Parno Graszt
Rávágok a zongorára
Traditional Gypsy music from Hungary
Fonó Records FA-202-2
Parno Graszt
Járom az utam (In My World)
Traditional Gypsy music from Hungary
Fonó Records FA-215-2

Rávágok a zongorára; Tu zsanesz / Te tudod; Zsotar / Elmegyek; Majdik aba szokero / Majd megnézem, mit csinálok; Kodi phenel mange / Azt mondja nekem; Odi phenel cmo savo / Azt mondja a kisfiam; Szájbögö improvizáció; Te na mero / Ne haljak meg; Khade sukar / Igy szép; Oikho aba Ie cserhaja / Nézem a csillagos eget; Khele Ie cmiseJ / Táncol a Cigánylány; Ratyake phiro / Este Járok; Sukar szi mun romnyi / Szép a feleségem; Retyiia pijo / Pálinkát iszok; Vojake save / Jokódvü fiúk; Cirde mun gijí / Húzd el a nótamát; Ande gava / Járom a falut; Dhukal muro Jilo / Fáj a szivem; Parno graszt / Fehér ló; Paszabi pergetö; Szaszman devia piranyi / Volt szeretöm; Bonus track: Ratyake phiro / Este Járok - videoclip.
Cover pictureA few months ago I saw a delightful documentary on BBC4 about a Hungarian Gypsy village band called, on the film, Parno Grass.  The next time I saw my friend Ian Anderson, I asked him if he'd seen it; he said he had - and also had their CD.  Then, a few weeks ago, that generous man sent me a spare copy he'd unearthed from what must be one of the largest collections of records in the country - so here it is, up for review.

But first I'd like to return to the film for a moment; I called it delightful - and it is, in so many ways.  It begins, on May Day morning, 2002, with the band's leader, József Oláh, leaving his house on foot to meet up with the other members, preparatory to the day's musical activities.  The 'other members of the band' being, in this instance, practically the whole of the village of Paszab - for this is a real village band, numbering from the core 7 members, up to 20 or so, depending on who's around.  The local touring version is 17-strong, including ten dancers of three generations - from 10 to 71 years old!  In the course of the morning we climb on board a wagon pulled by the parno graszt, the White Horse of the CD's title, and meet the band's great-grandmother - yes, all 17 share the same great-grandmother!

We learn about life in the village, how they earn a living, how the band has made them more prosperous and more self-assured, and about their recent trip to a festival in Holland where "They treated us like Princes!" - and we realise that this means that their hosts treated them just like any of the other guests ... not something they are used to.  A visiting local politician is told of the "only slight" racialism of their Hungarian neighbours; "They still hate us, but they don't burn our houses."

We also discover that, back in the late-1950s, a far-sighted village elder decided that their music and dance culture was both valuable and important, and in danger of being swamped by new influences from outside - and set about encouraging the participation of the youth of the community.  Today's vibrant village culture, and Parno Graszt, is the result of his labours.  In the film we see young dancers huddled round a TV watching, with great enthusiasm, films from half a century ago of their now elderly relatives dancing and playing - with some of these same relatives in attendance to instruct them in the subtleties of their art.

But the most delightful, and surprising, thing of all is the music.  We are used to the stereotypical images of the Hungarian Gypsies; the café violinist, the cymbalom orchestra ... but this is only how some of them earn a living in a country where little else is open to them.  Here in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, the most underdeveloped, and most traditional region of Hungary, there are precious few posh cafés and fewer rich tourists to support them.  Here the Gypsies of Paszab play their own music, not that commercial invention.  And it's immediately recognisable as the music of ordinary people, anywhere!  By the end of the one-and-a-half-hour film, I knew that I could join in with this band ... not contribute to, certainly - but not detract from, either, their music.

play Sound Clipplay Sound ClipTheir CD is equally delightful; the music and singing - a little tighter and much better recorded than in the slightly shambolic social circumstances of the film - remains utterly entrancing.  Here are a couple of sound clips: left, track 3, Zsotar; and right, track 8, Te na mero.  If you think, probably rightly, that my view of it is coloured by having seen the film, then the video film clip included on the CD appears to be out-takes from that same film of May Day 2002, and will give you an idea of what it was about.  Keep an eye open for the almost inevitable repeat on BBC4.

This lovely CD is available from Passion Music in the UK, at: where I see that they have just produced a second CD, Jarom az utam - In My World (Fonó Records FA-215-2) which I hope to be buying and reviewing shortly.

Cover picture

Parno Graszt - Járom az utam (In My World)

Romano bijo - Cigány lagzi - Gipsy wedding.  Ande rátyi - Az éjszakában - At night.  Duj kámel mán - Két szereto - Two lovers.  Phe kircsime ná phiro - A kocsmába - At the pub.  Kerko jilo - Ne szomorítsd a szívemet - Don t make my heart sad.  Lungo o drom - Hosszú út - Long road.  Kánák gijom - Mikor mentem - I went.  Khodi mánge - Nekem.  Demán zor szásztyipo - Erot, egészséget - Strength, health.  Sukár jákhá - Szép szemek - Beautiful eyes.  Koro kino.  Áj devla le de sukar - Jaj, de szép - Oh, how beautiful.  a) Korkoro szom - Egyedül vagyok - I am alone b) Odi phenel mánge - Azt mondják nekem - They tell me.  Khodi phe nen - Azt mondják - They say.  Szijek cserhájá - Van egy csillag - There is a star.  Khelen tumen - Táncoljatok - Dance!  Ále romnyi - Gyere asszony - Come woman.  Phe mál - A határban - On the edge of.  Mure phrálá - Testvéreim - My brothers.
Well, now I have ... bought a copy, that is.  Oh dear!

Their first CD, Rávágok a zongorára, reached No.7 in the European music charts, resulting in fame, fortune, international bookings and tours.  As one might have expected, all is now changed.  I'm sure the changes in Paszab and its community are warmly welcomed, and richly deserved.  I'm equally sure that, given the enthusiasm for and reverence of the old village traditions, the music of Parno Graszt at home remains much as it did before.  The music on this second CD, however, is much changed from that on their first.

Almost every song is now up-tempo, the beat insistent, and irritating whoops and yips accompany most tracks.  The band has swollen to eight members, and four more 'guest' on the recording - and, in case you haven't guessed - we now get the missing cymbalom and Gypsy fiddler!  In short, they now sound much like some dozen other groups doing the rounds of the World Music festivals.  What a shame!

Rod Stradling - 1.8.05

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