Bob Cohen's October Romanian Expedition

I'll admit it. I'm more than a little interested in Romanian village musics.

Not as worked up about it as my pal Bob Cohen. Bob lives in Budapest and leads a crackerjack Jewish band there called Di Naye Kapelye that has released 2 of the most enjoyable CD's in my collection. I've ranted about him before. Recently, he found this here blog and then sent me the following photos of his summer trip into the Sub Carpathians in search of cranky old fiddlers who could maybe remember a Jewish melody. He's one of the most generous fieldworkers I've ever encountered in the whole of the alleged Jewish Music "scene." It's my pleasure to share his stories and Fume's picture with y'all:

"OK, these photos are from my October trip, taken by Fumie Suzuki. The Australian tsimbl player Tim Meyen and fiddler Pip Thompson were with us. The idea was to hit Maramures looking for more older fiddlers and to gather more info on the Ovitch family band in Rozavlea, who were the Jewish Dwarf Circus known as the Liliput troupe. The Discovery network is doing a documentary film about them based on the book "In Our Hearts We Were Giants" by Negev Koren, and Di Nayes had recorded some of their repetoire for the film. (My note: No, he's not joking. Only Bob can get away with the preceeding statement with a completely straight face.)

Churaru is a fiddler in Petrova, Marmaures, who still plays some of the older Jewish repetoire learned via the Jewish fiddler remembered as "Benzine" (this is what happens when people have to remember a name like BenZion) who played with his father.

Players of Vioara cu goarne (Stroh Violin) at the Fekete To (Black Lake) peasant fair in Negreni, Transylvania. Fair happens the second weekend of October yearly in Negrenio, about an hour north of Cluj. Seen are Traian from Bratca, Dorel Cordoban, who makes and sells these fiddles, from Comunna Lazuri, Ghitsa from Zalau, and me on kontra violin.

Ion Covaci from Saliste, known as Ionu lui Grigore, nicknamed "Paganini". He plays with Ion Pop from Hoteni a lot, and played a whole set of Jewish wedding tunes for us, including acting out the role of the Badchen (called Mashalinke in these parts) during the ceremony. Some of these tunes are on our next Naye CD.

Nicolae Covaci from Dragomiresti, one of my favorite old fiddlers. In Maramures they say you don't learn fiddle, you "steal fiddling." I steal a lot from Nicolae. I worked with Nicolae's older brother, Ionnei from Ieud for several years. Ionnei died two years ago, but Nicolae is still a good source for memories of the Jewish musicians who used to play in the region. Both Nicolae and Ionnei played with the Shloimovich family band before WWII. Ionu lui Grigore remembers hearing that band but didn't actually play with them. Nicolae strings his fiddle with telephone wire and tunes.

Mitsitsi is Gheorghe la Urecche ("George the Ear") the older fiddler from Leordina. He and his son were digging a ditch when I met them,dropped everything, and started to play for us. Great folks. Mitsitsi's father played with the Jewish fiddler "Benzine" regularly before WWII, they were partners in a smuggling operation across the Tisa river to the Carpatho Ukraine. Benzine apparently worked alone as a Badchen and fiddler who regualrly hired local Covaci clan Gypsies to accompany him when there was a Jewish wedding. Remebered as a somewhat "weak" fiddler, Benzine had the area pretty much to himself since it was a long haul to get the preferred Shloimovich band across the central mountain ridge that divides Maramures. This area is already heavily Hutsul, and you can hear the "Hutsul hesitation" in the phrasing of his Jewish tunes, especially the Jewish De Jale (doinas.)

The Rusyn/Hutsul band from TecsE (long umlaut on the o) comes from the other side of the Tisa river in Tjaciv (Yiddish:Tetch) the Ukraine. A lot of Jews used to live in the area, and part of Perele Gluck's family hail from there. They are absolutely one of the best old style Carpathian bands around, and they come to Budapest every couple of months. Josika (accordion) Misa (tsymbaly) and Yura (drums and plonka - birch bark leaf held in mouth) are brothers, sons of Manya Chernovich, the main fiddler in Tjaciv until his death. The fiddler, Ivan, married into the family. Ivan played drums with his father from Visk, and at the age of 9 he was included with his pop playing on a 1969 Soviet boxed set of down and dirty Ukrainian folk music that I have as well. They play Rusyn, Hungarian, Maramures Romanian, and some Jewish pieces. While hanging out with them they also played some classically Jewish Klezmer pieces - I figured they had copped a Klematics CD someplace - but they didn't even think of these as Jewish, but as "Moldavian pieces." They have a great CD out on Hungary's Ethnophone label. (My note: I have this CD and I recommend it highly.)

Finally, here's and old black and white pic of a Hutsul band found on the web someplace... Josika told me that in the classic old style bands there might be a clarinet, but not today... the accordion takes that voice now.