Posts Tagged ‘roby lakatos’

Live Review | Songlines Encounters Festival 2016, June 2-4

Posted on June 6th, 2016 in Live, Recent posts by .


Simon Broughton, Jo Frost and Alexandra Petropoulos report from the Songlines Encounters Festival 2016 at London’s Kings Place
(Photos by Alex Harvey-Brown, Simon Broughton and Miriam Abdulla)

Thursday, June 2

“I got this bone from my grandmother,” said Karoliina Kantelinen as the audience collapsed into laughter at the thought it might be her grandmother’s thigh bone. Then there was the amusement, for us, as she realised what she said had been misconstrued. The bone for playing the shaman drum was actually from a reindeer, handed on by Kantelinen’s fondly-remembered grandmother.


The story underlined the intensely personal nature of Värttinä’s music, founded over 30 years ago by Mari Kaasinen, still at the centre of the group. There were songs they’d written about their own experiences and songs they’d learnt from old singers they had met over the border in Viena Karelia, Russia, one of the heartlands of Finnish culture.

For Songlines Encounters, they did a superb set as just three vocalists without their regular backing band. It brought a great sense of women power. They accompanied themselves on kantele (the zither that is Finland’s national instrument), flutes and superb accordion playing from Susan Aho. But the highlights were the a capella numbers, which really emphasised the superb focus and versatility of these singers. Melodies, shrieks and percussive vocals create an astonishing range of textures and make this music that is distinctly local in origin work on an international stage. And Värttinä perform it with an infectious joy.

Simon Broughton

John Williams & Derek Gripper
Friday, June 3 

This was one of the most successful concerts we’ve held at Songlines Encounters. Not only because it sold out, but because it revealed two different musical personalities exploring, mainly, West African kora music played on classical guitar. Arranging kora music for guitar has been the passion of Derek Gripper for the past 15 years or so. Kings Place is perfect for a concert like this where you can concentrate on the intricacy of the playing and enjoy the warm, rich sound.

They opened with the two of them playing together, then Gripper doing a solo set, followed by Williams, and then joining together again at the end. The fundamental question is why listen to kora music arranged for guitar when you can easily listen to Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyaté or Seckou Keita playing the real thing? This concert clearly demonstrated why it’s worth doing. It becomes rich and beautiful concert music on the guitar with a totally different acoustic. Gripper brings a whole variety of textures to his playing, delicate harmonics, snapping  the strings, abruptly stopping them and knocking the neck of the instrument. These come from kora techniques, but never just imitate them.

John Williams took an accompanying role in the duo repertoire but showed the smooth and refined style that he’s famous for in the singing legato melody by Paraguayan composer Agostín Barrios in the first of his solo pieces. And followed with some dance-like Venezuelan repertoire.

Together they created a rich and intricate sound that is beautiful and absorbing. I think we all felt it was something very special.

Derek Gripper plays Thursday June 9 at Wyeside Arts Centre, Builth, Wells and Friday June 10 at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan.

Simon Broughton


Vula Viel
Friday, June 3

After the serene intensity of Friday night’s first billing of Derek Gripper and John Williams’ guitar duets, the concert in Hall 2 proved to be a wonderful foil. Vula Viel are a London-based quintet, led by Bex Burch, a classically-trained percussionist. Burch became interested by the minimalism of Steve Reich and how Ghanaian music influenced him, so she went to Ghana and spent three years studying the Dagaare gyil (xylophone). Gyil music is mainly ceremonial, in particular it’s played at funerals. “Dagaare funerals aren’t about consolation: it’s an opportunity to confront difficult truths and explore your grief. The harshness of mourners’ judgements often sparks a renewal,” Burch told Songlines in June 2015.

Vula-Viel-©Miriam-AbdullaVula Viel means ‘Good is Good’ – and it’s the name Burch was given when she had finished her apprenticeship. The focal point of the band is the gyil, with the two drummers – Dave de Rose and Simon Roth – sat on opposite sides of the stage so that they could eyeball each other as they played with incredible precision. George Crowley swayed back and forth behind Burch on sax and Dan Nicholls looked unassuming yet has an integral part in creating the band’s hypnotic sound on synth and keys. I was initially stood at the back of the hall and was convinced that Burch had smuggled a trampoline onstage as she bounced up and down, left and right Zebedee-style, a completely compelling figure. I found myself drawn to the front to join in with the crowd who were dancing and soaking up the incredible energy emitting from the musicians. They played tracks from their debut album and also some new compositions, with Burch giving brief introductions and fascinating insights into Ghanaian life. One of the tunes translates as ‘You’re Sitting with Your Enemy, You’re Sitting With Your Drink,’ and Burch explained that it’s a common occurrence in Ghana to put poison in drinks, so you never accept a drink from someone without them drinking it first – so there was much amusement when just after this explanation, the stage manager came on with bottles of water for the band.

Vula Viel really embody what Songlines Encounters is all about – music deeply connected to a tradition, yet new, exciting and innovative at the same time. There’s no denying that they really are very good indeed.

Jo Frost

Roby Lakatos
Saturday, June 4

On Saturday afternoon, Kings Place was treated to a second performance by the sublime pairing of John Williams & Derek Gripper after a sold-out show the previous night. What followed later that evening was something completely different – flashy music from Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos. 

Lakatos is a descendant of the legendary violinist János Bihari (1764-1827). Bihari’s playing, rooted in traditional dance music, became the sound of 19th-century Hungarian music. He would go on to inspire composers like Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, so it seems perfect that Roby Lakatos straddles the line between classical and traditional performance, though for this show he focused mainly on his Gypsy repertoire.

The flamboyant violinist came out on stage dressed in bright red trousers, a long blue jacket and his signature halo of grey hair, and he was joined on stage by Jenő Lisztes (cimbalom), Kalman Cseki (piano) and Vilmos Csikos (bass). Lakatos paced himself, starting with an elegant opening over a shruti box drone that sounded as if it could have been improvised. But it wasn’t long before he launched into his trademark nimble fingerwork for an uptempo Gypsy swing piece, complete with slap bass from a giggling Csikos.


Throughout his set, Lakatos’ unbelievable playing was definitely on display. His fingers can certainly move faster than you expect is possible, and he showed off the most impressively fast double-fingered pizzicato playing I’ve ever seen. But the virtuosic playing didn’t belong to Lakatos alone: Lisztes’s cimbalom playing was out of this world, especially on his arrangement of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’; Cseki’s playing on the piano was expertly jazzy or classical whenever the mood called for it, and Csikos put on an excellent show on the bass, and the fact that he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself – even throwing in a joke glissando in the middle of one of Lakatos’ solos – meant he was a joy to watch.

Unlike any other Songlines Encounters Festival performances to date, this was an evening of mind-blowing virtuosic technique from a quartet of musicians who are certainly not only at the top of their own game, but at the top of anyone else’s game too.

Alexandra Petropoulos


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Roby Lakatos: Hungarian Rhapsody

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


The Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos comes from an impressive Gypsy violin lineage, as Simon Broughton discovers

You can tell that Roby Lakatos is a character just by looking at him – the moustache, flamboyant clothes and his playing technique. He’s renowned in the classical world – his last recording was his own take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, he’s revered among jazz musicians, having played with Stéphane Grappelli and American trumpeter Randy Brecker, and he’s famed for his Hungarian Gypsy repertoire, the tradition into which he was born. Over seven generations, Lakatos is a direct descendent of János Bihari (1764-1827), the most celebrated Hungarian Gypsy violinist of his day. Pictures of him show a proud gait, a moustache (though not as big as the Lakatos variety), a head of dark hair and strong eyebrows. An intense, romantic figure to be sure, and his name – Bihari – means ‘from the county of Bihar,’ the area of the Great Plain, famed for its horsemanship and Gypsy culture. With an ensemble including violins, cimbalom and bass, Bihari was famous for playing verbunkos, a male dance with strongly accented dotted rhythms. The verbunkos, starting slow and ending fast, became the signature sound of Hungarian music at the turn of the 19th century.

Last October, Lakatos was a guest at the Amati Exhibition in London. It’s a violin show for instrument makers, dealers, collectors and musicians. He was performing and promoting his own range of Lakatos Pizzicato violin strings made by Thomastik-Infeld in Vienna. “I make these strings and everybody likes them. They’re very powerful and all violinists sound three times better,” he says.

When Lakatos plays he creates fireworks – runs and swoops up the fingerboard, bowing that is too fast to fathom and a joie de vivre that makes it all look a piece of cake. That’s why he’s a legend.

Lakatos was born in Budapest in 1965 into one of the most celebrated dynasties in the Gypsy violin tradition. “The Gundel Restaurant was the Lakatos place for years. Already during World War I my great-grandfather was playing there,” he says. From the 19th century, Budapest was famous for its Gypsy music and Gundel, close to the Széchenyi Baths in the City Park, was one of the prime places for the musical and culinary experience. Over the years its guests have included Yasser Arafat and Queen Elizabeth II.

“I started playing when I was three years old, but that was with a toy instrument. It got more serious when I was six years old,” Lakatos tells me. “At nine years old I was playing with my father Toni in his band. It was Gypsy music from 7 to 9pm. But at this time I also wanted to play Brahms, and I went to the Béla Bartók Conservatory, but I didn’t finish.”

In 1985, Lakatos was invited to play in a restaurant in Liège, Belgium. “It was a three-month contract and after that I was planning to go back, but it was a big success, we were playing till four in the morning. Now I’ve been outside for 30 years.”

Back in Budapest, Gypsy music was essentially café or restaurant music, adding a distinctive ambience to the evening. In the West, Lakatos realised he had to put this music on stage. This meant he broadened the repertoire to include classical and jazz as well as Gypsy – “all styles, Manouche, Balkan, Russian, flamenco and absolutely different to what was played at Gundel.”

In 1986 a friend opened Les Atéliers de la Grande Ile, a Russian restaurant in Brussels. Lakatos played there for 14 years. “It had 360 different sorts of vodka and became a celebrated place,” he says. “People came for the music. When there was a concert in Bozar [the main concert hall], all the musicians were coming there afterwards. That’s how I got to know Yehudi Menuhin when I recorded with Stéphane Grappelli. He said ‘Everybody in the musical world knows you, but the public doesn’t know you,’ and he helped me a lot from this moment.”

Lakatos started recording for Deutsche Grammophon (and now Avanti Classic) and hanging out with the violin glitterati. In 2000, he commissioned a violin from Leonidas Rafaelian, “the living Stradivari in Cremona.” But he has also had two Stradivarius on loan over the years.

Since the fall of communism in Hungary, Gypsy music in restaurants has declined. It’s expensive to have a four or five-piece band, and there is something kitsch about this repertoire or the way in which it’s played. Over the past 20 years there’s been more interest in the rural Gypsy music as performed by Kalyi Jag, Parno Graszt and Romengo: voices accompanied by guitars, metal water pots and other household implements, rather than virtuoso fiddles and cimbalom. It’s something closer to real Gypsy music than a 19th-century fantasy.

But in the past few years, there’s been a slight revival in the retro tradition, largely thanks to Tcha Limberger who’s stripped away a lot of the kitsch. And Lakatos, having not played in Budapest for 18 years, has started doing concerts there again.

And frankly, Lakatos clearly enjoys the kitsch, playing ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’, Monti’s ‘Csárdás’ and ‘Schindler’s Liszt’ (pun intended). But from the Songlines perspective it’s János Bihari and the Gypsy repertoire that’s interesting. Bihari became a celebrity and toured the Habsburg Empire between 1802 and 1824, playing in Austria, Hungary, Transylvania, Bohemia and more. ‘His musical cascades fell in rainbow profusion or glided along in a soft murmur,’ wrote Franz Liszt in his book on Hungarian Gypsy music. Liszt heard him in 1822 when he was just 11, but the impression seems to have been overwhelming: ‘His performances must have distilled into my soul the essence of some generous and exhilarating wine; for when I think of his playing, the emotions I then experienced were like one of those mysterious elixirs concocted in the secret laboratories of those alchemists of the Middle Ages.’ Liszt himself went on to compose his Hungarian Rhapsodies, largely inspired by Bihari. They were written originally for piano and evoke the decorative violin ornamentation and the rippling sound of the cimbalom in the accompaniment. Johannes Brahms too, although he didn’t hear Bihari personally, wove his music into his own Hungarian Dances for piano.

Bihari himself couldn’t notate music, but he could certainly compose. His pieces were written down and have been passed on – especially within the Lakatos family. “My father played all the pieces,” Lakatos says. Does he have a favourite? “I love ‘Hejre Kati’,” he says. “It’s very technical, very virtuoso like Sarasate or Paganini and it’s become my speciality.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #118.

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New issue (June 2016) on sale now!

Posted on May 6th, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

Songlines June Edition - Lila Downs

Mexican singer Lila Downs; Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos; Gambian kora player Sona Jobarteh; the new UK Festival Guide; and the Songlines Music Awards winners

The June (#118) edition is on sale in the UK from today. The free exclusive 15-track covermount CD features ten tracks from our latest Top of the World albums and a guest playlist by radio presenter and British singer-songwriter Tom Robinson.

Featured on the Top of the World CD are new tracks from Imarhan, rapper and kora player duo Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyaté and musical collective Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble.


Lila Downs Songlines

Lila Downs – We talk to the singer about the problems in her country and how her mestizo background shapes and influences her music
Roby Lakatos – The Hungarian violinist discusses his Gypsy violin lineage
Sona Jobarteh – The kora player discusses the musical journey that has taken her on a path through traditional griot music and Western classical performance
UK Festival Guide – We unveil our new and extensive UK Festival Guide
Songlines Music Awards – We reveal this year’s winners.


Zakir Hussain Songlines Beginner's Guide

Zakir Hussain– A Beginner’s Guide to the remarkably diverse career of the Indian percussion legend.
Tom Robinson – A playlist and interview with the British singer-songwriter and radio presenter Tom Robinson, who talks about his strong enthusiasm for music and artists that have caught his ear recently.
Ffatri Vox – Inge Thomson tells us how she was inspired by the sounds and stories of Welsh women factory workers for her latest work.

PLUS! Reviews of the latest CD, book and world cinema releases.

Click here to buy the new issue.

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Next issue preview: June (#118)

Posted on April 22nd, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .


Mother of Mexico; Lila Downs chats about the problems in her country and how her mestizo background shapes and influences her music

Other features include Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos who discusses his Gypsy violin lineage; we reveal the winners of this year’s Songlines Music Awards; our new, extensive UK Festival Guide; plus the latest CD, book and world cinema reviews to get stuck into.

The issue’s Top of the World covermount CD includes brand new tracks from Touareg band Imarhan, piper-turned-singer Jarlath Henderson and Welsh alternative folk group 9Bach, plus an exclusive playlist from British singer-songwriter and radio presenter Tom Robinson, who talks about his strong enthusiasm for music and artists that have caught his ear recently.

The issue is on sale in the UK from May 6. Click here to purchase your copy now.

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