I had heard stories about Kommandói Cigányifolklór Tábor, the Roma folklore camp held annually in Comandău, Romania. Folk music and dance friends told me about the extraordinary string musicians, the nightly campfire parties, and the camp’s make-shift market that sells colorful Romani skirts. This past July, I was staying nearby in Brașov, so I decided to experience the camp for myself.
Comandău is a Carpathian mountain town. The camp organizers hired a coach bus to bring us, about twenty-five dancers and musicians, from Sfântu Gheorghe to the foot of the Vrancea Mountains. Their plan was to transfer us to an uncovered dump truck that was more suitable for the winding mountain road climb.
But while we were approaching the mountain range, a storm was barreling its way over the rugged peaks, heading in our direction. So we waited, inside the parked bus, as it rained on and off for more than three hours.
Lucky for us, some of the camp’s hired musicians were also on the bus: Alexandru Sányika Mezei (violin), his brother Alin Mezei (3-string kontra), and their cousin Kalin Mezei. Their fathers are well-known musicians from Ceuaș, aka Ceuașo (in Romani) or Szászcsávás (in Hungarian), so these guys call themselves the young Szászcsávási band.
After a hauntingly beautiful ride through the mountains and trees in the misty night, we arrived at camp.
Early the next morning, I learned that music lessons are not a part of the camp’s program, so I was free to create my daily schedule. Wanting to learn how to play as much of their music as possible, I played along with the young Szászcsávási band during the dance classes, and hung out with them and their instruments during breaks.
In my field notes, as I was trying to figure out a process for learning their songs, I wrote:
Where should my attention be directed? On the notes? Technique? Rhythm? Bodily energy? Dancers? . . . Notes are important, but not to the exclusion of playing . . .
To learn all the correct notes, but not be all-consumed with learning each note, is not paradoxical. There is something about the energy of the Szászcsávási band’s playing that demands a different way of understanding and approaching music.
To play with them, you have to jump on board and go.
How difficult would that be? Well, here is your chance to judge for yourself. This is another example of the driving musical energy from the bus, this time with Kalin joining Sányika on violin:
Kommandói Cigányifolklór Tábor is organized by Háromszék Táncegyüttes, a Hungarian dance group from nearby Sepsisyentgörgy (Sf. Gheorghe), Romania. You can find more information about them here and their archives of the camp here.