania. "Without Muzsikás, the Hungarian "táncház (dancehouse)" movement, the special Hungarian klezmer-revival and the bridge between Hungarian folk music and Béla Bartók's work would not exist," says Csaba Lokös, Promoter of the world music stage at the Sziget Festival and a long-term collaborator with the artists.
In an essay to be published in the WOMEX 08 Guide, Joe Boyd, whose Hannibal label released the artists internationally from 1987-2001, writes, "Exposure on the world stage certainly bestows pride and confidence on beleaguered traditional cultures, be it the Garifuna people of Central America, the Griots of West Africa or Occitan speakers of the Mediterranean coast of France. But it is not often that music places itself at the centre of the most important issues of the day, and even rarer that that music touches the hearts and minds of those both within the culture and those who have only the vaguest notions about it. The Hungarian group Muzsikás, recipients of this year’s Womex Award, has accomplished all of that and more.
"They began their careers at a time of political tension and conflict over culture far more intense than anything most of us have experienced," continues Boyd. Under Soviet control, "most urban residents' idea of their own folk music was shaped by the stodgy, choreographed, fake music performed by state, regional and local ensembles." The emphasis was on dance and, under the Soviets, they were stereotypically stylised. In Budapest, "the small 'Bela Bartok' dance ensemble came up with the radical idea to go into the villages and observe how people danced in the countryside. The resulting performances were so radical that an outraged state ensemble challenged them to a 'dance-off'. The audience booed the state ensemble off the stage, and the great Hungarian 'dance-house' movement was born."
From within the movement, the members of Muzsikás met, joined up, and made history. "One idea favoured at these early dances," says Boyd, "was that musicians must learn to dance and dancers must learn to play - it was impossible to do either with real feeling unless you understood both sides of the bandstand." With that pact came the birth of the new Hungarian folk music scene.
László Marton Távolodó, journalist and Artistic Director of The Sziget Festival world music stage, sees their contributions spread evenly over their many years of activity. In 1977 their first album launched the Living Hungarian Folk Music series, putting on vinyl the music that would influence generations to follow. At the beginning of the '90s, says László, "Muzsikás also helped strengthen the international klezmer-revival. Their "Máramaros - The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania" album from 1992 contained not only touching and lively music, but it is also of great significance to music history." This was a remarkable project where the artists, still joined by Márta Sebestyén, went searching throughout Máramaros in Transylvania, finding aged Roma musicians who still remembered the tunes played by Hungarian-Jewish musicians 30-40 years before. "The album recalls these tunes," explains László, "witnessing the existence of a special Hungarian-Jewish instrumental music which had particular characteristics in comparison to the better-known Hungarian and Jewish folk music." And so a music that would have disappeared altogether in a matter of a few more years was brought back to life on the international stage. Then 1998 brought yet another major milestone, "The Bartók Album" that "reconstructed the experiences of Béla Bartók as folk music collector, recalling the particular music that so inspired Bartók" in some of his key compositions. The renown that came from the project, he says, "inspired Muzsikás to take further steps in exploring the meeting ground between classical and folk music." as well of the Finnish folk scene itself. Mission accomplished.
In recent years, says Joe Boyd, some members have gone and others joined, but the core remains intacts, as does the vision. "Whatever their line-up, they inspire, they communicate and they bring a sense of history, both ancient and modern."
"If you want to hear Hungarian traditional music at its best then start with Muzsikás," says Songlines editor Simon Broughton. "They can play with the authenticity and energy of a real village band, but also make sense of that music for an international audience in a big concert hall. Muzsikás know their music inside out - they have been to the Transylvanian villages where it is played and have worked with the master musicians who live the music. In Hungary, the band have brought traditional Hungarian music to thousands of school kids showing its beauty and relevance. Sadly, as the villages of Romania catch up with the rest of Europe, this music is disappearing. The international success of Muzsikás not only makes the music better known, but helps it survive at source as people realise that it has a value internationally."
"Muszikás didn't only bring this gift to the people of their land," says Mondomix Editor Benjamin MiNiMuM, "they shared it with the whole wide world. They not only presented us one of the most moving voices of our era, when they played with Márta Sebestyén, but introduced us to the roots of klezmer music as played in Transylvania, and so, too, the wonderful tradition of Táncház music and dance. Yes we are so blessed that Muzsikás exists."
"We take so much now for granted," says Boyd. "Listening to Muzsikás connects us to a time and a place when music was intrinsically a political statement and playing your instrument a certain way was a courageous act. The intensity of those times has never left Muzsikás and we remain lucky to be able to commemorate the spirit of those times and these wonderful musicians with this award."
Muzsikás will be performing live at WOMEX to close the Sunday Awards ceremony on the 2nd of November 2008.
The WOMEX Award is now ten years old. In the past we have alternated our honours between the extraordinary artists and professionals from our community. This year we have decided to present two WOMEX Awards, one to Muzsikás and the other to the folk music department of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland."
Úzgin Üver was formed in 1991 in Kecskemet, Hungary. The name itself is the name of a Mongolian settlement, where an ancient sacred burial ground was discovered. It means something like ’dry desert area’, ’poor harvest’. Our aim from the beginning has been to create a unique blend of the folk music of different nations, using old and new instruments, sounds and tunes. From the Carpathian Basin to Mongolia, we are working with balkan, turkish, iranian and armenian melodies in our mind. But our songs are not transcriptions, we create our own music. Further influences are jazz and rock, breakbeat and dub, the contemporary and the ancient music equally. The music is almost entirely instrumental, even the human voice is used as an instrument. Some characteristic instruments are: sax, clarinet, different kinds of flute, zurna, kaval, duduk, jew’s harp, bagpipes, violin, drums, percussions, electric guitar, sampler, HD-recorder and Tuva-style vocal.
Marcsi Farkas (violin)
Péter Homoki (sampler, guitar, percussions, vocals)
Gyula Majoros (wind instruments)
Miklós Paizs (pipe, vocal - 10, 11)
István Somogyi (breathing - 7, 10)