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The Rough Guide to Hungarian Music
(World Music Network, 2002)

The Rough Guide to Hungarian Music has been assembled not just with a fine ear for music, but with a fine appreciation for tradition and influence. The chosen songs are linked together to create an audible map of the country, with suggestions of the migration routes of various influences.

The album opens Muzsikas' "Hajnali Nota," a wedding song from the Transylvania region. Wavering female vocals move the song along, but the anchor comes from the overwhelming drives and retreats of the violin. The technique is echoed in the Transylvanians' wholly modern "Akasztos." While drawing inspiration from a traditional "limping" couples' song, the Transylvanians have moved fully into a rock performance style. "Deta Devla" at first feels more like Indian dance/trance music, but the skipping vocals and winding music can be heard echoed in several of the more traditional tunes.

Although the album sets out to give an accurate representation of Hungarian music today, traditional styles are never ignored. Sebo Ensemble performs a wild "Hungarian Verbunk" that hums and swarms like a hive of bees, outdoing the modern rock songs for sheer energy. The descriptively named Traditional Band from Tura delivers "Friss Cardas" with a strange bluegrass twang, made tart and lively by the traditional cimbalom and smoothed by a dark clarinet. Horns figure regularly in the Hungarian tradition and can be heard wailing along or shining gently in Ghymes' "Tanc A Hoban," a tune so gentle the blunt male vocals feel like a booming drum.

More than with some of World Music's other discs, the music collected here provides a window onto the wider culture. Ference Santa & His Gypsy Band follow in the tradition of restaurant performers, and they sound like what most people probably expect Hungarian music to sound like. Their medley of songs is exotic, and their playing -- while superior to stereotypical Gypsy music -- will feel familiar to anyone who has seen a Hollywood caravan pass across the screen. The Gypsy Band is in sharp contrast to Kalyi Jag and his slow, downcast "Konyorges." Drawn from a musical tradition that has only recently begun to use music in public performances, this song for mercy echoes the plodding of feet and the pounding of hooves as it laments the trials of Gypsy life.

The Rough Guide to Hungarian Music delivers an impressive array of music, representing Hungary from ancient finesse to modern rebellion. If each of the 20-plus tracks feels like too brief a stay, the album as a whole is still a satisfying journey that will leave you with fond memories and a permanent return ticket.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 4 October 2003

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