Often people tell me that they discovered the Hungarian folk music. They found a cd of Muszikas or an old Kolinda record at the attic. Or worse, they found at a flea market some old record with tourist music: " Greetings from Hungary". Such a beautiful country, such a strong musical history; how come that the Hungarian groups that are well-known outside Hungary all bring their music close to the tradition? Don't get me wrong, I like Muzsikas and the first two Kolinda records are fabulous but music should change, should be influenced by the present and not only give a picture of how it was 300 years ago. Suddenly, about three years ago somebody gave me a new cd with the words: " You like this traditional stuff don't you? Listen to this!" It was the first Transsylvanians cd and I loved it from the first minute. This is Hungarian music? This is Bartok? I couldn't sit still and the music made me smile and dance through the room. Nobody seems to know them and it took me three years before I saw them live on stage for the first time. It was also my chance to meet them shortly and ask them a few questions. So enjoy this story of a Berlin based band, playing Hungarian music.
It started with two people. Andras Tiborcz and Szilvana were playing traditional Hungarian folk music together. In 1996 Hendrik Maass joined them and the other members Sabine Schein, and Thomas Leisner followed soon or in the years after. The name "The Transsylvanians" is chosen partly because their music is based on music from Transsylvania and partly because (and I quote from their web-site):" It reflects the wandering homelessness that is part of modern live. Transsylvania doesn't really exist as a fixed state; it's made up of people from a lot of different countries. That seems to fit very well with the lives of the members of the band, and the different musical influence they bring into it." Their music changed from traditional style to what they are playing today: A mixture of folk, classical, punk-rock and techno. It is mostly Andras that brings in the songs. He has a Hungarian background while the other members come from Russia and Germany where the group is based. Henrik: " When we have a new song we change it together with the whole group. That can be a tough process, believe me we can have some strong discussions but it's important that everybody feels the song is a part of him. We feel a close relationship with each other. If you are not one hundred percent Transsylvanian it is impossible to become a member of our band. We are touring a big part of the year through Europe and are not home very often. That makes it also necessary that we work on the songs together, that we bring something everybody is satisfied with." Szilvana:" Most of us are not born Hungarian so we don't feel the tradition very strongly as such. That makes us able to do with this music what we want. We create our own tradition using the different background of the musicians. I don't mean their family background only, the musicians also have a very different musical history and that makes it possible for us to create the unique Transsylvanians sound. The only stable factor in our music is that it's Hungarian music. Believe me, nothing else is sure in our group."
When you visit a concert of the Transsylvanians you feel like live is one big party. But, do people always react positive towards their music? What do the Hungarian say about what they did with "their" songs? Szilvana: " We never play in Hungary. The people there have a very strong (band als relatie bedoel ik) with their culture and especially their music. It's not allowed to touch their history. That's why it's good we were not born there, it makes it easier for us to use the music in a different way. Who knows, maybe when we all were rooted in Hungary we would never make this music. Also outside Hungary people we can get into trouble. It happened to us about two weeks ago when we were playing in Poland. The first night we gave a concert together with another band that also played Hungarian music but much more traditional. The club was filled with their fans and believe me we had a tough time performing there. They just didn't like what we were doing and they made us feel that. It was a strange but also somehow funny evening. But the next day we played at the Market Square and the village people had fun and enjoyed our music. But then, they were not Hungarian but Polish. It doesn't bother us that some people don't like what we are doing. Most people enjoy the music we bring and have fun when we play live on stage!" I can only confirm this last sentence. Their stage performance at the festival I saw them play at last summer is full off energy. Szilvana carrying her bass all over the stage singing with such power was even discussed a day later by people who saw this concert. Even my father danced and if music can reach that than it must be something special. Beware of the Transsylvanians you can run in to them everywhere in Europe. Don't be scared and don't run away. Just stay and feel their mystic energizing music and enjoy dancing!
Further infos/contact: The Transsilvanians homepage.
Photo Credit: All photos by the Mollis
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