Tecsoi and the late Hutsel/Gutsel Craze
from the Jewish-Music mailing list, set off by Roger Reid
I'm not sure how the subject came up. All I know is that suddenly there was one of those amazing Roger Reid gems on the Jewish-Music list, on a subject about which I knew nothing. Then other list members responded. I present here the discussion highlights as they illuminate an interesting subject, seen from the unique Jewish-Music prism.
Tecsoi Banda is a great Rusyn band from the Upper Tisza valley Westerm Ukraine / Eastern Hungary, a center of Rusyn culture (now generally identified as three groups Lemko, Boiko, and Hutsul—these divisions may be a modern invention). These are thought by some to be the oldest Slavic cultures, and it is thought that the culture immediately preceding them was Celtic.
The fabulous Etnofon label of Budapest did a fine documentary recording of them a few years back, produced by Ferenc Kiss who had been making field recordings of them since the 1970s. I'd kind of like to hear those, which he dismisses as "terrible cassette recordings".
The band members have diverse backgrounds, which is part of why they have such wide repertoire. (I picked it up mostly for the cimabaly player Misu Jurijovics)—so they come by their breadth naturally.
Track 17 is called "Baj van, baj van … zsido minahuli"—the name doesn't trigger for me, but the tune I recognize as one recorded by Veretski Pass also. The last verse, they sing, but considering the accent and the style, you can forgive me for not being able to tell you if it is in Yiddish, Ukrainian, Russian, Rusin, Hungarian, or something else. (Sorry—"zsido" means "Jewish" (zid/yid))
Hutsul music seems to have become THE thing in Western Ukraine leading into the Orange Revolution (which has since lost a fair amount of its yellow…) About that time there was a flood, not only of some "authentic" Hutsul recordings, but of wannabees and people trying to figure out how to be proud members of a country they had been told most of their lives was not a country. It seemed there was some really awkward trying on of roles, and I got the impression that claiming Hutsul blood was quite a fad for a while.
Some really bad stuff got recorded, where dirty kolos (the only kind I know of, outside of the Jewish instrumental versions (can you picture the klezmers laughing at the "hardcore" Jews they play for, who don't know how nasty the lyric would be?)) got "sung" by men in embroidered shirts waving wooden ceremonial axes.
OTOH, the pop singer Ruslana, who was at the Miden that December, changed her style from the Pretty Princess of Girly Breathy Songs (which I love … so sue me) to the Hutsul Warrior Princess in ripped and revealing leather. This is what won Eurovision for Ukraine, and arguably help propel the Orange Revolution to its temporary victory.
But besides the image, she also went and included identifyably Hutsul aspects into her music, while staying firmly in the pop/dance world. On the album with the Eurovision hit, there are cimbaly solos on several tracks, dance rhythms, a fair amount of sopilka used for airy color and occaisional solo, and so forth.
In one of her videos, the band is seen arriving in a remote village in an old school bus; and as the tough looking rockers emerge from the bus they meet perhaps tougher looking ba'buskas who don't take no crap from a bunch of citified boys. Naturally the whole town turns out to dance, unfortunatly the shot of the cimbaly player is under second long before cutting back to Our Ruslana, collapsing from eating too many Hutsul delicacies.
Perhaps strangest of all is Max Chorney "The New Ethnic Music of Ukraine". Again with extensive Hutsul imagery, the hatchets, the embroidery, etc—and the cutest little petitpoint of a cimably playing cat wearing, it seems, lederhosen—he weaves a techno dream punctuated by similar rhythms, modalities, and timbres—tho his cimbaly is purely synthesized. Perhaps Ukraine's answer to DJ SoCalled.
I have not mentioned Ivan Kavatziuk because I can't remember if he claims any Hutsul connection—but just like Ruslana, and Max Chorney, he too has recorded Arkan (apparently the Hutsul Hava Nagila). Ivan is an excellent folk player of cimbaly, very good, but he has this one weird aspect—the folksy cimbaly playing is punctuated by these very Emerson Lake and Palmer lines played, apparently, on a 1970's analog synth. Its actually kind of cool, but certainly disconcerting to be floating on a powerful cimbaly line when the ee-ehOOO! eeWoDeDedodo portamentos come marching in.
And speaking of unexpected riff, I guess that's what I've been on for the last half hour. If you've read this far—I'd just ask why!
3/1/2007 9:20 PM
See horinca.blogspot.com/2007/02/mihailo-csernavec-hutsul-tsymbaly.html for some more about Hutsul musicians and their relationship as musicians to the Jews.
Also Yale Strom, in his documentary entitled "A Man from Munkacs: Gypsy Klezmer" explored the relationship between the gypsy musicians of Munkacs (which is sub-Carpathian Ruthenian) and the Jewish musicians.
3/2/2007 10:57 AM
I'm no expert in the musics of (Sub Carpathian Rus) and mostly I listen to modern pop adaptation (not forgetting that, to some extent, that's what "narodnye pensi" are).
"Jewishly derived" is, as you know, tough to substantiate. Is a Ukrainian Kolomyika a vulgarization of some fine sprightly Jewish tune, with the risqué lyrics specifically because of the historic penchant of Ukrainians for mocking, maiming, and killing Jews? Or, did the Jewish musicians pick up these nasty little ditties about illicit sexual encounters, drop the lyric, and polish up the melodies and accompiament? Who knows? Nobody thought to document it, or if they did, the Nazis burned it or the Stalinists buried it or it just got tossed when the writer died—like most things.
We all know that between Nationalists, Bolsheviks, Nazis, Stalinists, and Men in Grey Suits, that we know next to nothing about the realities of life in rural Eastern Europe of the past. And so much of what we do know should be view skeptically because so much of "peoplehood" is partially rooted in Stalinist fantasy and attempts to "scientificfy" social structuring and grouping. The dance troupe at your local Ukrainian festival is "Folkloric"—no one had that much fabric of that kind of quality as they have in the costume department, and the professional choreographers—whether from Moscow or Toronto—have fixed up the dancing to serve its current purpose—nostalgic entertainment for the descendents of diaspora.
Well, how much does it connect? To my ear and brain, there is similarity in the modes and form. Mishaberach is common; the idea that there are only major and minor "scales" hasn’t barged in, from the days when the French, Italians, the Germans, and the English were excitedly discarding much of their possible melodic framework. And the two to four verses of 8-12 measures, with 2-4 phrases, that repeat in ABAB or ABACABA is real similar. I think on rhythm we're on shaky ground: we Jews stick to pretty simply stuff, the Western Ukrainian traditions tend to go into more complex places; perhaps not to the extent their Mogyar neighbors do with their 7/4 and 11/9 and 19/13 and 27/22 or whatever it is … but still.
If we accept Roger's Two Principles of Faith on the raw material of (Jewish) Klezmer Music:
- One source is the music of the surrounding majority and minority cultures: assimilation works two ways.
- The other source is the synagogue (or rather, the way tefilim, tehilim, and nigunim are done by people in the synagogue
Then it seems clear that—yes, there is legitimacy in exploring Hutsul repertoire for Jewish music: BUT!
If we also consider the very—ah—DIFFICULT history between Jews and the Other People of Ukraine—a difficulty that is much attenuated but by no means gone: and the extremely negative memories that anything Ukrainian can bring up in those who survived the war because the fled from the Ukrainians before the Nazis got there, or in more recent times, young adults who cringe at all things Ukrainian because, as Jews growing up in Ukraine, they were the target of constant bullying—you have a potentially difficult question.
The wooden axe and the horseback warrior are big Hutsul symbols. The horseback warrior is a big Ukrainian symbol. The Cossacks. The freedom-loving horseman of the steppes. The liberator of the people, who killed the landlords who were driving their people into starvation. Which is to say, the Jews. The Jews, who at one point in Ukrainian history were in fact given that power by the Poles, to administer the landholdings and collect the rents. I have a wonderful recording of one of the last itinerant blind lyre (hurdy gurdy) players, Ivan Vlasyuk, recorded in 1969. It includes such rollicking tunes as "On the Abolition of Serfdom", "About the Turks Attack on the Pochayiv Monastery". There are songs about the fine ash handle of the axe with which they caused the lord's skin to "lose refinement". And my favorite: "I am sleeping in the woods tonight because the damned Jew has thrown me out of my house because I didn't pay my rent, the damned Jew. He will get what's coming to him, the damned Jew"
The Jews, who also formed a majority of the Bolshevik party before Stalin had them killed. The Bolsheviks who intentionally starved between 3 and 8 million Ukrainians: is it any wonder they thought the Nazis would be the liberators? How could they be as awful as the Communists (aka the Jews). To this day there is a columnist in the Ukrainian paper in New Jersey who, like the Jew who sees anti-Semitism everywhere, sees the Jews still out to "get" the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian government recently took back the Torahs they give to the shuls from the Nazi/Communist stores. The popular Jewish entertainer Jan Tabachnik had to flee to Russia (of all places) after the Orange Revolution, because he backed the wrong horse in the race. And this is the culture that looks to Hutsul as the pinnacle of national identity.
This is far from hopeless. The UA government reversed the lower agencies and said "no more Torahs will be confiscated". There are many Ukrainians who have a more modern and nuanced view of the Jew. Still, to not be able to answer a well meaning greeting of Khrystos Voskres! with a hearty Voistyno Voskres! puts you well outside a culture. Even the most progressive peoples embrace Jesus as a symbol, because that is a piece that was taken from them by force over and over by the various tyrants who have crossed their land.
This is clearly pretty goyishe stuff. Humaniuk is one thing, but I don't think, as Jewish source material, you want to look too closely at Hutsul etc. As co-territorial stuff, as a point of interest, as a source of inspiration, sure, but I don't think we want to start playing Arkan for the Bar Mitzvah on the chair.
3/4/2007 6:45 PM
A footnote to this interesting discussion is that the violinist Joseph Szigeti's family was from Sighetul Marmatiei, in what is now Maramures, Romania, on the border with Ukraine. If I recall, his autobiography mentions that he belonged to a klezmer family. His uncles came to the U.S. Dezso (David) Szigeti played violin with the Philadelphia Orchestra, I think, and his uncle Joseph played Hungarian Gypsy music, and recorded it in the 1920s. Dezso was born in Kolomiya. I've read that the Jews in Sighet (where Szigeti took his name) were Hungarian speakers, and clearly the Szigeti family, living in an ethnically mixed area, with Romanians, Hutsuls, and Gypsies, not to mention Hungarians and Germans, became culturally magyarized. It would be interesting to know if this was the general tendency followed by secular Jewish musicians in other places in this region (like Munkacs = Mukachevo, Satu Mare = Szathmar, Bereg, etc.). I was almost arrested in Sighet in 1969, so I have fond memories of this region. I remember that the driver of the vehicle I was in would point out that the village in the valley over there was Ukrainian, while the next was Romanian, etc.
Also, I think that much of the Hutsul area was part of Poland until 1939, so it wouldn't have been affected directly by the 1917 revolution. I think that Maramures reverted to Hungary in 1940. Then, further east, Czernowitz and that part of Bucovina was part of Romania between 1919 and 1940. But the whole region is an ethnic mess---Germans who are Romanian citizens but speak Hungarian as a first language, Lemkos, Boykos, Rusyns, some of whom feel they are a separate Slavic nationality, Hutsuls, and the Romanians in the Oas region who other Romanians regard as real bumpkins, with a unique dialect, customs, and music.
Obviously the influences would be long and deep, as Roger says, but I wonder if the Jewish population in the Hutsul region would have been concentrated more in towns and cities where perhaps the gentile population might have been ethnically more Polish, wth some Russians and Germans perhaps. If in a town that was part of the Russian Empire, but with the local upper class being Polish, I would think that influences coming from that direction would be stronger than from the Hutsul peasantry (but I suppose this would mean upper-class Polish dances, like quadrilles, mazurka, and polonaise, etc., rather than the Polish peasant dances like the sztajerek, oberek, etc.).
Another bit of trivia is that, besides Jews, Hutsuls are the only group with a family name that derives from the tsimbal (Tsymbalisty is the Ukrainian name). I learned that they adopted family names in the 18th century, a little before Jews in Austria-Hungary did. They were using the instrument by 1648.
3/5/2007 12:04 AM
The translation for Cahan's kolomeyke song was just completed by list member Leon Balaban and I've posted now on: http://www.yiddishdance.com/tantslieder.html#254
3/5/2007 7:30 AM
It would be interesting to know if this was the general tendency followed by secular Jewish musicians in other places in this region (like Munkacs = Mukachevo, Satu Mare = Szathmar, Bereg, etc.).
It does not answer Paul's musing here, I did pick up some traditional music from Satu Mare a few years back and to my ears heard no particular similarity to Satmar nigunim; of course I am speaking of one CD of field recordings, no real analysis beyong listening hoping to hear a turn I know from my Satmar records to pop out.
PS—I went back to my Ruslana records and videos and, being more familiar with the "ethno-pop" phenomenon now than I was when I first explored her stuff, realize that she is doing a very good job with it.
There's plenty of room to be cynical (she HAS won EuroVision, after all, and she had a best selling record in Europe) but the ethno in her ethnopop does sound like a blending or experiment in genre crossing at all. It seems very natural for her; this is just what pop music is for her (she writes most of the music, not so much of the words). Much of the REST of it—Max Chorney, Asha Akhat, sounds more calculated, and then you get into stuff like Mad Head—eek (See? Despite listening to Slavic Pop Divas, I too am a snob!)
3/6/2007 10:02 AM