The National Rally of Folk Art, as it was called in the beginning, was held for the first time in August 1965 in Koprivstica. Koprivstica was chosen for a couple of reasons. It is a town full of buildings from the time of what in Bulgaria is called V'zraždane (Възраждане), “The Awakening”. This is the period of the mid 18th century till the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878. This can be seen in the magnificent architecture of the houses built in that period. It is a real museum town. A number of insurgents against the Turks were born or had worked in Koprivstica. It is very nice situated against slopes of the Sredna Gora and has not been spoiled by the ugly communist style apartment buildings. Vojvodonets is a pasture ground at a walking distance from the town and is an excellent place for a festival of this size.
The idea of organizing such a festival originated in the beginning of the sixties and had a lot of enthusiasts, among them important supporters like the musicologist Rajna Kacarova and the composer Petko Stajnov. From the start the idea was to bring together amateur singers, instrumentalists, dancers, story-tellers. The participants of the festival were chosen on qualification on regional festivals and auditions. The organizing committee was and is still headed by the Ministry of Culture and the Township of Koprivstica. The first edition took place in the first weekend in August 1965. Following editions were held in 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1986. The festival survived the political changes of 1989/1990 and is still organised every five year. The festival is now under patronage of the UNESCO. The number of performing participants has grown from a couple of thousand in 1965 till eighteen thousand in the last edition in August 2015. Of course there have been some changes. A small entrance fee, payment for the permission for taking pictures. Before 1990 everything was for free.
We visited the festival in 1976, 1981 and 1986. There were six stages, a main stage and the last two visits there was a special children stage in the centre of the town. Each stage had a program of half a day dedicated to a specific folklore region, sometimes concluded with a presentation of folk dresses. There was a jury for each stage which awarded prices for the best performances.
In fifty years the festival has given a very good survey of the local traditions in the country. Be it that some political influences could be observed until the nineties. The Turkish and Gypsy minorities were not represented and the Pomak minority became smaller every year. Zurla trios participated till 1976 but disappeared in later editions. A positive exception was the ban on Western musical instruments. In 1986 there was a Gypsy group, but they were not part of the festival and they only tried to earn some money.
We have added under "Audio" the records Balkanton issued until 1989. A 10” record from the festival in 1965, a 12” record from 1971 and 1976. The last two editions of the festival, 1981 and 1986, were even honored by three records: a double record from the festitval and one from the children participants. You can find the recordings here.
Táncháztlálkozó or táncház festival and fair is an annual event in Hungary since 1982. It is held in the month of April as part of the Budapest Spring Festival. It takes place during a weekend and starts with a “warming up” concert and tanchaz (dance house) in one of the dance house venues. This year (2016) it took place on the 2nd and 3rd of April with the “warming up” in the dance house of Fono (known as one of the most important CD producers of traditional Hungarian music). This year it was held for the 35th time in the “Papp László Budapest Sportaréna” in Budapest. This venue was constructed in 2002/2003 and opened in March 2003. It's capacity is up to 12,500 spectators. So space enough. According to some people there were 10,000 participants on Saturday and Sunday, but we think it were less: 5,000 to 7,000 or so. Of course there is also some criticism about the scale and getting more commercial (see the Dumneaza blog of 2010) but we had a very nice weekend there.
There has been written a lot about the Táncház phenomenon and you can find a lot of information on the internet. Last year there was published a very comprehensive book in both English and Hugarian: The Story of Hungarian Folk, written by Béla Szilárd Jávorszky (published by Kossuth Kiadó, ISBN 978-963-09-8414-0). A must read for everybody who is interested in this topic.
On Friday evening we went to the “warming up” party in the Fono House. This is an old factory, situated in the southern part of Buda. The evening started with a concert given by Nikola Parov and his band, a Bulgarian who lived since his youth in Budapest. He is a multi instrumentalist and made already a lot of recordings. The singer was Ágnes Hercku. They brought a Hungarian and Balkan program. The repertoire of Parov is balancing between world music (the better sort of) and traditional music, but always pleasant to listen to. After the concert the dance house party was held in an other room accompanied by the band Dűvő. They play in a traditional style, long pieces of 20 to 30 minutes; slow, medium, fast. The quality of their playing was, as known from their recordings, excellent.
Saturday and Sunday to the “Papp László” arena. It is really huge. The whole day bands on the stage and people dancing in front on the floor. On Sunday there were also performances on the stage. On both sides there was a market with booths where you could buy food, cd's, musical instruments, etc. There was a special room where people were selling clothing. Despite of the fact that it is a little bit commercial, it still did us remember ot these beautiful folk markets and feasts as we have seen everywhere. We shook hands with Zoltán Kallós, who did so much for collecting and preservation of Hungarian music in Romania. Unfortunately he speaks only Hungarian, Romanian and Roma, but it was nice to see him in the booth, were 20 recently produced cd's with his recordings were on sale (Kallós Archivum 1 - 20). There is a nice book about his whereabouts and informants, published by the Open Air Museum in Szentendre („Setting off on the road”, Szabadtéri Néprajzi Múzeum, Szentendre 2015, ISBN 978-615-5123–43-6).
There was also entertainment for children. They could learn old handicrafts from the elders, prepare traditional food and play old traditional children games, like horseshoe toss.
Besides the dancing and performances in the main hall, there were also activities in smaller rooms, that are situated around it. They were dedicated to special performances; for instance best young talent dancers, etc. The festival also included a presentation of a new cd and concert of Félix Lajkó.
Every year there has been published a record, and later CD, of promising singers, instrumentalists and bands of that moment. The first two years by a small label Magyar Szinkör. In 1984 Hungaroton took over and issued every year an LP record till 1994. From 1994 till 2002 a cd of the festival was released by the Hungarian Institute of Culture and from 2002 till now by the Hungarian Heritage House. To give an impression of the beginning, we have added the content of two records: from the fourth (1985) and the fifth (1986). You can find them here.
Pictures of the festival can be found here.
From 2 – 8 May 2016 we participated in the Fifth Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in South-eastern Europe. The ICTM stands for International Council for Traditional Music. It is a non governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. This study group is one of the many that are operating within the ICTM.
The symposium was hosted by the Faculty of Arts of the South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. It took place in their centre outside the town in the Bachinovo Park. It was a marvelous experience in which we learned a lot and met a lot of people. As we were there as collectors of music somewhat “a stranger in the midst”, we were fully accepted and had a very nice time there.
The program consisted of presenting papers by the participants, a film and in the evening some concerts. One evening was dedicated to the ethnomusicologists. This session was focused on the ethnomusicologist Rajna Kacarova and the kaval player Cvjatko Blagoev. Besides the evening activities we had a lot of fun with dancing and singing. The last evening there was a farewell party; a beatiful combination of a diner and a concert. Desislava Dimčeva has sung for us accompanied by her husband Valeri Dimčev on tambura, Binka Dobreva sang and there was an excellent group of singers and instrumentalists from the town of Kresna.
Pictures of the Symposium can be found here.