Posts Tagged ‘sondorgo’

Feature | Sondorgo: Lost music of the Balkans

Posted on October 8th, 2015 in Recent posts by .


In 2011 Simon Broughton discovered the story of Hungarian tambura band, Söndörgő, prior to their Songlines Encounters performance. Four years later the band’s music continues to be met with critical acclaim. 

Söndörgő will be on tour in the UK from November 12-27. Find out more here.

The kid was just four years old, and playing with all the singleminded concentration and enthusiasm that young boys have when they are gripped by something that fascinates them. In his hands wasn’t a toy car or a football, but a tambura – a small mandolin-like instrument. As he noticed everyone was looking at him, he stepped into the limelight at the centre of a circle of onlookers and musicians and played like one possessed. More than anything, this was evidence of the healthy tradition of tambura playing here in the south of Hungary.

The tambura is typical of the Serbian and Croatian communities in Hungary – and over the border in Croatia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina. As an instrument it is fast, agile and precise – and its music is very catchy.  It’s like a meeting of Greek bouzouki and Hungarian violin, delicate yet fiery, as a tight group of strummed strings sparkle together. The music has an irrepressible spring to it. I’m listening to tambura players in Mohács in the south of Hungary.

Söndörgő have described what they play as the ‘Lost Music of the Balkans’ and it’s true. Hungary is famous for its Gypsy fiddle music, Serbia is famous for its brass bands, but here lost in the cracks between them is the delicate and distinctive sound of tambura music that’s virtually unknown.

In Hungary, Mohács is notorious for the battle that took place here in 1526 when Hungary was defeated by the Ottoman troops of Suleiman the Magnificent. It marked the end of Hungary’s golden age and the beginning of Turkish and Habsburg domination – the Turks left in 1699 and the Habsburgs were in control until World War I. In Hungarian ‘ More Was Lost at Mohács’ is a resilient expression meaning ‘Things Could be Worse.’ On a more cheerful note, Mohács is also famous for its Busójárás Lenten carnival with sheepskin costumes, scary masks and lots of tambura music. According to popular belief, the tradition started after the Turkish occupation when the population carved themselves masks, re-entered the town making lots of noise and scared away the Turks.

Most of the South Slav population in Hungary came because of the Turks. In the 14th and 15th centuries, as the Ottoman empire expanded into Serbia, many Serbians fled north up the Danube. The South Slavs founded a number of towns along the river which had, and in many cases still have, a strong Serbian or Croatian flavour. These include Mohács, Ráckeve (with the most beautiful Serbian Orthodox church in Hungary), and Pomáz and Szentendre, close to Budapest. Szentendre is a popular day trip for visitors to Budapest and is where Söndörgő are based.

The tambura probably came to Hungary with the Turks. The small lead tambura (prímtambura) usually has five strings, with the two top strings doubled to emphasise the melody, plucked with a plectrum. Then there’s the bigger bass-lead tambura (basszprímtambura) and the guitar-like contra tambura which plays accompanying chords. Down in Mohács, the bass is traditionally a bass tambura (tamburabőgő), which looks deceptively like a regular double bass, but is played with a plectrum and has frets.

Söndörgő came to Songlines’ attention in 2008, thanks to a fantastic live CD they did with Macedonian saxophonist Ferus Mustafov, one of Europe’s greatest Gypsy musicians. Being interested in South Slav music, the band were huge admirers of Mustafov and, when they were able to get in touch, went down to meet him in Macedonia. “We went to his rehearsal in Skopje and it was incredible,” says Söndörgő’s leader Áron Eredics. “Once he’d finished he just said ‘Now you play!’ and we were terrified. But it went quite well and we both had the feeling it would be good to record a CD together. So we arranged to come back for ten days practice together followed by four or five concerts at which the CD was recorded.”

“They drank a lot and so you couldn’t really rely on them, but they knew some really old tunes”

Söndörgő are almost literally the songs of the band Vujicsics who from the mid-70s pioneered the professional presentation of South Slav music in Hungary and had one of their records released on Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label in 1988. 

Screen-shot-2015-10-08-at-12.05The family background is mixed. They think the Eredics name is Croatian, but the family now only speak Hungarian. Kálmán’s grandmother was Serbian (and the last Serbian speaker in the family), but she married an Austrian (and there was some anger in the family about this). Kálmán married a Jewish wife from what is now Ukraine and they are proud of their totally mixed ethnicities. It certainly means that their commitment to the music can’t be described as nationalistic

Kálmán and his brother Gábor Eredics grew up in the town of Pomáz, just next to Szentendre. It was there they formed a band in 1974 inspired by a local group playing South Slav music for weddings and parties, but “they drank a lot and so you couldn’t really rely on them, but they knew some really old tunes,” explains Kálmán. This coincided with the folk revival in Hungary and the start of the táncház movement. Also living in Pomáz was a composer and ethnographer of Serbian background called Tihamér Vujicsics (1929-1975) who composed for the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and collected Serbian and Croatian tunes from the communities in Hungary.


Sadly Vujicsics was killed in an aircrash in 1975 and the band (pictured right in 1981) adopted his name in his memory. “We’d been given this horrible official name – the Pomáz Young Folk Group of the Minorities – so we were very glad to get rid of that,” Kálmán chuckles. Before his death Vujicsics had virtually completed Musical Traditions of South Slavs in Hungary, a collection of melodies and songs, which was published in 1978. It was from this book and from the tunes they’d learned from the drunken old-timers that Vujicsics built their repertoire.

They released an award-winning debut CD in 1981 and became one of country’s best ensembles and the only professional band performing the music of the South Slavs in Hungary.

So the next generation of Eredics brothers grew up in an environment where this music was just a part of everyday life. “My father bought me a tambura when I was five years old,” says Áron, “although I didn’t play it at that time. It was when my cousin Dávid said they wanted to start a band at school that we began in a serious way.”

Like the Vujicsics Ensemble, Söndörgő have also drawn on the collections of Tihamér Vujicsics, but they’ve also connected with traditional players like József Kovács in Mohács and also taken tunes from other parts of former Yugoslavia and arranged them for tamburas. Paradoxically their repertoire is both more adventurous – arranging tunes from other regions of former Yugoslavia – and more traditional – with old tunes that have been preserved in the communities in Hungary – than the local tambura bands in Vojvodina.

But Söndörgő’s real passion is for the music of József Kovács and other musicians from Mohács who are the bearers of a living tradition.  This shows in their ability to create a party with their playing, whether it’s on a concert stage in Budapest, or playing, whether it’s on a concert stage in Budapest, or amongst the community in Mohács. While they have an amongst the community in Mohács. While they have an illustrious background behind them, they are committed to doing things in their own way.


toure-heartVujicsics, Southern Slav Folk Music

(Hungaroton, 1981)

Excellent Vujicsics debut with vocals by Márta Sebestyén amongst others.






vujicsicssamosvirajVujicsics, Samo Sviraj

(Vujicsics Association, 1997)

Great Croatian and Serbian tunes, one from the field recording by Bartók. 






sondorgmustafovSöndörgő & Ferus Mustafov, In Concert

(Sonodisc, 2008)

Live album with Ferus Mustafov, a Top of the World selection in October 2009 (#63).






sondorgo-tamburisingSöndörgő, Tamburising

(World Village, 2011)

New album with tambura player József Kovács and singer Kátya Tompos and Antal Kovács.






toure-heartSöndörgő, Tamburocket: Hungarian Fireworks

(Riverboat Records, 2014)

The band added Macedonian melodies and a nod or two to Béla Bartók to their South Slav musical background.







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The 50 Greatest World Music Albums of the Last Five Years

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .


Every year, editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from the previous 12 months. This list of 50 recordings represent their selections from the last five years, beginning with 2014…




(Real World)

There’s something highly addictive about the rhythmic Garifuna sound. I’ve been a fan of this distinctive Central American music since first hearing the Belizean artist Andy Palacio. Aurelio has, since Palacio’s death, firmly established himself as an ambassador for Garifuna culture. His latest album is rooted in the paranda and punta musical traditions, and its title – meaning ‘Landing’ – refers to when the British forced the Garifuna people into exile in the 18th century. Many of the songs are instilled with a sense of melancholy, yet ultimately Lándini is a celebration and homage to the richness of Garifuna culture. JF


aziza-brahim-soutakAziza Brahim



Born and raised in an Algerian refugee camp, the young Saharawi singer has become a champion for her people from the occupied state of Western Sahara. There’s a simplicity in the acoustic musical arrangements, combined with the poignancy of Brahim’s soulful singing that lend a grace and dignity to these songs about resistance, freedom, longing and homeland. They have a political resonance too, especially the song ‘Gdeim Izik’ about the protest camp taken down by the Moroccans. It’s a spare and powerful tribute to a land and sorrowful plight of its people, sadly overlooked by the outside world. JF




Kassé Mady Diabaté


(No Format!)

Kassé Mady Diabaté is one of the great vocalists of Mali, accompanied here by a top group of instrumentalists. There’s Makan ‘Badjé’ Tounkara on ngoni, Lansiné Kouyaté on balafon and Ballaké Sissoko on kora, plus Vincent Segal on cello, who is also responsible for the exquisite production. There are just eight tracks – many of them connected to hunting – and it really feels like you’re sitting right there among the musicians. All the instruments are heard on just one track, ‘Sori’, but the whole album is intimate, powerful and gorgeously recorded. SB See also: Top 25 Mali Albums



Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté

Toumani & Sidiki


Expectations were high for this record, but it delivers. According to Toumani, the family have been making music in West Africa for 700 years and what we have here is the transmission of that tradition in action. Toumani plays kora duets with his 23-year-old son Sidiki, named afer his grandfather who established the kora as a solo instrument. It’s an elaborate concoction of gourd, cow skin, sticks and 21 strings that represents Malian music at its most sophisticated. The filigree music is sublime and Lucy Durán’s notes are enlightening. SB See also: Top 25 Mali Albums



Piers Faccini & Vincent Segal

Songs of Time Lost

(No Format!)

Like many of the label’s releases, this is a beautifully crafted album of song, guitar and cello. Faccini is an English singer-songwriter with a gorgeously languid singing style. He sounds at times like Nick Drake, but he also sings in Italian on a couple of traditional Neopolitan songs and in Creole on a maloya-inspired track from La Réunion. The two have been good friends since the 80s, which possibly explains the ease and naturalness of their partnership. Faccini’s voice floats dreamily above the deep resonance of Segal’s cello that acts as the bedrock to the whole sound. JF



The Gloaming

The Gloaming

(Real World)

This new collective evocatively known as The Gloaming revisit traditional Irish music but with a fearless sense of experimentation. The haunting vocals of Iarla Ó Lionáird combine with the effortless fiddle of Martin Hayes, eerie Hardanger fiddle of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and solid guitar of Dennis Cahill. Then there’s the piano playing of Thomas Bartlett that takes the sound onto a whole other level, out of the trad box and placing it firmly into a new, exciting realm. The ‘Opening Set’ is a wondrous 16-minute-plus tune that slowly builds in intensity – it goes down a storm at their fantastic live shows. JF




Kronos Quartet

A Thousand Thoughts


Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Kronos Quartet have released an album that clearly demonstrates how widely they’ve ranged in their inspiration. There are a few tracks (with Astor Piazzolla and Asha Bhosle) that have been previously released, but most of the material is new. Alongside music from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and the American South, it includes an eerie version of the rebetika track ‘Smyrneiko Minore’ by Greek singer Marika Papagika, which Harrington describes as containing his “favourite note of all time.” SB



Driss El Maloumi


(Contre Jour)

Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi stands out both for his instrumental mastery (he’s director of the conservatoire in Agadir) and for his innovative approach – for instance the 3MA project with kora player Ballaké Sissoko and valiha player Rajery in 2008. This trio album with two percussionists – his brother Said El Maloumi (on frame drum and Iranian tombak) and Lahoucine Baquir (on frame drum and darbouka) ranges from the bluesy ‘Imtidad’ and the filigree ‘Tawazoun’ to the playful ‘Intidar’. There’s lyricism, virtuosity and imagination – plus a couple of songs too. SB



Robert Plant

Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar


The ex-Led Zep frontman is no stranger to dabbling in African sounds. What makes this album so refreshing is that there is nothing tokenistic about the contributions from his band members. Intrinsic to the album is the rasping, raw sound of the ritti (one-stringed violin) and kologo (lute) from Gambia’s Juldeh Camara together with Justin Adams, who plays guitar, ngoni and basically anything else he can lay his hands on. Add drummer Dave Smith, bassist Billy Fuller, guitarist Liam Tyson and keyboardist John Baggott and the end product is a powerful collaborative effort. JF





Tamburocket Hungarian Fireworks

(Riverboat Records)

We’ve been champions of this Hungarian group since their brilliant collaboration with Gypsy sax player Ferus Mustafov in 2008. Söndörgő’s sound is light, springy and delicately plucked. They play the virtuoso tambura music of Hungary’s Serbian and Croatian communities and, as they’ve proved in recent concerts at WOMEX and in London, they do it with style. This album includes vibrant examples of their core repertoire, plus interesting takes on Macedonian music. The band are three brothers and a cousin, plus Attila Buzás on bass tambura. SB

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The 50 Greatest World Music Albums of the Last Five Years (Part 4)

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

Editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from 2011…


Anda Union

The Wind Horse

(Hohhot Records)

Undoubtedly one of the most talked about bands at WOMAD 2011, this group of throat-singing, horse head fiddle players are from Inner Mongolia, China. Musically, there are similarities with the Tuvan group Huun Huur Tu, but with the addition of two excellent female singers. Their highly evocative music conjures up impressions of vast expanses of sparsely populated grasslands, as depicted in a documentary about the band recently shown at the London Film Festival. This album is definitely one for equine fans – the whinnying sounds they make on ‘Galloping Horses’ is quite amazing. JF




Laru Beya

(Real World)

It’s thanks to the late Belizean singer Andy Palacio that the culture and music of the Central American Garifuna people is known internationally. Aurelio Martinez dedicates this album to his friend and mentor, with a particularly beautiful song written in Palacio’s honour, ‘Wamada’. In addition to the drum and percussion heavy Garifuna rhythms, there are contributions from Youssou N’Dour and Orchestra Baobab – a result of Aurelio’s Rolex Mentor-Protégé initiative with Youssou back in 2007 [see #64]. These West African vocal additions were recorded on one of Aurelio’s trips to Dakar, tracing the roots of his ancestors – he describes this album as ‘a homecoming.’ Palacio’s Garifuna legacy is in safe hands with Aurelio. JF




Boban & Marko Marković Orkestar and Fanfare Ciocărlia

Balkan Brass Battle

(Asphalt Tango)

The story is a great one – the two top Gypsy bands in the Balkans go head to head. Boban and Marko Marković, the kings of Balkan brass from the ‘Trubacka Republika’ (Trumpet Republic) of Serbia versus Fanfare Ciocărlia, the peasant upstarts, from Romania. Each band does a few of their own tunes, they each do a version of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ and they do four tracks together. A gristly gobbet of the best of Balkan brass. SB



Blind Note

Blind Note


It’s the haunting sound of the Armenian duduk on the opening track ‘Chiraki Par’ that initially got me hooked. Then there’s the fact that the musicians, from Armenia, Turkey, Mexico, Senegal and Madagascar, all now based in Belgium, recorded the album in aid of a Belgian NGO, Light for the World, who raise money for blind children in Africa. But regardless of the good cause, it’s the simplicity and sensitivity of the music they’ve created that makes this album so noteworthy. Interestingly, Muziekpublique only release one or two albums a year – their main work is putting on concerts and music classes in a small venue in Brussels. JF





(EMI Portugal)

Every young fado singer has got to market themselves as the new voice of fado. But Carminho is the one to watch. She has a versatile intimacy in her voice, as if she’s talking to you personally, and some of the lyrics she’s written herself, which give songs like ‘Nunca é Silêncio Vão’ a special intensity. Featuring several fine Portuguese guitar players, this CD represents a spectacular debut with the opening ‘Escrevi teu Nome no Vento’ a particular highlight with a gorgeous melody and delivery. SB




Cecil Sharp Project

Cecil Sharp Project

(EFDSS/Shrewsbury Folk Festival)

So often, well-intended collaborative ‘projects’ look great on paper but don’t work in practice, seeming forced and lacking in real musical connection. Not so with this project, which I was privileged to witness in action when the eight musicians spent a week together coming up with the songs for a series of concerts and album [see #78]. The idea is simple enough – putting into song the experiences of English folk collector Cecil Sharp during his trip to Appalachia. It’s the quality of the musicianship and their obvious enjoyment in working and playing together that is striking, particularly on tracks such as ‘The Great Divide’ and ‘The Ghost of Songs’. JF



Dawda Jobarteh

Northern Light Gambian Night


For me the kora is the greatest of African instruments, providing a sublime accompaniment or as a marvellous solo instrument in its own right. Dawda Jobarteh comes from one of the great griot dynasties in the Gambia and, now living in Denmark, he’s produced this album in which he does both with guitarist Preben Carlsen and lots of guest musicians. One of the loveliest tracks, ‘Nkanakele’, features South Indian flute player Shashank and apparently the wild guitar on ‘Dinding Do’ is actually Dawda Jobarteh on electric kora. A great debut album from an impressive new artist and it closes with a stately duet with the supreme kora maestro Toumani Diabaté. SB



Anoushka Shankar


(Deutsche Grammophon)

The meeting of Indian music and flamenco isn’t new, but this is one of the best products of that fusion. Sitar player Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi) worked with guitarist and (Grammy-award winning) producer Javier Limón on an album that really does chart a musical and emotional journey, if not a geographical one. There are great vocals from Buika, Duquende and Sandra Carrasco on the flamenco side and Shubha Mudgal and Sanjeev Chimmalgi on the Indian side and spectacular sitar duets from Anoushka and flamenco pianist Pedro Ricardo Miño and flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela. An exuberant recording which is one of the highlights of the year. SB






(World Village)

Söndörgő – hard to say, but easy to listen to – are a fabulous young band from Hungary. They have now started to make an international impact and this CD and their spectacular live shows are the reason. On delicate plucked tamburas, they play the music of the South Slav minorities in Hungary – virtuoso dance tunes that are fiery, but delicate. This CD, featuring Gypsy tambura master József Kovács, from whom they’ve learned many of their tunes, is a great calling card with a cross section of their repertoire as played in the southern city of Mohács. In addition to the tambura repertoire they play some great Macedonian tunes – notably the popular ‘Zajdi, Zajdi’ with their secret weapon, fabulous vocalist Kátya Tompos. SB



Abigail Washburn

City of Refuge


To describe Abigail Washburn as a singer-songwriter and banjo player seems woefully inadequate when you realise this is a woman who has become an unofficial US goodwill ambassador to China (she speaks and sings in Chinese). The illustrative album artwork, depicting a multitude of exotic-looking places and faces, is a good indication of what you’re going to hear. It’s an enchanting treasure trove of musical treats, featuring a host of instruments, from double bass, viola, guzheng (zither) and the beautiful yet rarely heard cello banjo (on ‘Bring Me My Queen’). JF

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Songlines Music Awards 2015 Nominees: Best Group

Posted on April 9th, 2015 in News, Recent posts by .


Seven years since their launch, the Songlines Music Awards continue to champion the huge amount of brilliant music from around the world. Here are the four nominees in the Best Group category, as voted by you.

For Revival on Island Records

Britain’s favourite folk big band, led by the estimable duo of John Spiers and Jon Boden, scored the biggest-selling independently released English folk album of all time with 2010’s Hedonism. It earned them a major label deal and their Island Records debut is a typically rollicking collection of drinking songs and sea shanties, pristinely produced and delivered with impressive brio.

Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté

For Toumani & Sidiki on World Circuit

The griot tradition of African musicians handing on their skills down the generations continues with the emergence of Sidiki, the 24-year-old son of the world’s leading kora player, Toumani Diabaté. On their debut album of kora duets, the strings of father and son are rhapsodically interwoven to create a rich tapestry of contrasting moods, brimming with burnished melodies and virtuosity.

Show of Hands
For Centenary: Words and Music of the Great War on Mighty Village

The centenary of the outbreak of World War I in 2014 generated many artistic tributes, but few were more heartfelt than Show of Hands’ collection of poetry, music and song in remembrance of those lost. Noted English roots performers for more than 20 years, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer’s songs are joined on the disc by readings from actors Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter.

For Tamburocket: Hungarian Fireworks on Riverboat Records

The Hungarian quintet are a traditional tamburica band, their sound based around the tambura, a plucked instrument common in south Slav music, supplemented by wind instruments and accordion. With a repertoire made up of material from across the Balkans, some of it collected by Béla Bartók, their second album to receive an international release sparkles with foot-tapping joie de vivre.


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