Director Balázs Weyer has a background in ethnomusicology, and a passion for music that connects our heritage with contemporary realities. With the professional team of Hangvető, Weyer has brought about countless projects, festivals, workshops and content on several platforms to popularize this musical world.
The eight-part series aims to introduce the musical heritage of the Central and Eastern European region, protected as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Just as the heritage list, this docuseries also aims to safeguard invaluable traditions, be it stories, customs, crafts and celebrations; often expressed through, and interwoven with music.
This area is lucky to have a living musical tradition, still pulsating in the cities and villages of the region. As our episodes show, heritage, if slightly altered, still lives on in communities, and strings together personal stories. While staged forms of ‘folk’ can help preserve it, participation and personal transmission work best. That is why the series posits engagement as its secondary goal: encouraging viewers to actively take part in the traditions recorded.
Each heritage is shown through its respective location, navigated by a ‘guide’: an active practitioner, an authentic musician or well-versed enthusiast. The director’s expertise will be coupled with an ‘edutainment’ approach, making the musical traditions and the stories they contain accessible to a wide audience.
The cinematography invokes travel films, aimed to attract their audience to the filmed locations. Beyond tempting to travel, our main goal is to inspire viewers to participate; to connect with and immerse in the heritage presented. Attila Csoboth, the cinematographer of the series is known, among others, for his work in the Listen Project, an acclaimed US-Japanese docuseries on folk music.
Passing on folk tradition (village music) in an urban environment – that’s what the dance house movement was merited for by UNESCO, as a ‘best practice’. The movement itself started out in Budapest in 1972, creating an ever growing community, and forming strong bonds with rural communities in Transylvania. This episode looks at the movement’s current form in Budapest clubs and dance contests, guided by Sándor Csoóri “Sündi”, representing the second generation of dancehouse musicians. We look at how it all started, and why dance house is still a popular pastime in an urban environment. A visit at a lad’s dance contest looks into how such an intricate dance form evolved, and gives a taste of dazzling “legényes” also heritage listed by UNESCO. We stop by at Fonó – warehouse turned folk music hub on Budapest’s outskirts – to experience dance teaching, and look at the main musical and ethnographical features of dance house. A night-time session in Hunnia Bisztró, a downtown club where patrons party to village music shows the lighthearted joy this heritage may offer.
Peasant bands with violin-viola-bass at their core have been indispensable in village communities, and the tradition still lives on today. Slovakia and Hungary gained UNESCO’s inscription for their string band heritage, marking the destinations of this episode. The crew visit a folk music camp, where youngsters acquire the village tradition, lead by Halmos Attila Csiga, a masterful violinist himself. As Csiga goes into detail on the special role of the viola, both Anna and Balázs try to play a few notes, the key role of personal transmission of heritage becomes apparent. Terchova village, a tiny gem in Slovakia surrounded by the lower Tatras, does this with dedication and success, as local guide Milos Boban reveals. He shares a few tricks on how to engage young children, while adorable scenes unfold.
Charismatic conductor and choir guru Árpi Tóth brings home the workings of the Kodály method – practised around the world. Using the innate power of music to build community, tapping the accessibility of folk music in education have earned it UNESCO listing and worldwide popularity, but few could recount its basic principles. Better still, Árpi shows us the method in action, taking the crew along a joyful celebration of choral singing “Night of Choirs’ he helped kick off. International experts, instructors at the University of Oradea chip in, highlighting the importance of music education and putting Kodály’s method in a wider international framework.
Balázs, a bit of a bagpipe nerd and Juraj Dufek musician and instrument maker, tell us all about the ‘devil’s instrument’. The crew visits two Slovakian villages on either side of the Vtáčnik mountain, and documents bagpipe-heavy carnival proceedings, compare Hungarian and Slovak traditions, and trace the instrument to its origins in the Middle Ages. Bagpipe music is currently UNESCO listed as Slovakian, due to the administrative quirks of enlisting intangible heritage; but the instrument and its tradition is present across Central and South-Eastern Europe, as well as the whole of the Carpathian Basin. Bagpipe playing preserves such archaic patterns, that it can reveal a wealth of knowledge about the whole region. Ethnomusicologist Bernard Galaj, the event’s founder, shows us a bagpipe carnival in 2023, how it came about and why it’s so unique as the imperishable instrument keep on blowing in the background.
Crafted from the wood of elders, the Fujara is one of the longest known wind instruments – and has served mountain shepherds in Slovakia for centuries. The crew trek the mountains and for traditional makers of fujara, and find three masters still practicing the art. Anna and Balázs make an attempt at playing, no easy feat as it involves slightly touching the rim of the flute with the bottom lip, blowing the air downwards. An instrument tied to the mountains and the herding lifestyle slowly but surely disappearing, the fujara with its impressive height, artfully crafted wood and resounding sound still remains an emblematic instrument loved and used in heritage music, even used for sound therapy.
There’s something in the water in Nagyecsed, a small village in Northeast Hungary, where many nationally and a few internationally acclaimed Roma singers and dancers hail from. We are guided by spellbinding singer Mónika Lakatos and his husband, Rostás Mihály “Mazsi”, who give as a peep inside the amazing Roma vocal tradition. Markedly different from the bouncy upbeat tunes generally perceived as Roma music, hallgatós are slow-paced and lyrical, and form a vital role in the community. As Balázs puts it, they may be the reason the Roma community managed to keep its heritage, with some artists, Mónika eminently, rising to international fame. The crew is mesmerised as intimate moments and heartfelt singing enfold, introducing this beautiful style of singing.
Anna and Balázs try to keep up with dancing priest, and the fiery rhythm of Serbia’s heritage listed dance: the kolo. Dobri Potok, a village in the lush green hills of Western Serbia, is famous for its kolo contest and Aleksandar Đurđev, the priest who promotes this heritage within and without the community. Although listed as Serbian heritage, kolo has many variants across the Balkans, preserving its communal and fast-paced characteristics throughout. Svrljig, across the country to the East, has its own proud style of the iconic dance, here Balázs tries the typical instruments and Anna learns the steps. The crew is guided across the country and the intricacies of kolo by Tijana Stankovic.
The final episode portrays a unique Dalmatian heritage; klapa, or the male choirs filling Croatia’s coastlines and islands with resounding harmonies. Klapa singing, inscribed by UNESCO is still very much alive, as the crew can attest: Balázs joins the baritone, Anna receives a serenade from legendary Klapa Ošjak. The guide for this episode, Dragi Šestić then takes them to a klapa festival in Perast, Montenegro, where female and mixed choirs present the genre’s local varieties. As singers break out in song spontaneously off-stage, the crew concludes klapa shines the brightest in its original context: as a vocal binding force tying communities together.