Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Clash of cultures weekend

Last weekend was a cross-cultural weekend.

Tired after a busy week, I fancied slumping in a pub with a few glasses of beer, but 'pubs' are few and far between in Budapest: it may have some great bars, but not many that are like my favourite British pubs. The bars here that target the expatriate market try to create a pub-like feel but usually fail dismally, and I'm also not that keen to seek out expatriate company.

However, the Caledonia in behind the opera house is a bit of an exception. The people running it have really managed to create a pub-like atmosphere and while it has quite a lot of British-type people as clients there are also quite a lot of Hungarians who seem to enjoy what it has to offer. So Helen and I hung out there for a couple of hours on Friday night, listening to the singers, covering David Gray-type songs, and having a few half-litres. And one feature that pubs could introduce, as far as I am concerned, is waiter service. No having to elbow your way through the regulars who consider it their right to block the bar to anyone who does not drink there several times a week would be a definite plus to the pub experience.

So Friday night was imported British culture, but Saturday night was Hungarian. We went to the Budapest Congress and World Trade Centre to see a performance by Ghymes. I had never actually heard any of their music before going, but had seen their CDs in shops, had read good things about them and they were playing in a large venue, so thought, let's go.

After their first two songs I thought I might have made a mistake. The lead singer looked like a poor man's Meat Loaf, and the music sounded like second rate rock, but then it changed into something much more interesting and beautiful. The band apparently has roots in Slovakian Hungarians, so has something of an external take on Hungarian culture. Sometimes it sounded like the Hungarian folk music I have heard elsewhere and sometimes it sounded as if it came from some indistinct point in Eastern Europe or Asia, particularly when their songs drew on the harshly tuned electric violin, saxophone or clarinet. My own favourite was "Tanc a hoban", "Dance in the snow", a duet which brought on stage a dramatically beautiful, tall, blonde female singer.

And the audience clearly loved them. It was a shame that it was a sit down venue, as I would have really liked to have been able to commune with the music in a freer way, but it was not to be. Three encores, and then we all spilled out into the freezing Buda night.

I often find it difficult to answer the question, "What music do you like?", as I just like anything with 'soul'. What that means, I don't know, but I do know Ghymes had it.

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