Highlights from Womex 2015 in Budapest: Day 1

WOMEX is an annual five-day event for the “world music” industry. It consists of a Trade Fair, Showcase Festival, Conference, and Film programme, as well as  Opening and Award ceremonies. I’ve been going to this event for years, and have been involved as a Samurai helping them to put together the conference program. After LOTE it’s my favourite event, and I think we can learn a lot from the organisers and participants. So I’m sharing some highlights from Budapest where the 2015 edition is currently taking place in the form of quick notes and videos- tweet me @edgeryders with #womex15 if you have questions.

Showcases - best new music discoveries

Those who know me know my tastes in music are, well eclectic. It’s one of the reasons I love Womex so much, being immersed in the same diversity mixed cacophony of sounds and musical traditions. So here are some artists I think are worth checking out: 

I lost time listening to Germán López play: it felt like lazing about in sunshine. He performance included the piece below and you can learn more about him here.

Dom Flemons's performance I don’t know how to describe: like digging through a huge historical archive of American folk relevant to understanding contemporary America? What could be more relevant than “Bye Bye Policeman”…

Sutari were a riot last night, you can read more about them here. The womex video is not online yet but this one I found of a previous performance should give you some idea :) 


Nationalism and Traditional Music - #unfailing cooption of your musical heritage by nationalists and others who you don’t like

I attended this session because I am interested in understanding the current social and political situation in Hungary and what lead to it. At the end of the session, someone asked the key question and perhaps the reason why it was so well attended by musicians: How to protect the traditional/folk/roots musical heritage to be co-opted by e.g. nationalists with sinister agendas?

Joe Boyd told the story of a composer who “smelled in the air” the birth of Russian Nationalism, even though at the time the Soviet Union had an official agenda. He was terrified that his movement could be used by Russian nationalists. So whenever performing with his group, the song would always be introduced by it’s regional origins- he never called it a Russian folk song: “If you continually refer music back to it’s very specific origins it is not a symbol of the nation, that somehow gives strength to people in a local area, without giving strength by people who want to use it in a sinister way”.

Dániel Hamar, a member of Hungarian folk music band Muzsikas, described how Hungarians came to rediscover their traditional music heritage:

"In the 70s when Hungary under dictatorship, we didn’t realise that Hungary was the only communist country that was anti-nationalist. After Trianon, in the first war treaty hungary lost 2/3 of it’s original size- we didn’t think that being Hungarian, identity, was important- it was neutral to us. I was studying Geophysics at University and attended the symphony orchestra. At the time we had a lot of fakelore, classical musicals who would wear folkish outfits but were not playing authentic music. I wanted to go to the Agrigento festival in Italy, so I joined the university folk band to get the opportunity.

In the hotel where we were staying, there was an Argentinian band, three guys, very masculin and handsome. They met pretty hungarian girls and started to dance and make rhythms and the girls started to fall in love with them. I was envious of them, that we didn’t have these moves and rhythms. After a few months I had a new girlfriend and this girl was dancing in a hungarian dance group called Bartok dance group, who were trying to build something different from the original. They asked me to come check them out while they prepared for a festival. And I realised they were dancing like the Argentinians! So I joined it. This was the beginning of this Hunarian dancehouse movement. My first musical rehearsal in this space was to dance, because they told me I could not be a musician in this space without learning to dance. 

The cultural ministry in communist Hungary hated this, in part because it was out of control. At the time I was 21 and did not understand the situation- that they were afraid this movement would lead people to this national feeling, and this was one step from national freedom.In the 70s when we started collecting this music, tanzmusic, and realised we had a culture which was different from what we thought it. "

How about elsewhere around the same time?

Nick Hobbs: "In Turkey it’s the opposite story- Turkey rose out of what was left of the nation states…in ww1 it was going to be extinguished by Russian English and French armies. Then they won the war of independence and the state Ataturk created in his name was quite strange. People are now saying in Turkey that it is the end of the nation state constituted in 1928. The Ottomans were an empire, they were not particularly about setting one nationality over the other- Ataturk looked to Britain and other states to see how to build a strong National state. The nation state achieved strength at cost of minorities notably the Kurds, there was an attempt at assimilation. There was a lot of folk music, the Greeks in particular had a very stron music…rebetica started in. They had a mosaic of music that was very compact, all the peoples of this small land.

Ataturk was very western, so he introduced western music, ballet etc into the country while banning traditional music, traditional symbols like the Fez and Sufism which he considered retrograde and put Sunni Islam under state control. There is a similarity between communism and state authoritarian fascism. The idea was to try to get musician’s to play folk.

In 80s and 90s this shifted with open conflict between left and state regimes which manifested itself in the music…which formed out of the university folk club- we reject nationalism, we are not turkish, we are open to all the people of anatolia, so they would sing everything…it was the opposite of the dance house movement, where in Hungary they were trying to create hungarian music, in turkey they were trying to create Anatolian music. Different governments have been very oppressive of Kurdish music. Then around 2000 this shifted, there were a lot of kurdish record labels."