One of my fondest memories of Bratislava, where I went to college in the mid-1990’s, is joining my friend Zuzana at the Hungarian Cultural Institute for monthly concerts of Ghymes, a Hungarian folk band from southern Slovakia.
The concerts contributed to my sense of Bratislava as a place in Europe’s center. Peoples and cultures have mingled for centuries in the area where the Danube and Morava rivers as well as the contemporary countries of Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia meet. Heard at the foot of the Carpathian Mountain Range, Ghymes reminded us that the vastness of the Pannonian Plain lay just across the Danube, which connected us like a thread with neighbors up and down its waters.
The concerts also slowed time in a musical meditation of Central Europe as home. By definition, folk music springs from the land, its people, and their history. For a good while after the show, the music reverberated through me with a vague sense of yearning* (any music featuring cimbalom does that). I never took time to wonder what was lost or missing, however; the now felt too ripe to ponder the past.
After last summer’s trip to Slovakia, I cleaned out my closet in search of the CD carrying case that contained, among other forgotten treasures, my Ghymes albums. Such small discoveries rekindle memories. They can also begin new ones.
The Discovery of the Old in the New Home
More than a decade had past since I last heard Ghymes. Listening to the songs felt like a trip back in time and across continents. Right away, I wanted more, but instead of getting caught up with Ghymes, I wondered whether Slovakia’s music scene had produced other folk acts I might enjoy. First I found it’s now called world music. Then I discovered Družina.
If you’ve been to Slovakia, you’ve likely heard, blaring from stereos in cafes or restaurants, traditional folk(lore) music rearranged into horrific Euro disco or, even worse, the Slovak equivalent of turbo folk. Having first only read about them, I half-expected find Družina in that ditch. Instead, when I heard their repertoire, which I’d describe as folklore music that rocks, I found myself home again.
In “The Future of Nostalgia” Svetlana Boym writes that music has played a major role in the history of nostalgia. This goes for any music: GusGus reminds me of the period that coincided with the Ghymes one; the Cure represents and re-presents high school; pre-Violator Depeche Mode is tweens in Košice. But it’s folk music that takes you back to your country, your people, and your life there, rather than any specific city, individuals, or period of that life.
I’m still unwrapping Družina and making their tunes a part of my life. What’s certain is that Družina is a new musical thread connecting me to my motherland, Slovakia.
* Richard Middleton is quoted having seen folk music as” the authentic expression of a way of life now past or about to disappear (or in some cases, to be preserved or somehow revived)”.