Parno Graszt
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Parno Graszt

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STYLE
Ce groupe tsigane de Hongrie, tous violons en avant, ressemble a un combo de rock'n'roll.

LABEL
Fono travaille a la perennite du patrimoine musical hongrois, entre clémarche d'archivage et de prospection.

ATOUTS
La preuve par le live : une tournee des festivals europeens a incleniablement confirme la revelation.

La frontiere ukrainienne n'est plus tres loin, et dans cette plaine hongroise figee par le gel, le relief se limite aux bras hesitants de la riviere Tisza et a d'innombrables bosquets qui donnent
leurs noms aux villages du comte de Szabolc-Szatmar. II faut ainsi passer le Bosquet du gitan, puis le Bosquet de Varga, pour trouver Paszab, le village de Jozsef Olah et de son groupe Parno Graszt.« Notre nom signi fie "cheval blanc", explique le chanteur et guitariste qui eclate aussitOt de rire. Pas tres originaux, ces roms, avec leurs groupes nommes systematiquement "cheval", "yeux" ou "feu", d'une couleur ou d'une autre. » Mais un hennissement dans la petite ecurie attenante revele cependant un « parno graszt » tout ce qu'il y a de plus blanc, fierte de cette petite ferme clouee sur quatre hectares d'herbe et de mats.

En deux disques composes, joues et enregistres au galop, les dix musiciens de Parno Graszt se sont reveles run des meilleurs groupes tsiganes d'Europe Centrale, prenant d'assaut les scenes des plus Brands festivals europeens avec un aplomb et un culot proches d'un combo de rock'n'roll. « Nous ne sommes pas issus d'une tradition musicale. Encourages par nos parents, nous avons cependant appris a nous débrouiller avec des instruments cles l'enfance. » Dans le salon de la maison, le frere de Jozsef, Janos, saisit aussit. Ot la porte des WC pour une demonstration musicale que ne renierait pas Pierre Henry. « Faute d'instrument, j'ai d'abord imite la contrebasse en grattant le bois. »

A des kilometres de Budapest, ces tsiganes francs du collier seraient-ils plus authentiques que les violonistes ombrageux interpretant du Django dans les restaurants de la capitate? Rien n'est simple dans un pays ou la culture tsigane se mélange intimement avec l'histoire hongroise au point de perdre ses racines. «J'essaie une melodies sur mon synthe dans trois styles diffrents : si co passe, c'est que le morceau est digne de figurer au repertoire. Ensuite, j'ecris les paroles en hongrois et ma belle-sour les traduit en rom. » En voilä, du grain a moudre pour les ethnomusicologues : Parno Graszt se declare attaché a la langue de ses origines, mais presque personne dans le groupe n'est capable de la parler. a Dans les festivals tsiganes, on nous accueille toujours avec des "baxtale romale", et nous savons peine dire merci. »

Dans cette region reculée, la musique tsigane est longtemps restee confinee aux ball de village et aux mariages. Si les violons faisaient gambiller les paysans, seuls la voix et le battement des mains sur une cruche servaient aux fetes familiales des tsiganes Olah. C'est le groupe Kalyi Jag qui a utilise le premier des guitares acoustiques dans les annees 80. Depuis, la plupart des groupes tsiganes hongrois utilisent cet instrument au ton plus pop et urbain que le crincrin des anciens. « L'autre jour, des filles sont venues nous demander le troisiesme morceau de notre dernier CD, raconte Jozsef Olah. Quel embarras ! Non seulement je n'ai
aucune iclee de l'ordre de nos morceaux, mais je n'en connais même pas les titres. le ne reconnais nos chansons qu'O leur premiere phrase, et souvent, je change le sens du refrain sur
scene. le ne suis pas du genre a chanter systematiquement la méme histoire d'un type ivre et malheureux qui s'est coince le pied dans une porte. Une chanson, (a dolt bouger et faire bouger les gens, non ?»

Thierry Sartoretti
Vibration - February 2005 - Thierry Sartoretti, Vibrations (February 2005)


Catching Parno Graszt when they have something to celebrate must be quite an experience because this Hungarian gypsy troupe certainly know how to turn a gig into a party. There's a natural exuberance and bounce to their music as, largely predicated on the tambura's bright, chiming sound, songs are taken up and given as many choruses as the mood dictates.

Often the mood will be set by band members whose roles are multiple. The spoons player, for example, is an amazing dancer whose skipping, foot-slapping moves join the dots between the South African gumboot dance and Appalachian ham-boning. Later he'll produce a pole and perform a don't-try-this-at-home routine - part juggling, part martial art. Less concerned with skill is the mother figure, a woman who's clearly used to getting things done when she wants them doing and who imperiously fills the dancefloor.

While all this movement is happening, the band plays and sings on, introducing flamenco-like flavours on guitar and accordion and revealing a variety of vocal tones that, if they were singing in French or English, might pass for Cajun or blues. Whatever language he uses - and it seems to contain a vocalese of his own devising - the percussionist who beats his palm on two water jugs while maintaining a constant flow of improvised mouth music in tandem with the bassist's slapped lines is the source of much of the group's energy. Not your standard rhythm section, perhaps, but then not much is standard in the Parno Graszt manifesto. - Rob Adams, The Herald (30.08.2008)


Hungarian Roma band Parno Graszt in their first UK appearance blew the roof off the Spiegeltent showing just what a real gypsy group are about, taking us into intense music of weddings, funerals, christenings and every festivity in between. This was very much a family affair, with the eight of them singing while playing guitars, accordion, wooden spoons and electric tamboura and vivaciously dancing, radiating an exuberant energy.

Their singing involved an upfront style with one solo voice joined by another, using vigorous timbric group harmonies for chorus lines. Every tune was underpinned by an amusing instrument consisting of two small battered milk churns being slapped while player István Németh created a constant stream of throaty mouth music like a resonant vocal bass as if he was talking to an animal.

With the two women dressed in traditional long, red, flowing skirts and barefoot, there was a definite feel of the outdoors as they joined the audience in the dancing. There was an unassailable conviction about everything Parno Graszt did, a natural passion that had the whole audience in the palm of their hands. And while one felt slight unease about a final dance that involved a man swinging a stick around a woman so that she had to keep at least one pace ahead, this was a compelling set by one of the best gypsy bands I've seen in a long time. - Jan Fairly, The Scotsman (01.09.2008)


1. I’ve heard that “Parno Graszt” mean “white horse”. Is there any particular significance behind that name for the band?
I used to have a white horse many years ago. The animal was rather skinny and not in the best of shape, but I loved it none the same. You have to realize that in those days having a horse was both a necessity and a status symbol for a gypsy. That’s where the name came from. At the same time, in a more romantic understanding, 'white' stands for purity and 'horse' for freedom, which I consider the real importance behind our name, of course.

2. Tell us about the band members and what they play.
Well, practically we are playing together since our childhood, we are literally one family. For this very reason, the composition of the band (9) has never changed. The only new members were my son on accordion and the son of the double bass player on guitar. They joined the band in 2007 and brought a great amount of fresh energy to our performance.

Talking about instruments, as I said, in the beginning we used to play no ‘real’, artisan instruments simply because we couldn’t buy any... so we clapped and slapped on everything we had around: spoons, milk pots, hods or even the frame of a door. I loved this one when I was a kid: if you water your fingers and move them down on the surface of a wooden frame, it gives a rugged staccato sound like when you’re playing a gut stringed double bass. There you are!

Another practical solution was our percussionist’s double churn which was originally a household item used for storing milk. We came up with the idea to lash two churns together so the percussionist could play standing by holding one under his arms and hitting the other with palm. I tell you I have never seen anyone playing the churn standing!

Then, our first artisan instruments were the guitars which we have started to use only in the mid-80ies. Still I feel that the guitar is completely part of our tradition because my grandfather has always played the zither which served as a guitar at that time.

On our records three additional instruments can be hear which traditionally were not used in our music but later became more and more popular: the violin, the taragot (or Turkish pipe, a woodwind instrument) and the Hungarian cimbalom (very similar to the Indian santoor).

3. Most people in India equate European gypsy music with Django Reinhardt and his modern followers like Bireli Lagrene and Jimmy Rosenborg. How would the band describe their music?
Well, it has a lot of basics in common with Manouche Gypsy music but has also several distinctive characters: it's less virtuoso but much more dynamic and... faster. It is music for the hands and feet. And as I just told it, it is played on special instruments like the churn, spoons and the double bass - well, this latter is not special but is barely used in Manouche Swing.

4. Does the band play their own compositions or do they perform traditional music?
We used to learn all the melodies from our grandparents so our music is basically traditional - as people would call it. In reality, and it might sound surprising, the traditional Hungarian Gypsy folk music was missing ‘real’ instruments like the violin or the guitar. These instruments appeared only after rural Gypsies started to travel to and back to the cities and met musicians of other styles. This could be dated for the 60ies and 70ies. So I could say that the instrumentation is quite new, but the songs and melodies are still ancient and we unconsciously express the same simple feelings and melodies the same way as our forefathers did. I wrote some new lyrics in recents years which became very common to be sung all over our region, so these can be regarded as own compositions which - hopefully - will turn into traditional. It's just a question of time - in all meanings.

5. Tell us something about the gypsy music tradition in Hungary.
It’s hard to tell the beginning of something which is so natural for us... as I said, we learnt all melodies from our grandparents… I cannot really trace back our musical heritage earlier than their time, though. However, ethnologists mark the 17th century as the beginning. I told just before, too, that the earliest Hungarian Gypsy folk music were missing ‘real’ instruments like the violin or the guitar and that these instruments appeared in our music only after rural Gypsies moved to the cities and met musicians of other styles. Today we got mainly two worlds of Gypsy music in Hungary: one is the 'urban' which got under more and more non-Gypsy influence recently and although it became more versatile it lost much of its splendid simplicity. The other - disappearing - style is the 'village' Gypsy music which we play.

6. Regarding the band’s concert in Delhi, the promotions talk about “Tracing Roots in India”. What does that exactly mean?

In Europe, there is a lot of myth about a possible motherland of all Gypsies: Rajasthan. We don't know muc - Dipanitha Nath, TimeOut Delhi (25.10.2008)


A few months ago I saw a delightful documentary on BBC4 about a Hungarian Gypsy village band called, on the film, Parno Grass. The next time I saw my friend Ian Anderson, I asked him if he'd seen it; he said he had - and also had their CD. Then, a few weeks ago, that generous man sent me a spare copy he'd unearthed from what must be one of the largest collections of records in the country - so here it is, up for review.

But first I'd like to return to the film for a moment; I called it delightful - and it is, in so many ways. It begins, on May Day morning, 2002, with the band's leader, József Oláh, leaving his house on foot to meet up with the other members, preparatory to the day's musical activities. The 'other members of the band' being, in this instance, practically the whole of the village of Paszab - for this is a real village band, numbering from the core 7 members, up to 20 or so, depending on who's around. The local touring version is 17-strong, including ten dancers of three generations - from 10 to 71 years old! In the course of the morning we climb on board a wagon pulled by the parno graszt, the White Horse of the CD's title, and meet the band's great-grandmother - yes, all 17 share the same great-grandmother!
We learn about life in the village, how they earn a living, how the band has made them more prosperous and more self-assured, and about their recent trip to a festival in Holland where "They treated us like Princes!" - and we realise that this means that their hosts treated them just like any of the other guests ... not something they are used to. A visiting local politician is told of the "only slight" racialism of their Hungarian neighbours; "They still hate us, but they don't burn our houses."

We also discover that, back in the late-1950s, a far-sighted village elder decided that their music and dance culture was both valuable and important, and in danger of being swamped by new influences from outside - and set about encouraging the participation of the youth of the community. Today's vibrant village culture, and Parno Graszt, is the result of his labours. In the film we see young dancers huddled round a TV watching, with great enthusiasm, films from half a century ago of their now elderly relatives dancing and playing - with some of these same relatives in attendance to instruct them in the subtleties of their art.

But the most delightful, and surprising, thing of all is the music. We are used to the stereotypical images of the Hungarian Gypsies; the café violinist, the cymbalom orchestra ... but this is only how some of them earn a living in a country where little else is open to them. Here in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, the most underdeveloped, and most traditional region of Hungary, there are precious few posh cafés and fewer rich tourists to support them. Here the Gypsies of Paszab play their own music, not that commercial invention. And it's immediately recognisable as the music of ordinary people, anywhere! By the end of the one-and-a-half-hour film, I knew that I could join in with this band ... not contribute to, certainly - but not detract from, either, their music.

Their CD is equally delightful; the music and singing - a little tighter and much better recorded than in the slightly shambolic social circumstances of the film - remains utterly entrancing. Here are a couple of sound clips: left, track 3, Zsotar; and right, track 8, Te na mero. If you think, probably rightly, that my view of it is coloured by having seen the film, then the video film clip included on the CD appears to be out-takes from that same film of May Day 2002, and will give you an idea of what it was about. Keep an eye open for the almost inevitable repeat on BBC4.

This lovely CD is available from Passion Music in the UK, at: www.passiondiscs.co.uk/e_pages/gypsy_e/fa202.htm where I see that they have just produced a second CD, Jarom az utam - In My World (Fonó Records FA-215-2) which I hope to be buying and reviewing shortly. - Rod Stradling, Mustrad Traditions Magazine (May 2004)


Simon Broughton spends time with the Gypsies and gets into the music and interior décor.

It's ten in the morning and we've already drunk brandy in a dozen houses in the village. And I've become a connoisseur of brick-imitation wallpaper. Garish red brick, thin grey brick, or brick with creeping ivy enhanced by hanging plastic leaves and flowers. This latter in the house of our host, József (Jozsi) Olah, guitarist and leader of the Hungarian Gypsy band Parno Graszt.

It's Easter Sunday and the tradition is to call on family and friends. But of course, it's
not just an exchange of greetings, every house has a table groaning with cakes, cutlets,
cucumber and bottles of drink � vivid pink and orange pop, beer and palinka (plum brandy). The first visits are in and out with a quick exchange of greetings and a dash of palinka. But soon songs and dances creep in and before long it's a mobile musical party.

Parno Graszt is largely a family affair and has been around for 20 years working simply as a village band playing for local celebrations. They're not an urban concert outfit, but a real Gypsy band, which is why I thought it was worth making a film about them, and why I'm here. Parno Graszt means 'white horse' in Romani and white, Jozsi tells me, is a symbol of purity. They play songs and dance music of the rural Hungarian Gypsies. They made their first CD (for Fon6 Records) in 2002 � a cracking disc, which got into the EBU World Music charts, and have recently released a second.

Paszab is an unremarkable village in north-east Hungary, an economically depressed area with a large Gypsy population. Until a decade ago there were jobs in Budapest and every week Gypsies travelled on the `Fekete Vonat' (Black Train) to the capital for work, but now their places have been taken by migrants from further east. Jozsi's father worked in Budapest till 1992, but nothing since then. Most live off social security and occasional piece-work.
Pazsab has about 1,300 inhabitants, around 30% of them Gypsy. Most of these live on the outskirts of the village and the `Gypsy Street' of 'c-houses' � cigany hazak (Gypsy houses), built by the state in the 70s. They're small concrete buildings with no running water, but individually painted and spotlessly clean inside, decorated with brick wallpaper and plastic flowers.

J6zsef Olah is one of the few that doesn't live in the Gypsy quarter, but in the village proper. He has a Hungarian wife, but as his mother said to me, "A Hungarian can make Gypsies, but Gypsies can't make Hungarians". At best there's latent racism from Hungarians. Everyone says relations in Paszab are good, although economic hardship hasn't helped. "There are two sorts of racism," says Aladar Horvath, of the Roma Civil Rights Foundation, "little racism and
big racism. Here it's little racism. They just hate you, but don't burn your house down."

In the afternoon we end up at one of Jozsi's relatives on Gypsy Street. It's a warm April afternoon and teenage girls are skimpily, even provocatively dressed in tight trousers or split skirts and revealing tops with bare arms. It's an informal party in the yard outside the house. The bass is tuned, Jozsi starts strumming his guitar and then pulls out a tanbura. Within minutes water cans have become tablas, guitars are fizzing and those bare arms have become seductive serpents snaking through the air.

Some of the songs are about the hardships of life, but most are escapist � fast, furious and catchy as hell with nonsense words and oral percussion. It's the romantic Gypsy cliché. Life is shit, but let's escape it for as long as we can and forget about tomorrow. "We are born like this," says Jozsi. "All our life is music and when I'm happy or sad I express it with music. That's why I've been playing like this since I was born."
- Simon Broughton, Songlines (Nov/Dec 2004)


Discography

Hit The Piano (2002, Fono Records)
In My World (2004, Fono Records)
This World Is Made For Me (2007, Podium Productions)

VIDEOGRAPHY
Life with a Hungarian Gypsy Band - European Roots Series (2002, MTV/ EBU)
Ramblers, Roamers, Vagabonds - Parno Graszt tracing roots in India (2008, Podium Productions)

COMPILATIONS
Balkanbeats 3 (2008, Eastblok)
East Europa - Métissage balkaniques (2006, Disques Office)
Gülbahar Kültür – Gypsy Garden Vol 2 (2006, Lola’s Word)
Rough Guide To The Music of Hungarian Gypsies (2007, World Music Network)
We Are Magyar Vol 2. (2008, Mamazone)

REMIXES
Gelem Gelem by DJ Gaetano Fabri
(remixer of Taraf de Haidouks, Kocani Orkestar and Mahala Rai Banda)

Photos

Bio

QUOTES
They do not use sources of Gipsy music - they are the source itself.
Simon Broughton, Songlines

One of the best gypsy bands I've seen in a long time.
Jan Fairly, The Scotsman

This Hungarian gypsy troupe certainly knows how to turn a gig into a party.
Rob Adams, The Herald

BIOGRAPHY
For Parno Graszt, being 'authentic' is nothing more than being themselves. Living in integrity, living a life and playing a music they always have had. As Simon Broughton (Songlines) said after meeting them in their home village: 'They do not use sources of Gypsy music, they are the source itself.'

Indeed, back in Paszab at times of social ceremonies (let it be any kind) music is shared by each one of the community: instruments are passed from hand to hand and practically everyone is a dance master. There is no band, there is no audience. There is one unified festive gathering. For Parno Graszt, their backyard is just the same as a festival stage with an audience of 50,000... too bad they cannot go on stage all together!

The band plays traditional Gypsy folk songs collected from North East Hungary and Romania along with their own compositions, thus representing a specific local dialect of Roma music. Their instruments are acoustic guitars, double bass, tamboura, spoons, stereo (!) water can and the ‘oral bass’ which is a continous vocal improvisation made by the percussionist. The band consists of 9 musicians including 4 dancers which is sometimes extended with cimbalom, accordion, violins and taragot.

Today a 50-years-old archive video is projected behind the group on stage, presenting the parents and grandparents of Parno Graszt dancing parallel with them – a real time journey between past and present! On special occasions the number of dancers are extended to 18 including three generations aged from 7 to 78.

AWARDS
Word Music Charts Europe : Nr. 7 (October 2002, WMCE)
TOP10 Artist of the Year (2003, Vibrations Magazine)

PAST HIGHLIGHTS
Concertgebouw Amsterdam (NL)
Couleurs Café Festival (BE)
Edinburgh Gypsy Arts Festival (UK)
Etna Festival Moscow (RU)
Eurosonic Groningen (NL)
Gaume Jazz Festival (BE)
Jodhpur Rajasthani International Folk Festival (IN)
Paléo Festival Nyon (CH)
Sziget Festival Budapest (HU)
Tribu Festival Dijon (BE)
Viljandi Folk Music Festival (ES)
Zomer van Antwerpen (BE)