Caci Vorba: Szczera Mowa

Cover of Szczera MowaThis abundantly listenable CD of traditional Eastern European music came to us as a promotional copy in a paperboard sleeve with no liner notes.  Fortunately, I was able to find information on the ‘net.  I also got some much-appreciated help from the band’s artistic director, Piotr Majczyna, in response to my e-mail questions.

The band’s name, Caci (pronounced chachee), means true speech in Rom.   The gypsies who travel along the borders of Romania, Hungary and Serbia consider music to be true speech.  While some of the tunes and songs in this collection are indeed traditional  Rom, the band members are Polish and Ukranian.  Front and center is the very talented and very young violinist/vocalist Maria Natanson.  Ably accompanying her on instruments and with back-up and occasional lead vocals are Pawel Sojka on accordion, Piotr Majczyna on guitar, mandola, bouzouki and cobza, Robert Brzozowski on contrabass and Lubomyr Iszczuk on darabuka, dombek, tapan, bouzouki and jew’s harp.  Mr. Majczynka is also responsible for arrangements of all the pieces the band performs on this CD.  Three members of the band (Natanson, Majczyna and Brzozowski ) are former members of the St. Nicholas Orchestra, which since 1988 has done a great deal to preserve and celebrate the traditional music of Poland.

The Oriente version of Szczera Mowa (which also means true speech, in Polish) is a re-release of the CD the band self-published in 2008.  It runs a little over fifty minutes long and features thirteen tracks, including two live bonus tracks that were not on the original—they were recorded in April 2009 at the Radio Lublin Concert Studio.  All the tracks are lively and very well-produced, offering a good mix of instrumentals and vocals. Even the official Caci Vorba website doesn’t provide much background information on these, so I am going on sound only in the following brief descriptions.

Track 1 (“Doar o mama”) is a Romanian song with a distinctive, pulsing rhythm that I remember quite well from the work of the Hungarian band Muszikas, an old favorite of mine.   Track 2 (“Batuta” from Moldava) is very fast and catchy.  Track 3 (“Besena Rovena”) has a rhythm with a slightly middle-eastern quality to my ears—it is a Rom piece from the Albanian/Bulgarian border.  I had to re-listen to Track 7, humorously titled “Joc’n’roll,” which is a term the band members made up to describe their music.  Well, it’s one of those extremely lively fiddle and accordion tunes that I think of when I am reading about dances at Eastern European weddings—I’ve heard this kind of music on the Taraf de Haidouks CDs—it’s from Romania.  On the opening bars of Track 9 (“Ke somas me,” a Rom piece from Romania), I can really hear Lubomyr’s percussion.  The two live tracks at the end sound every bit as clear and polished as the rest of the CD.

Around the same time I listened to this CD again in preparation for writing this review, I also read a very disturbing article in Dissent Magazine (Winter 2011 issue) about the recent elections around Europe that brought more conservative governments into power in several nation-states, including Hungary.  Among the attitudinal shifts that brought this regime change about is a resurgence of intolerance for the Rom and other ethnic minority groups.  I am glad to know that bands like Caci Vorba are acting in a more constructive way to keep these traditional cultures alive and revered.

The 2008 release of Szczera Mowa earned well-deserved acclaim from a number of folk music associations in Europe.  A second CD is scheduled for release in summer 2011—I can’t wait!

(Oriente Musik, 2010)

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