Góbé is 15! – Birthday concert in the Müpa

The first time I heard the Góbé play live was earlier this year, and I’ve been listening to one or two of their songs every day since then. The first few bars of their music and Áron Várai’s lead singing caught me hooked immediately and I haven’t let go since. They celebrate their 15th anniversary on 5 October at Müpa. In twice fifty minutes they give an overview – with a few twists – of the past period. A real music of joy, during which the audience will experience one of the orchestra’s main goals in each and every part of their performance, namely to prove that Hungarian folk music, or even folk music from all over the Carpathianbasin, is capable of being incorporated into today’s popular music world, and thus of creating sophisticated Hungarian popular music. We spoke to Máté Vizeli, the founding member of the orchestra, and Mátyás Egervári, who play a variety of instruments, including viola, violin, guitar, cobza, kontra-tamburica, cimbalom, pipes and recorders.

Whose idea was it to start the orchestra and did it start?

Máté Vizeli: I also studied composition at the Béla Bartók Conservatory. Ádám heard my piece “Country Suite” at one of the concerts connected with it, and inspired by this, he called me that evening and asked me to write a piece of the same kind, but to work on Hu folk music. I got the idea, and the Transylvanian Suite was born. With the ensemble with which we performed it, we thought how nice it would be to learn to play authentic Hungarian folk music as well, and we ended up founding Góbé with these four people in 2007.

How did Mátyás get involved in the band?

M.V.: He was also studying classical music, cimbalom, and at that time very relatively few people played this instrument in the conservatory. From another orchestra I already knew him, only there we played some Irish music together, and he was also learning to play the bagpipes, and we needed that in the Góbé as well. So we approached him to be part of our ensemble. Our bass player KSZ was the fourth member.

Mátyás Egervári: I played mostly Bach arrangements on the cimbalom at that time, and a lot of contemporary music. I studied classical music for a couple of years at the College, and then folk music.

You studied classical music, now you combine folk tunes with popular music styles. How do these very different styles mesh in your art?

M.V.: Okay; but it’s not as simple as I just said. Obviously for each of us there is a certain kind of music that one has learned more or is more interested in, and then for that person it’s the main line of thought. However, we are all interested in other genres of music that we use, and especially in how to marry them together. And that’s really the key to it. I like to say that the music of Góbé is based on associations. A folk melody comes to mind, for example, and I immediately conjure up some kind of light music style, or even a harmony from classical music, which I can immediately pair it with. One of us brings this idea down to the rehearsal and the six of us start working on it, each adding whatever else comes to mind. They take shape slowly because we always strive to put out quality music.

M.E.: I have a philosophy that music is a kind of entity in itself and styles are ornamentations of that, unique stylistic features, and it’s about how we use music as raw material. This kind of thinking is typical of the whole of the Góbé, that if you take a particular, bound element of folk music, such as a tune from a Csárdás, you can, if you want, completely disassociate it from the fact that it is otherwise a Csárdás. We look at the notes, the structure around it. How we can embellish it, how we can reshape it, is another matter, and that can always be unique. We also don’t pigeonhole ourselves in terms of whether we are folk musicians or jazz musicians or classical musicians. After all, classical music, where we come from, is in itself a melting pot of several centuries.viola, violin, guitar, cobos, cimbalom, tambura, bagpipes and flute.

Who is the leader of the orchestra? Do you have a leader or do you divide up the different areas of work and is it a well-functioning, democratic community

M.V.: I think it’s quite democratic. We have to divide the administrative parts between us, Matyi is mainly in charge of our foreign projects, Áron is more in charge of the domestic ones, which I sometimes get involved in, and I am in charge of the educational and folk music projects. On the musical side, each of us contributes what we can best contribute to the tasks in hand. Áron and Zoli as drummer and bass player, and Matyi with his many instruments are responsible for the musical basis, and Matyi and I are usually responsible for the harmonies, although Zoli often contributes to them. Our singer and violinist mainly come up with the ideas for the themes, as they sing or play melodies. This is how we can bring them together in the rehearsal. In theory, I’m appointed artistic director, but from that point of view, it doesn’t translate into much. I do have a role in the programming, or if a decision has to be made by a specific deadline, I take it on. But it’s more a case of the six of us working together to put things together.

M.E.: We try to adapt to that. We all write cross-cutting themes, but when a song needs a more classical harmony, Máté does it, I do the light music and now Zoli does it, but always with Máté’s help, as he’ s quite good at everything. Áron and I have taken on the organisation so much that we want to set up a separate company for this, we work 6-8 hours a day on the band’s affairs. The others couldn’t do that because they work as teachers. Ours is a hybrid democracy, because we don’t make a decision that everyone is not happy with, even if we know that it will hurt at certain points. It is very important for us to have good mental health within the orchestra, team unity is the most important thing.

The Müpa concert summarises 15 years. Is your evening going to be about looking back or are you also addressing the present?

V.M We will have a first half of the concert with songs from the older times, but now we have only gone back to the first album, so we have not put any folk music compilations in the programme. We are giving a summary selection from our first three albums. We have invited guests to the evening who have performed with us in the past, but many of them will be playing different roles to those they have played on previous occasions, or will be performing different songs. In the second half of the concert we’ll be playing from our latest album and, in theory, two brand new songs that the audience will be hearing for the first time.We have some well-known guests from folk music circles, such as Ági Herczku, László Porteleki, who is also a bit of a mentor, and percussionist Berci Sárkány will be with us.

M.E.: We have Bence Babcsán, who plays mainly Balkan and South Slavic music, and Peti Hargitay, who plays ska and reagge. Our whole concept now would be to show who our repertoire has been built up with in 15 years or who are our musician friends influencing us. Like, there will be some musicians that I don’t know personally, but our drummer and bass player are friends with and have a big influence on their music. There will also be an opportunity to showcase our musical, friendship alma mater.

M.V.: The Anima Musicae Chamber Orchestra, whose founders were classmates of Matyi’s at Bartók and formed almost at the same time as the Góbé, is an integral part of this. There will be a brass section who will appear at various points in the concert, and there will also be a rapper, Pista Busa, for example. We’ll also have Dongó, who plays a whole arsenal of wind instruments, and György Ferenczi whose music has also influenced us many times. And we are expecting many more of our friends to join us on stage this evening, and luckily we can fit a lot of them into the two times fifty minutes, for example Viktor Magyaróvári Kayamar, who will be performing a song we have never performed live before, only on the album.

What are some of the most memorable moments that you like to think back on from the past years?

M.E.: The Talentometer competition we won in 2011 is definitely one of them. But I’ll go further back, I think the Transsylvanian Suite I mentioned earlier belongs there already. We had several memorable tours, for example in Belarus, Tallinn Music Week and Viliandi Folk Festival, but what is very, very memorable for me are the studio recordings of our albums. I really loved those. But if I think about it now, I could actually name five moments from every rehearsal.

M.V.: The records are all like that for me, our tour in Madrid is still memorable, as well as the Góbé fest in Manchester, which was founded by Hungarians and Szekle from Szekler origin. Our recent summer tour had a Belgian and Luxembourg part, which also gave me lasting memories, and we had some pretty good moments in the Baltic States. The organisation of these is not easy.

Did you have any difficult moments?

M.V.: In every orchestra’s or band’s life, I’m sure, there are moments of ups and downs. We’ve also had member changes, so we’ve always had to rebuild something. There can be disagreements that we had to get out of, but thank god there were still people in this band that made it happen, and in that respect we can say we are lucky. However, we have seen examples of the opposite around us.

M.E.: Most of the low points have come from personal conflicts of interest in the past. This is when Matthew always stepped in. The kind of low point that would have meant that the whole orchestra was going down a very bad path, but there were none. There was a period in music when we went in a slightly more pop direction, which Máté and I didn’t experience so well. Our music is a completely independent thing, and it’s always done by those who want to do it. The Góbé has never been defined by the people, it’s the Góbé that has defined the people in that way.

What do you think makes Góbé unique and what is the reason for its 15 years of unbroken success?

M.V.: An important thing is that we don’t use any other electric instruments than the bass, and even before Zoli came, that was not common. The musical universe that we have already mentioned and the fact that we are so familiar with folk music itself, in addition to the different styles of popular music, that we try to find the genre that best suits it, the best way to process the melodies. And that’s why I think we don’t really have any songs that are forced, we have a coherent unity of all these things side by side. I haven’t really heard that to that level and unity from any other band, at least in the same idea. I have in other concepts, like electronic music.

For many people, especially young ones, I think it’s an identity alternative to see that we play instruments that they think belong to their grandparents’ generation or that they themselves play, but it hasn’t occurred to them that they can make this kind of music, because they have two kinds of music in their heads, the music they play and the music they listen to. With us, they can experience that the two don’t have to be so sharply separated, but they can play the music they are listening to on their instruments. We can innovate and do all our songs in a different style, it’s quite a unique thing. We play a very wide variety of instruments and we’re constantly training ourselves to play new ones, and that makes our sound very diverse.

Why would you recommend the concert to the audience?

M.E.: Because we will be there, we will definitely go to this evening! For those who like the Góbé in the first place, it might be interesting because, as we said, with a lot of guest musicians we will do very exciting things within the songs that they already know and therefore they have certainly not heard them before. And for those who don’t know us yet, we will present this kind of Góbés music world that we are trying to create in the two-hour concert, almost in its entirety. Anyone who listens to this production will be able to say afterwards that they know the Góbés, so much colour has been added to the show. We hope that you will be encouraged to come to our concerts in the future.

M.E.: For those who don’t know the Góbé and listen to popular music, but haven’t been involved in folk music or don’t like it, this may be the way to get to like it. If you like folk music, you may now also like light music. And those who know the Gobbe, we count on them because the audience is the audience we exist with and play for. This will also be a celebration for us, and we want to celebrate with those who also feel like celebrating with us, because we have a connection.

Article: Anna Rácz

Translation: Nóra Fehér