Interview with Mihály Borbély of Vujicsics Ensemble

Ian Morrison (IM) Can you tell me what folk music instruments you play and a bit about some of them?

Mihály Borbély (MB) Originally I was trained on clarinet (classical) and saxophone (jazz) at the Bela Bartok Conservatory of Music and at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. I started to play with Vujicsics in 1974 and in parallel - during my years at those institutes. I started to play some special folk instruments like:
- tarogato (special Hungarian wind instrument made of wood - looks like a clarinet but the system is more close to the soprano saxophone),
- folk flutes (mainly Hungarian and Serbian whistles),
- kaval (Macedonian and Bulgarian version of the tube instrument without whistle),
- kaval (special long flute from Moldva),
- dvojnice (double flute),
- ocarina (a kind of clay pottery flute),
- zurna (double reed instrument, the ancestor of oboe) and bombarde (the Breton version of the same instrument),
- tilinko or tilinca (over-tone flute without tone holes),
- fujara (Slovakian long flute),
- tamburabracs (the only instrument that is not wind is the tenor tambura which is the chord, instrument of the stringed tambura family).

IM What were your first experiences of folk music?

MB I grew up in a nice village near Budapest called Pomáz which was Tihamér Vujicsics' birth-place as well. This is a busy town now but in my childhood (in the sixties) it was a quiet village with the colourful multicultural life of the Hungarian and other minorities (Serbian, German, Slovakian and Gipsy) people who have been living in peace together here for centuries. The old people could speak each other's languages and they knew each other's songs as well. I have heard my woman neighbour speak these languages and I have heard their songs, I have seen their dances, their holidays and celebrations... it was so natural for me.


Mihály Borbély


IM Obviously ethnomusicologist Tihamer Vujicsics has had a great influence on your music, can you tell me when you first met him? Did you study under him?

As his father was the Serbian orthodox priest in Pomaz Tihamer was born in our village but later his family moved to Budapest. Fortunately he used to came back to his birth place and to the villages around at the times of festivals, celebrations and holidays. We were young and just started to play together but he would always get his flute out from his pocket and make a kind of jam session with us. After playing together we would talk about music, dances, instruments etc. They were real master classes for us. The most memorable meeting with him was the last one. It was in Budakalász on a Serbian celebration in 1975 just a few weeks before his untimely death in an air crash. People were dancing and singing there and Tihamér was playing his flute with our band. In the break he showed us how to imitate the sound of the bagpipe on the accordeon, on violin and on other instruments. We were also talking about the music and instruments a lot. After his death we felt we had to name our group Vujicsics and try to continue his work in our way. So, we are Vujicsics Ensemble from 1976.


Tihamér Vujicsics


IM When and where did Tihamer Vujicsics do his field work and collecting of songs? Where is his work fieldwork preserved?

Most of his work was done in the fifties and in the sixties. He collected songs and tunes first of all in Hungary among:
- Serbian people living in vicinity of Budapest and along Yugoslavian border,
- Croatian people living along Yugoslavian and Austrian border and along the Danube,
- Slovene people along South-West border

He did fieldwork all over Yugoslavia of course to complete his comparative ethno-musical research. A part of his work was preserved by his family and later it was taken to the remainder in the Hungarian Ethnographical Museum. His work was published in two books:
- Nase pesme (Our songs) Belgrad, 1957
- Mizicke tradicije juznih slovena u Madarskoj (Musical tradition of South Slavians in Hungary) Budapest, 1978

IM Do you or other members of the Ensemble Vujicsics ever teach or give concerts at the Tihamer Vujicsics Music School in Szentendre?

MB It is an interesting thing that we all were learning at that music school in our childhood - it was Szentendre Public Music School then. The music school has his name from 1985 and two of us (me and Karoly Gyori) were teachers there at that time. I was teaching clarinet, folk flute and saxophone between 1979 and 1987 but then as my teaching work at the Jazz Department of Bela Bartok Conservatory of Music and later at Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music was increased and I had more and more work with various groups, I had to give up this work. Of course we give concerts there very often.

IM I know that you have also studied the work of Gyorgy Martin, can you tell me what he collected that interests you and how you have adapted it into the repertoire of Ensemble Vujicsics?

Gyorgy Martin was one of the most important figure for the so-called 'dance-house movement' in Hungary. He had been collecting folk dances with their music (he made recordings very often either on tape or on film). In his theory the role of the round dances was a very important element, so he collected many South Slavian dances in Hungary - sometimes he did his work with Tihamer Vujicsics. He collected Croatian dances and music along the river Drava which was very impressive for us and later we collected in the same area. Most of the music on our Somogy neighbors LP and on Podravina CD is from that collections.

IM Do you do fieldwork of your own and if so where?

MB As I said we grew up in Pomaz and when we started to play this music our situation was very easy because we has been playing with the old musicians living around in the Serbian communities in Pomaz, Szentendre, Budakalasz and Csobanka. So we started to collect in this way - playing and singing with them to learn the tunes and songs and we recorded it just a few times because we were busy with our instruments. Later we managed to collect in other parts of Hungary of course, and we collected many important and special pieces of tambura music in Felsozentmáron and in other small villages as well. For example the music and dances of Lakocsa were very important for us. Also Gabor (Eredics) and Miroszlav (Brczan) did fieldwork in Yugoslavia (mainly Serbia and Macedonia) in the eighties.

IM Some years ago your ensemble played with the Baranya Orchestre and dancers, can you tell me about this?

Yes, we were invited to play with them on their performances many times from the seventies. I think it was because we were very close in thinking as regards the folk music and its interpretation. Our collaboration is documented on an LP (The Baranya Ensemble) which was recorded in 1990. Folk dance groups played an important role in our career. We started with the local dance group in Pomaz later we worked with Baranya and Tanac Group (both dance group are working in Pecs) as well.

IM Orchestre Antal Kovacs, Joca Mimika and Sztipan Pavkovity, how have these artists influenced Ensemble Vujicsics?

They were undoubtedly very important folk-musicians as they all had their own special style.

Antal Kovács (from the famous Kovacs dynasty) was the most virtuosic tambura player in Hungary living in a Southern small town, Mohacs, which is a very important centre of tambura music. He was one of the most important tambura 'primas' (leader) and his rendering presented influences of gipsy music. We met him, played with him and recorded him several times - so his influence is very characteristic in our tambura music.

Joca Mimika - the legendary violin player Joca Mimika has been living and working in the Bacska region in the early decades of last century. His playing was documented on those Columbia Records collection and we fell in love with it.

Sztipan Pavkovity was a violinist with diabolic instrumental skills and actually he was one of the few who played Croatian and Serbian folk music with violin in Hungary. He has been living in a small village called Pecsudvard (near Pecs) but he was famous all around with his band. As he died before we started to play we learned his music from tapes. My wife who had been living in that village heard his last playing at a wedding where all people of the village was dancing, she said it was fantastic!

IM Would you say that your music is primarily dance music, kolo dance music?

MB Yes, definitely, it is mostly dance music but we play many songs simply for listening.

IM When you play live do you have a Kolo leader?

MB We usually play in concert situations but if they ask us to make a 'dance house' or a dance workshop we invite a dancer to teach and to lead the kolo (so-called 'kolovoda').

IM What music events do you regularly play at and how often does Ensemble Vujicsics play in Szentendre?

MB Usually we play concerts all over Hungary and in Europe - sometimes with dance-house. Also we often have appearances at theatres.

IM Some years ago I saw you play live and the set included what I thought were very Turkish sounding folk music, I have never heard these in any of your recordings, do you think you will ever do some?

MB That must be Rastanak a slow and very sad tune which is on our Samo sviraj and on Vujicsics 25 albums. This is a very important song in our repertoire. It is a Turkish origin tune later played by Serbian musicians as a farewell song.

IM Where was the tune Farandole from? (Released on the Heimetklange compilation.)

MB Farandole is a Macedonian wedding tune and it was a famous song on our repertoire in the eighties. Sometime we play it again as it has a very nice mood.

IM Is the Vents D'Est project still going? If so can we expect any new recordings?

MB Yes, but it is a group of fourteen to eighteen musician (Ghymes - a Hungarian group from Slovakie, Vujicsics - a Slavian group from Hungary and some guest musicians and soloists from many countries) led by Miqueu Montanaro. This project is a very hard and expensive thing to organize being such a 'big band', but we have some concerts in Europe next year with Vents d'Est.

IM What was your involvement in the Kati Szvorak 'Wedding in Central Europe' CD release?

MB Kati had the idea about which songs to play with her and we did the arrangements and accompanied her.

IM What does your teaching and lecturing work entail?

MB Teaching is a very important element of my musical philosophy and I have been teaching since 1979 in music schools of Pomaz and Szentendre (where I started my music lessons in my childhood), from 1986 at the Department of Jazz at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and from 1990 at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of music in Budapest. Between 1997 and 2000 I was the chairman of the Jazz Department of the latter institution. Among these I gave lectures and master classes in Hungary (summer camps in Hungary, and abroad (e.g. Royal Academy of Music in London, Conservatoire de Lyon etc.).

IM Any new Slav folk music bands that you enjoy?

MB There are a lot of good bands - Kolo from Tokol, ......... Söndörgo.

IM What are the plans for Ensemble Vujicsics?

MB We are working on a number of pieces from a 1912 Bartok collection from Banat. This isn't a well-known area of Bartok's lifework; his collections of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovakian music are much better known. There are 21 songs altogether, which he collected from the Serbs of Banat. So the next album will be Serbian, in this respect. We will finish it next spring and it will come out summer of 2004.

IM We look forward to hearing this, thank you!