Könczei Csilla

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A hagyományos zene reprezentációi a kommunista és posztkommunista Romániában. Traditional music in communist and post-communist Romania beyond the battlefield of representations (Elhangzott angolul Traditional music in communist and post-communist Romania beyond the battlefield of representations címen) az Orális zene és vándorlás. Esztétikai és etikai kérdések konferenciáján (Abbaye de Royaumont, Franciaország, 2000 június 22-24.).

A hagyományos zene reprezentációi a kommunista és posztkommunista Romániában/ Traditional music in communist and post-communis

A hagyományos zene reprezentációi a kommunista és posztkommunista Romániában/ Traditional music in communist and post-communist Romania beyond the battlefield of representations


Royaumont, Friday, 23 June 2000.

­ Frédéric Deval : " L'intervention de Csilla Könczei se situe dans un champ voisin, géographiquement et philosophiquement, de celui d'Ivan Colovic. Elle va nous entraîner de nouveau en Roumanie. Csilla est anthropologue, de culture magyare hongroise, elle vit a Cluj en Transylvanie et, en dehors de son travail, se bat pour promovoir une culture transversale grâce a un outil qu'elle est en train de créer, la Fondation Tranzit, qui accueille des artistes de toutes disciplines, qui jette des ponts dans une ville oů ce n'est pas facile.

­ Csilla Könczei:

I have to mention that my intervention will be very close to the conceptual frame of Mister Colovic. But maybe I can add some local specifities to what you heard from him. First of all, I have to tell you that I won't speak about traditional music from Romania, either in a descriptive way, or in any other way. What I propose to you is to point at major trends, which in my opinion dominated thinking about traditional music in the communist Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania, a region of Romania.

First, I will try to show which are the ideological bases, which succeeded to limit the concept of traditional music in a very strict way, very far from that of the concept of "migrating music" used in this conference. I will show how much the concept of folklore itself became a major theme of the political discourse, and how, linked to this, the role of the ethno-scientists or ethnomusicologists transformed into that of the political ideologist or even that of the political activist who in this context had not anymore to investigate how traditional music functioned or how musicians performed in the real life, but how they could create a system of control, which had to supervise and direct the repertoires of the musicians.

Then I will pick up some of the repetitive key symbols of the dominant official discourses, which dealt with the traditional music, like "archaism" or "purity". All these contributed to the construction of an image of a homogeneous musical culture in a fictive ancient past. Then I will try to describe some of the typical ways of communications and situations in which the so-called "traditional musicians" had to interact in this period. And I will stress especially on the situations when they interact with the ethnomusicologists. I will try to draw a scheme so that you can be able to better understand what are the expectancies of the musicians from the region when dealing with ethnomusicologists.

In the end, I will present two very short analysis of two cases linked to two performing groups which will be present here in the next two weeks. One is the group of Palatka and the other one the group of Netti Sándor. These two cases will present another way of acting when they are put in the situation of a horizontal type of communication. Finally I will arrive to the post-communist situation and I will pick up very briefly the concept of multicultural representation of traditional music which is claimed to change the former conceptual frame, but which - I will show that - is deeply embedded in the old national communist system of thought.

My sources here will be my own fieldwork experiences, especially from the eighties when I worked as a freelance ethnographer mostly in the field of dance and music; then my own personal experience, as I am native from Transylvania, Cluj - and in a certain period as a teenager and as a young, I was personally involved in the cultural activist movements -, and thirdly, I will use some texts of important cultural policy makers and ideologists who influenced in a great extent the way of thinking about folklore.

Geographically, I will resume to Transylvania, which is a multi-ethnic space, and I will use much more Hungarian sources than Romanian ones in an unbalanced way, because I know these better. But I have to mention that, as far as I know, the logics of the Romanian representations works in the same way. Of course, this can be the material for further investigations. My presentation maybe will be over-simplifying but I would like to present here a comprehensive frame to understand what's happened in our region in the recent past till the present.

First of all, I will show you a few short texts which stress how much in the communist period and even before, the folklore was considered to be neither an aesthetic issue, nor a scientific one but as a public and even political matter. In fact, it was considered as a simple tool, a kind of raw material for patriotic education and national preservation, and in the communist period, for the creation of the new socialist type of personality.

Kodály Zoltán (famous Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist) said in 1918: "Everybody sings. And thus the song is part of the life of the nation. It is the power of preserving the nations." So, according to this thought the role of the folklore is that to preserve the nation and the national integrity. Now I will pick up a Romanian text and a Hungarian one from the seventies, which are already much more combined with the communist ideology so that you can see to what extent they accorded a patriotic value to the folklore: "There are many traces of the spirit and the spheres of life which can be reconstructed with the help of the folklore: the holy patriotism of the popular masses, their fraternity with the nature of the country, their feelings and thoughts about life and death, their fight against the internal and external exploiters, the physical and moral virtues of the simple man, his courage, his sense of justice and all what in our word is called humanity..." , said Nicolae Bucur (Romanian folklore researcher - 1973). Faragó József (Hungarian folklore researcher from Romania - 1973) put it more clearly: "Folklore research is not a professional issue of the folklorist, it's a public issue, a national issue. It gains importance in the policy of education, and generally in politics."

So, starting from these premises, the role of the ethno-scientists, of the ethnomusicologists was in itself one of a political significance. So the "systematic scientific folklore research brings services to our socialists and national consciousness, strengthens our love for our homeland", continues Faragó József. The transformation of the ethno-scientists, and of the ethnomusicologists into political cultural activists was reinforced when they were integrated in the education of the masses of population and when many of them gained very important roles in the constructing and directing the mass culture. They were for many times invited to be members of the juries who had to select and direct the stage performances of the traditional musicians or dancers. What they were expected to do in this position was in fact very close in a certain way to what they did in their role of acting as scientists in field situations. Their task was to select from the repertoire of the musicians those pieces, which were considered to be valuable. And of course, they had certain criteria which are well known and to which I will refer a little bit later. So it is very amazing how openly they started to talk about their new position as controllers, who were able to impose censorship to the musicians.

I will quote a few short texts from the seventies, when Andrei Bucşan (Romanian folkdance researcher) said: "Today men of science have to give a great attention to the artistic movement of the masses. They have special tasks to fulfil in this domain. We hope that the system of control, which lately has become compulsory, will bring benefits in a field in which the lack of professionalism, of good taste, led so often to the so called folklore pollution." Or another text from a Hungarian communist ideologist from Romania, Balogh Edgár (1976): "The values of thought can be only saved by the logos, by the scientific research which is solely capable to reintegrate these old values in the new collective socialist culture." And how can this be done? "Cleaning them scientifically from additional and useless garbage and distortions, and integrating them into the collective possibilities of today's way of life." And later, he very openly says: "The role of intellectuals in general is to direct and supervise the processes, which over go in between the popular masses." So, in this situation, the ethno-scientists was supposed to have a double role, both of them being very similar one to the other: the first one being collecting, picking up the real and antique folklore pieces of music, the second being the introducing of these values in the mass culture.

It is very interesting that the ideological base of this system of thought has two different roots. One goes back to the period of the romantic nationalism and the other one to the newer period of the communist ideology. Still it is strange that in spite of the apparent differences between these two ideologies, in fact they act on the base of the same logic. Both ideologies refer as a first source to the ancient past, to a period out of history where in their vision their ancestors lived in a homogeneous collective community. The difference between the two concepts is constituted in fact in the negative, missing part of the old homogeneous community. In the nationalist version the category of the ethnic "foreigners" constitutes this part, which is polluting the homogeneity. The communists use the social category of the upper classes for denoting the enemies, the foreigners. You can see from the analyses of some texts, that in fact these two versions can be very easily combined. I will quote some texts from Kodály Zoltán where you can see how these "upper classes" in fact are identified with foreign peoples, so the result is the same: when in our fantasies we go back to that ancient fictive past we arrive to collective homogeneous communities which in fact are fictive pure national communities where we don't have yet any foreigners.

I will quote three texts from Kodály Zoltán. It can be observed the changing of his discourse, which is shifting according to the ideological differences of the passing historical periods. The first one is from 1918 when he speaks about the process of the scientific selection of different strata in the folklore music. Then he arrives to the conclusion that: "After multiple selections, we could separate one type which is common to almost every people: the poetry of the ancient basic layer of spirituality, which has his origin in the childhood of the peoples before the social stratification." So the essence of this thought is very important, " ...before the social stratification....". Following this idea, in logical terms, it is also possible to arrive at an universal variant according to which in the childhood of the mankind, everybody would be the same. We've reached to the universal values. And of course there are some ideologists who picked up this version. But as we can see, Kodály Zoltán followed another route, which lead to an explicit definition of the roles of the lower and upper classes. As he says: "In Hungary, the foreign dynasty never helped the education of the nation. The elites consumed foreign art; the middle class and the peasants were left alone in the conditions of general all going fighting. They themselves could not create high culture. Later, when the middle class elevated to foreign culture ideas, it lost its national identity and the gaps created as such was filled up with foreign immigrants. At this moment, the ancient national treasure of musical tradition was left in the hands of the peasants." (1925) So the middle class and the upper class are labelled as foreigners, the only class preserving the national treasure remaining the peasantry. In a later text, which of course was written in 1940 - this might explain the xenophobic connotation of it -, Kodály Zoltán says: "The Hungarians have got an original and specific music mother tongue. This is a living music, in which all the Hungarians meet each other, understand each other, excepting the middle class and the upper class. These, if they don't want to segregate themselves voluntarily from the music of the community of the nation, have to learn again the forgotten mother tongue of their ancestors, like the Széchenyi István <Hungarian aristocrat in the 19. century> had learn the Hungarian language, or they have to learn it now like Ankerschmidt <that is, like Jews> if they came from other places and they want to live here."

Ironically, the existence of a homogeneous community in the ancient past was transformed into a cultural political program. It became a goal to represent this homogeneity in the archives and publications by the selection of the different pieces of music as well as in the repertoire of the education of masses. In fact, in these processes the musicians and their music were just considered to be a kind of raw material, a kind of tool, which can be used to reach these ideological goals.

The typical communicational situations in which the so-called traditional musicians had to interact in this period with the ethnomusicologists were themselves defined by the larger ideological frame presented before. In face-to-face situations when the traditional musicians met the ethnomusicologists the scientists confronted the artists in the role of that who could tell the good from the evil, that is who could select the valuable pieces of the repertoire from the non-valuable pieces. In this situation, as well as in the festive stage situation, the musicians were not considered to be individual artists but they were simply representing something else, some kind of preserved old cultural values, that is they were put in the role of representing some kind of collective identities. This typical situation affected of course the way of acting and thinking of the traditional musicians themselves.

Though there remained a lot of other performing situations out of the sphere of the official representations where the traditional musicians may act in a very different way form the expected representational roles. I will speak about two examples I have the chance to know about. Both examples are linked to the groups who will perform here in Royaumont, so I thought it would be interesting to hear about them.

The first example is linked to a performance of the Palatka group at a wedding. (Romanian "Pălatca" from the region of "Câmpia Transilvaniei". Hungarian: "Mezőség") This was a special case, as only one of the brides was from the village of the musicians, the other one being from Nagykapus, a village of a neighbouring region, called Kalotaszeg (Romanian Căpuşu Mare from Călata region), both being situated in Transyilvania. According to the "mixed" character of the wedding, the audience was also a "mixed" one, not in ethnic terms, but in regional terms, the relatives of the young coming from two villages which had different regional musical traditions. What happened was that the two communities, both being Hungarians, did not recognize the music of the other village as Hungarian, but - feeling each other�s music as being strange - labelled them as "Romanian", shifting from the regional differences to national ones. This is an example of how local people may differently conceptualise ethnic connotation from the scientific representation.

Another case, I would briefly present, is based on my experience about the group lead by Netti Sándor. Concerning the structure of this group, it is very different from the Palatka�s, as they usually play in free combinations with other artists from their region as they do not necesarily compound such stable groups like that of Palatka. The musicians usually performing in Netti Sándor�s group can parallely play more styles. Some of them who belong to the younger generation, as the son of Netti Sándor, are skilled in classical music as well, being educated in music school. This young man can easily shift from traditional local music to Beethoven or Mozart and of course to cafe music. He is able even to mix the different musical styles, creating new pieces of music in the traditional style, based on classical melodies. He composed a new piece of lad dance based on a Diabelli sonata. I was able to hear this "concert" - as they called it - at a family festivity when he was leaving to the army. As my position was that of a guest, they performed to each other, making sometimes joking remarks to "scientific"  playing situations and to festival makers. They proved to know very well the classifying system of the scientists, commenting the archaic pieces of music like "this was picked up by those from Budapest. They picked up all and they are storing them, man! All of these are stored already."


Finally, as I was asked to make some comments to the present situation, let me make some remarks linked to this issue. One of the main concepts of the past communist period from Eastern Europe is multiculturalism, a concept that apparently solves the national problem, trying to create a larger frame above the national differences. In fact, the concept of multiculturalism still remains a rigid frame as far as it sticks to the parallel representation of distinct, static collective identities. In this way it reinforces the inner homogeneity of the ethnic groups as the common demand on stage is now to be different from other ethnic groups. In this situation, the musicians are still considered to be the representatives of certain collective values, not as individual artists.

Reading the program of this meeting I wonder why the names of such invited artists as, Keyvan Chemirani, Bojan Zulfikarpasic, or Vasco Martin are mentioned in an individual form and why, when referring to music coming from Romania we can only read Ensemble Dobrogea, Trio Ardealul, Taraf Palatka, Ensemble Iza, all of the latter being collective labels. So in a way, Royaumont was caught in the same trap as that of the "communist Eastern European classificatory system" - I would say. I wonder why they are not mentioned by their individual names like the other artists of the other parts of the world...

­ Frédéric Deval : It's very simple, I can answer on this point. We have to distinguish this meeting from the concerts. All the musicians, the ensembles that have been invited, and that you quoted for Romania are invited for the concerts on June 25, July 2 and 9. And during our meeting on "Musiques Orales et migrations musicales", our idea was to ask, to invite very specific musicians who represent really the musical migrations and their own journey from their original territory to another, jazzistic or another musical form. So we have the meetings and we have the concerts. We didn't want to make any discrimination, neither reproduction of a communist model.

­ Csilla Könczei : I apologize if my way of putting was a little bit too hard. I didn't mean like that, I just wanted to point at the fact that while these musicians are kept in this classificatory system, they are representing something else than their own personal music. They cannot transform themselves into free individual artists. That was my point because I see that this is what happens at home and it is a little bit sad for me to see that this situation is reproduced in other part of the world. I don't know if I'm clear enough.

­ Frédéric Deval : What is the point, where is the bad treatment for the Romanian musicians there?

­ Csilla Könczei : They are still referred as representing their regional local culture and they are supposed to play only that."