by Dan Talmo, at WOMEX 2015 (World Music Expo) in Budapest, Hungary
With over 2,500 attendees from 90 countries, WOMEX is mostly a giant networking opportunity for bands promoting themselves, agents promoting artists, venues looking for artists, and agents seeking new artists to represent. National and regional arts groups from several countries also represented a large number of their artists. For WORT, I was one of 300 international media representatives wanting to know all about it.
Most of my time was spent visiting as many of the 280 stands in the vibrant trade fair as possible. At any stop, I either spoke with a record company representative, a musician or group, an agency promoting many groups, or a national/regional organization. My standard meeting was to introduce myself and the WORT community and ask if they had any music to share with WORT listeners. The friendly response was almost always an offer of a sampler CD and, sometimes, a big handful of CDs and other literature. Most musicians were thrilled to know that WORT listeners would be enjoying their music. Some of the bigger stands also invited us in to sample enticing local food and beverages, making it difficult to proceed to the next booth.
The presentations were enticing as well. I attended a session chaired by Joe Boyd, founder of Hannibal Records and author of White Bicycles (a must read for rock and folk music fans), about nationalism and traditional music. One of Boyd’s main points was to refer to performers by their ethnic group and/or home town or region. This helps to avoid confusing an ethnic tradition with any broader national identity which may be co-opted by political powers for their own sake. Panelists and their key points included: Daniel Hamar of the Hungarian group Muzsikas (the Hungarian folk revival is inclusive of neighboring non-Hungarian ethnic traditions); Nick Hobbs of UK/Turkey (the Turkish government has tried to discredit and outlaw minority (Kurdish) traditions), and Damir Imamović of Bosnia (Tito supported ethnic music in its traditional form over a version of pan-Yugoslav nationalism).
I also managed to get to one of the documentary films being shown. The film was about the Hungarian-speaking Csango people of the Gyimes valley in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. Filmed in the early 1990’s following the fall of the Ceausescu regime (it could not be filmed earlier), the film is a snapshop of these isolated mountain people with plenty of music samples. Here is a link to the 40 minute film. Sorry no subtitles, but the film is mainly about the music and imagery, anyway. The film opens with a clip of jazz saxophonist Mihaly Dresch at the first permitted performance of a musician from Hungary in Gyimes in 50 years. The folk music follows. (http://www.mediawavearchivum.hu/index.php?teljesfilm=2&modul=filmek&kod=437)
I’ve been a volunteer programmer of international music at WORT for more than 20 years. Over time, I have established a fairly wide background knowledge of world music styles and the artists who perform them. The WOMEX experience was a little humbling in that regard. Nearly every stop I made, I learned about a new music group or project, or discovered that my favorite artists now have two to three times the discography I was aware of. By way of example, now that I’m back in Madison, I have 100 or so CDs to sift through. The first one I put in the player is a compilation of 12 performers (including Kayah, Chango Spasiuk, and Matuto) covering the same song – Szomorú Vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday) also known as “The Hungarian Suicide Song”. How is that I’m just learning about this song now?! As urban legend has it, the song is associated with a few dozen suicides. In the interest of public health, the BBC banned the song until 2002! Wikipedia has a nice history of the song (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloomy_Sunday) and numerous versions can be found on YouTube including the first recording by Pál Kálmar in 1934 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-3imIKZw7c). I can’t wait see what other discoveries are hidden in this trove and sharing them on WORT.
(Photos by Paula A. White)