Interview with the Bordó Sárkány Old Music Band

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The popular music band of Debrecen makes a true Middle Age party at their concerts.

Bordó Sárkány Old Music Band of Debrecen performs hundreds of years old songs and music of the Middle Ages. They play cheerful, danceable “party-music” for its audience wearing contemporary outfits and using spectacular settings on the stage. From time to time Bordó Sárkány is accompanied on the stage by belly dancers and fire jugglers as well making the show more interesting and more unique. Although the band has had numerous successful concerts all over Europe, in Hungary they are known only by a few old-music lovers.

– What made you to start playing music of the Middle Ages?

I heard this kind of a music first when I was a teenager. I don’t know why, but I liked it from the first moment very much. My favourite was the music of Camerata Hungarica Band. They had a great influence on me. At that time I was also interested in country songs, since it is folk music as well. This is the music of Scottish and Irish people who have settled down in the southern states of the USA and they mixed their songs with local blues elements. Both old music and country music started to inspire me and I began to create my own songs and rhythms. I played the synthesiser, the guitar, the flute and percussion instruments too. I learned and created my own music by myself and I started to learn from a professional music teacher only at the age of 28. Later I joined the so called Hollóének Hungarica Old Music Band and it was a turning point in my life. I started to play the bagpipe there and I really liked this instrument. I think it has a quite strong meditative effect on people. This instrument influenced my professional life as a musician and it still inspires me when I write songs. In 2010 I left the band and created my own with the name Bordó Sárkány Old Music Band.

norvegia-20– Why did you chose this name for the band?

Bordó means red in Hungarian and it also means a kind of sound. In music there is a so called red sound. It is a constant bass sound made by certain instruments such as hurdy-gurdy, backing with the organ, the bourdon on the bagpipe or the red whistles. They can create a continuous bass sound in music. With the same instrument (or with other ones) we play the tune to this red bass sound. On a medieval bagpipe there are one or two or even three whistles like this which means that the bagpipe can produce one, two or three bass sounds at the same time. It makes the music polyphonic and gives it a unique meditative effect. The word Sárkány comes from the expression of Order of the Dragon which was organized by Zsigmond of Luxembourg in 1408. It was the second secular order of knights in Hungary demonstrating the alliance between the king and his barons. All of the orders had a noble mission. For example they protected the children and women, the poor and the orphans. Our name suggests that we consider ourselves this kind of an order with the same mission. However, our mission is to protect medieval music and save it to the 21st century’s people. And the expression Old Music Band (or Order) in our name symbolizes that musicians had their own labour organizations in the Middle Ages. These were like the guilds that gathered people with the same professions. By using this name we are trying to suggest that we are the modern descendants of medieval musicians.

– There are several genres in medieval music. What kind of genres do you play?

Above all we play European and Hungarian secular and church music. For example troubadour songs, folk music, sacred or even martial music. These kind of songs and music inspire us, since we are the one who writes almost one fourth of the music we play. I’d rather say that we play “medieval world music.” It means that we can bravely use folk music elements as well. You can say that we mix almost everything with our style and taste of music – with respect and awe, of course. We also sing Castilian, German, Scottish, English, French, Latin, Provencal and Hungarian songs.

– Do you play the songs in their original form or do you have your own style when you perform them on stage?

We are not rigid and we do not really stick to the authentic forms which means that we don’t play the music and the songs exactly as they were written in the medieval times, but we mix them with our style and ideas. Of course there are a few songs that we play as they are – in their original form – since we play medieval instruments and we are a “medieval music band” but it is not our goal to be a “museum of music” and to play all of the melodies as they could have been played hundreds of years ago. Our main goal is simple; to play medieval songs and music on medieval instruments. These tunes can be our own ones or mixed with the authentic music of the Middle Ages. In this sense we are quite flexible I should say so. What is really special in our music is that we play other nations’ songs and music sometimes only on traditional Hunagrian instruments. I am pretty sure it wasn’t common hundreds of years ago. For instance, we play Irish melodies on lute (an instrument from Moldva) or Castilian cantigas (secular songs from the medieval Portugal) on traditional flutes and zithers. Furthermore, we also play the sacred songs of Stella Splendes from the 12th and 13th centuries on medieval Hungarian instruments.

– The stage is very spectacular when you play on it. All of you are wearing contemporary outfits and the settings that you use are made of carved wood. How can you make your performance even more scenic?

Recently there are three beautiful belly-dancers who are on the stage with us at the concerts. I’ve seen this kind of a “show element” at other bands’ concerts, so I thought that it would be great to try. I’ve also seen the Tündértánc Trió (belly dancers’ group) at one of their shows here in Debrecen, so I invited them to perform with us. They made choreographies to three of our songs and when we are able to agree on a date they come and dance at our concerts. And I should say that they make a pretty good show of it. Belly dance is not too far from medieval music, since it is not present only in the Arabic world. We also have fire jugglers at some of our concerts, which is a pretty spectacular show element as well. Unfortunately we can have them only when we play at open-air programmes for it can be quite dangerous inside.

– Where can the audience meet you?

We go abroad very often to perform. Most of our concerts are in Romania so we have a Romanian manager who organizes our concerts there. But you can meet us not only in Transylvania, but also in Bucharest. We visit medieval and world music festivals throughout Europe, but we also play in little pubs not only in Romania, but Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, France or Estonia where we had wonderful experiences not so long ago. In June we visited Norway and we played in the cities of Hamar and Tonsberg. There were medieval festivals – each lasting for three days – and we played every day at both of the festivals.

norvegia-24– How do you organize your shows? Can you even make a living of it?

We manage ourselves. We made a portfolio with music and pictures and we send them to festival organizers here in Hungary and abroad as well. But most of the times they are the ones who find us. If we had numerous concerts, we could make a living of it. The problem is that the festival season lasts only from April to October and during winter time we have less concerts. We could play in clubs then, but unfortunately we are not so well-known in Hungary, we don’t have many invitations.

– Why aren’t Hungarian festival organizers interested in the music you play?

Maybe there are two reasons: first of all, there are too many good musicians in Hungary who play world music. The other reason can be that the festival organizers are not so familiar with medieval music and they don’t want to take a risk. They invite those bands who are popular and “tested”. They do not want to try new things. We send our portfolio from time to time without any success; we managed to get an invitation only to one event in Budapest so far. It is also a problem that the music we play has a pretty small audience. We play a sort of “underground” music and very few people are interested in medieval songs and music in Hungary. But if you let it, this music can show that it can be popular and catching too. It is a dynamic party music and it goes under your skin and make you move to the rhythm. Of course there are forums where this music has a respect. A member of our group – László Szlama – has won the Prima Primissima Junior Award this year.

– Where can we meet you next time?

At the Campus Festival of Debrecen. We will play on the 22nd of July at 11 p.m. and we will be also there at the Debrecen Wine Carnival on the 8th of August. We will have a concert in the Buda Castle on the occasion of Crafts’ Festival on the 16th of August where there will be our fire jugglers as well. During the summer we will go to Spain and Slovakia to medieval festivals too.

Videos of the band:

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