Szászcsávás is a small village in southwest Transylvania, which is now a part of Romania. Most of the inhabitants are Hungarian and about a quarter of the population is Gypsy. I had the opportunity to attend a concert by a six-piece Gypsy group from this town, simply called the Szászcsávás Band. Their repertoire reflects the fact that they play for three cultures: verbunks and csárdás for Hungarians, horas for Romanians, and Gypsy versions of the same for their own communities. (One concert highlight was an encore of their take on American fiddling.)
On these two recent albums, the group consists of three violins playing more or less in unison, two kontras, and a bowed bass. Kontras are viola-like instruments with flat bridges to allow triple stops. They are held so that the bow moves vertically, perpendicular to the ground. Kontras are chording instruments and use long bow strokes with pulses on off beats to create their unique rhythmic drive. The bass plays mainly on the downbeats. Together the three rhythm instruments sound like a glorious, wheezy, steam-driven calliope.
This particular group is composed of all master musicians. Here is a chance to hear the real thing, freed from the old Soviet apparatus' twisted idea of traditional music. There are a few vocals sung in unaffected style, but most of the pieces are from the typical instrumental repertoire of Gypsies, indigenous Hungarians, and ruling Romanians from a relatively secluded area of Transylvania. - Stacy Phillips