Garth Cartwright chats to the blind violinist about his Belgian roots and his continued fascination with Hungarian Gypsy music
When Tcha Limberger’s Budapest Gypsy Orchestra take to the UK for an extensive March tour, it will give music lovers an opportunity to hear a uniquely Hungarian music form. Limberger is from Belgium and toured the UK last November with his Kalotaszeg Trio (who play a specific form of Transylvanian folk music). He is a musical dynamo whose huge passion for music, especially those of Europe’s Romani people, has led him to seek out multiple musical genres. A slim man who has been blind since birth, Limberger speaks eight languages, plays guitar, clarinet and violin (“my main instrument, even though I did not begin playing it until I was 19”) and speaks with intelligence and eloquence.
“I was born in Bruges. My mother is Flemish and my father a Manouche Gypsy guitar player. Aged six I started learning how to play flamenco guitar. My father had been to the Gitan [Gypsy] Pilgrimage at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer [in Provence] and returned with gramophone records so this is how I came to know this music. At the same time I got interested in music from all around the world: Bolivian Indian music and New Orleans jazz are two forms I learned to play. Aged 13 I joined my father’s brother’s band playing clarinet and we played Gypsy jazz and some Hungarian music too.”
Limberger describes various musicians he met as a teenager who helped him understand different music forms. “I’m not a purist but I’m not attracted by a lot of fusion. Rock is something that never attracted me – acoustic music is important to me. In my teens my father and I went to Budapest to play. It felt like sitting in a hot bath – it just felt so good! I knew then, at 19, this is what I wanted to do. The Budapest style of Hungarian music uses a classical basis, which is contrary to other Gypsy music styles.”
Transylvanian Folk Music
Limberger became so immersed in Hungarian music he decided to learn Hungarian. Having done so (via braille and a tutor provided by Brussels’ Hungarian embassy), he shifted to Budapest, “and I found out what I had been warned about – the music I wanted to play is dying out very quickly. Magyar nóta is Hungarian chanson music born at the end of the 1700s. It is derived from village music but more polished and got popular quickly. The dying out of Magyar nóta was due to people now thinking it was very cheesy.”
With his Budapest Gypsy Orchestra Limberger has stripped Magyar nóta back to its roots and their album Bura Termett Ido is a beautiful document.
“The repertoire I play is hugely complicated and difficult to play. I had to find my own style. That cost some years. Back in Belgium I got called one night to come and play with a local Hungarian band and I was like ‘wow, Hungarians want me to play!’ I played all night and it clicked!”