Muzsikás / Máramaros -- Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania

Album cover: Beautiful old photograph of an old Jewish band, set perfectly.

Máramaros -- Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania

Hannibal HNCD 1373, 1993

Back in 1993 I saw an odd album by a previously-unknown-to-me Hungarian band called Muzsikás. Titled, "the Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania," it seemed likely to be, at worst, a different folky take on old Yiddish songs. Instead, it was my introduction to one of the most wonderful folk bands anywhere, and to the ethereal voice of Marta Sebestyén (whose own recordings are never so good as when she records with this band).

Even then, the melodies seemed more Hungarian than Jewish, but this is not a bad thing. Good Hungarian folk--and Muzsikás play it better than anyone--is an aural delight. The sawing fiddles and complex time signatures are intensely moving. The irony, however, is that the inflections are not Jewish. The difference is so great that during a discussion of "tradition as avant garde" on the jewish-music discussion list, someone put forward this album as a truly avant garde sound. I guess it is, in its way, as it isn't based on Jewish ways of playing, only Jewish notes.

Upon my arrival in Eastern Europe back in 1996 everyone hastened to explain to me how traditional Jewish music in that area was played Jewishly--not like that band Muzsikás did. It was further explained to me that they had simply gotten bad advice when they recorded. They should have spoken, with, say, Bob Cohen, formerly of the Budapester Klezmer Band, now of Di Naye Kapelye, in Budapest.

For all that, you can still hear the same core melody as on the Yiddish Theatre song, "Belz," as the band does "Jewish Dance from Szászrégen, and the "Jewish Csárdás" are a wonderful introduction to the Romanian tradition most akin to American bluegrass. Klezmatics fans will also hear an instrumental covered on a recent album of that radical roots klezmer band, here played as "Haneros Halelu".

This is a beautiful album. On their way to recover one thing, the band has created something different, yet wondrous, instead. Compounding the ironies, it is also one of the weakest of Muzsikás albums. So be it. It is also good that the band has rescued this repertoire. And, it is worth noting that the band continues to perform this music as they know it, and that it continues to sound beautiful and moving in concert. There is something magic in hearing Sebestyén introduce a Havdalah song as one of her favorite all-time melodies.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/19/97

Personnel this recording:
Mihaly Sipo: violin
Peter Éri: viola, buzuki
Sandor Csoóri: violin, viola, guitar
Daniel Hamar: contrabass, small hammer dulcimer

Guests: Marta Sebestyén: vocals
Csabo Okros: violin
Gheorghe Covaci: violin
Árpád Toni: cimbalom
Gheorghe Florea: "zongura"
Ioan Florea: drums

  1. Khosid Wedding Dances (Chaszid lakodalmi táncok) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  2. The Rooster is Crowing (Szól a kakas már) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  3. Dance from Máramaros (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  4. Lamenting Song (Keserves) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  5. Ane Maamin (Ane Maimin) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  6. I have just come from Gyula (Most jövök gyuláról) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  7. Farewell to Shabbat (Szombateste búcsúztató) (trad., arr. Sebestyén)
  8. Jewish dance from Szászrégen (Szászrégeni zsidó tánc) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  9. Hat a Jid a ejbele (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  10. Jewish Csárdás series from Szék (Széki zsidó csárdások) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  11. Khosid Dance (Chaszid tánc) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  12. The Greeting of the Bride (Menyasszony-búcsúztató) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  13. Haneros Halelu (Chanukka gyertyagyújtás) (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)
  14. Farewell to the guests (trad., arr. Éri, Hamar, Sipos, Csoóri)

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