Folk Music - Can Hungarian Music Be The Next New Wave?

  • 5 Dec 2014 7:00 AM
Folk Music - Can Hungarian Music Be The Next New Wave?
Fonó recently made it into 12th place among the world's top publishers of world music. So, maybe it's a bit too early qualify the recording market as DOA. There's a good chance that Hungarian folk music, dressed up just a bit differently, might become as hot on the world market as Africa or the Balkans were a few years ago.

“The world music market has started paying attention to Hungarian performers it seems, or at least the feedback on recordings appearing on WOMEX’s (World Music Expo) top lists suggests that,” said László Horváth, manager of Fonó Buda Music Center. “Fifteen years ago the Balkans were the favorites and then, five to eight years ago African music made it to the top, but both are on the way down and something new has got to take their place.”

“The Balkans have tried long and hard to stay up there but it’s time for some new musical products with some value added, and Hungarian music is distinctive enough and unique enough to garner the attention it deserves,” Horváth added.

The World Music Charts (WMC) list of top European world music titles is published monthly, following the votes of 45 world music radio professionals from 25 countries. Each publisher adds up its votes. Then the results are combined to yield the WOMEX Top Label list which offers the world’s twenty most significant publishers of world music, and this year found the Fonó Buda Music Center in 12th place.

All the publishers that beat out Fonó were owned by the West European world music multinationals, while Fonó is a five-man setup that handles everything involved in compiling the programs and publications, by now with a sense of real routine since it has already come out with two hundred titles. Fonó has published every single album issued by the Csík Ensemble over the past eighteen years, a measure of cooperation unique in the industry.

Balázs Weyer, a freelance editor of Hungarian Radio’s world music shows, is a member of the WMC jury and is also one of the Seven Samurai (chief organizers) of WOMEX. When compiling its top lists the WMC jury gives extra points for recordings that are played regularly on public radio.

Hungarian stars

Félix Lajkó’s Mező (Field) was in the top slot on the WMC list twice last year, while Budafolk produced a second place winner, Romengo got a sixth place slot, and the Karavan Family has been among the top twenty. We just got the news that the Söndörgő Ensemble [Sondorgo] hit first place as we were going to press. It’s equivalent to a world phenomenon that a tiny country like ours keeps doing so well in the world music business, said Anikó Fehér, world music program editor at Hungarian Public Radio and a professor at the Hungarian Academy of Music.

This is why we believe that world music rooted in Hungarian genres might work its way up on the world market – which of course means that we need to regularly come up with new productions, new recordings, and new value. Sooner or later Hungarian culture might produce four or five world music recordings that can make it into the top European or even global ranks.

Fonó’s success also suggests that the recording market is far from dead. Many people claim that today’s albums are principally designed as promotional materials for live concerts, but László Horváth underlines that the issuing of recordings has become a profitable part of Fonó’s portfolio, or at least, it hasn’t cost them any money. Since Fonó has a powerful profile, it cannot experiment to any great extent, which may be why it hasn’t made any big mistakes in its publications so far. For the Music Center, coming out with a new recording is the equivalent of a theater premiere – it is vital that it be done well. “Unless we can come out with new recordings with plenty of fanfare, it would not be worth doing at all. Practice sessions prior to recording can be held here at Music Center studios. It is also home to the recording, and the presentation to the public – every move is integrally connected to day-to-day events at Fonó,” Horváth says. In other words, the album popularizes the place where it is recorded, not just the performer.

Digital distribution has turned a long term trend head over heels. Issuing a recording today is not necessarily a losing venture although world music accounts for only about ten percent of overall recording output.

Revolution in recording instruments

Albums today are published for iTunes and streaming alike, which is increasingly good business. Last year the decline in the money made by the Hungarian music industry finally came to a halt, mainly thanks to streaming. But, while light music genres make up a far greater proportion, world music comes to no more than one quarter of overall digital product-distribution. For world music the physical recording is still paramount, which means that some audiences are ready to pay good money for a high standard digipak that includes good photos. Audiences over the age of forty are unlikely to want to shift to digital music. In fact, this age group is starting to think in terms of a vinyl revival – so much so that groups looking to produce vinyl records will find that all manufacturing capacities in Europe have already been reserved. Fonó issued the Csík Ensemble’s 25-year anniversary album in vinyl and it sold out in seconds.

People in the know say that the concert market is slowly settling back into its old format. If a world music group gets up there with the best, it may not be able to sell over five hundred different albums internationally but the number of international invitations it gets will put a Hungarian group on tour to some thirty to fifty venues a year. Söndörgő is almost never home and it strongly looks like it has made it into one of the top international slots. “Start-up ensembles of twenty-somethings like Góbé and Buda Folk can’t get a day off ever. I had a really tough time even taking them to the Euro-Radio Folk Festival, Anikó Fehér says. “Last year, for instance, Söndörgő only managed one day at the Forde Festival in Norway because it had a concert in Belgium the very next day.”

Not hot

Hungarian ensembles will get a good chance to introduce themselves to the world next October, when the Hangvető music distributor holds the international WOMEX fair in Budapest. It might even be possible to set up a Hungarian stand where performers can take turns.

This begs the question of how this genre might do better on the Hungarian market. The fact is that while world music publications do quite well internationally, domestic audiences are far less enthusiastic, since they have a different definition of world music.

Folklore Man, a recording for which the Kerekes Band got this year’s Fonogram Award, is really a pop album.”The genre appears to be burning out domestically. I seriously wonder whether a producer would advertize a show as ‘world music’ since it just hasn’t the drawing power it did ten years ago,” László Horváth says. Even at the Sziget Festival, the world music stage has been on the way out. In fact, the only place it has taken root is at the Vidor Festival.

Source: Heti Válasz

Translated by Budapest Telegraph

  • How does this content make you feel?