Leading Hungarian gypsy band to connect with Indian roots


New Delhi : The Roma gypsies are coming home to the sun and sand dunes of Rajasthan to make music this autumn.

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Parno Graszt, billed as one of the best Hungarian gypsy bands, will not only play in India next month but is already busy making contact with relatives and friends in the country. After all, the gypsies of Europe trace their roots to Rajasthan.

The desert state will get to hear Hungarian gypsy music for the first time when the band performs at the Royal International Folk Festival (RIFF) in Jodhpur from Oct 10-14.

The band, a village ensemble set up in 1987, is looking forward to performing in India. But the feeling that this is home is taking time to sink in.

“I couldn’t feel my home in any other place than my village. But after we were invited by RIFF to play in Rajasthan, I got a Christmas card from someone in India who claims to be my relative. And I am going to meet him for the first time in my life,” Jozsi, the lead vocalist of Parno Graszt, told IANS in an e-mail interview from Hungary.

“We are all very curious and excited. I have no idea if we will understand the Roma language of Rajasthan. I just can’t wait to get there.”

The group that has heard only a couple of Indian songs feels there are two aspects of gypsy music that share roots in a common Indian past.

“Some of the vocal melodies in Rajasthani gypsy music are very similar to our slow ‘hush’ songs. Likewise, the ‘oral bass’ techniques sound very much alike. So, I am really looking forward to meeting our local musicians,” Jozsi said.

Parno Graszt’s music is homemade – more of a song-of-the-road kind of music that requires nothing but a guitar, a milk can, someone who can sting bass and a bit of Romany soul.

“It might sound surprising that the earliest Hungarian gypsy folk music was missing the ‘real’ instruments like the violin and the guitar. These instruments appeared in our music only after the rural gypsies moved to the cities and met other musicians,” Jozsi said.

The group finds it difficult to recapitulate its genesis – it all began naturally, they say. “We learnt all our melodies from our grandparents. I cannot really trace back our musical heritage earlier than their time. However, ethnologists mark the 17th century as the beginning,” Jozsi said.

The family group was formed when the vocalist was 16.

“When our group won the first talent contest, we had to find a name to write on the award. My dad had a beautiful white horse we all loved; and so we named it Parno Grazst, the White Horse, in the Romany language. The name also stands for simplicity and freedom,” he said.

The urban gypsies took to violin while the rural gypsies picked up the guitar, he said.

The group plays music from the northeastern Hungarian heartland called the Szabolcs-Szatmar and some from Transylvania and neighbouring Romania.

“In the beginning, we used to play no ‘real’ artisan instrument simply because we couldn’t buy any… so we clapped and slapped on everything we had around: spoons, milk pots 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 are playing a gut-stringed double bass,” Jozsi said.

However, three other instruments became popular at a later stage – the violin, the taragot (or Turkish pipe) and the Hungarian cimbalon (similar to the Indian santoor).

The gypsies sing about life in the most simple way … “There’s nothing more to add here,” the musician explained.

The lyrics are down-to-earth. Love, family and homecoming are the recurring themes.

“Shall I ride up to little Paszab, finding me a fine woman; run off with her pretty daughter, finding me my bliss for good,” run the opening bars of a popular number, “Pretty Girl”.

Some of its signature songs are, “Under My Gardens”, “Roaming, Roaming and Ever Roaming” and “My Horse”.

Writer Simon Broughton of Songlines, a leading international classical music magazine, who spent a weekend with the group in Hungary last year, wrote: “They do not use sources of Gypsy Music, they are the source itself.”