‘It can be dance music that is played at weddings and parties, it’s comedy and it’s also about the slow, sad and boring things in life too. It’s got it all’ says Alana from Vardos.
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Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined 2020
Vardos - Week 6
Alana, Sophia and Kirri from Vardos, welcome to In the groove. Now, Vardos plays an amazing style of music. Can you describe the type of music that Vardos champions and plays?
It’s basically a mixture of Hungarian and Romanian folk gypsy music. This is a Vardos in the Romany language. It’s a basically, a gypsy caravan.
Music has taken you all over the world, including many places in Eastern Europe.
Yeah, when we go there, we’re often tracking down gypsy musicians in restaurants or, sometimes, we’ve even been known to sit outside venues where they have weddings and where we can see that there’s a gypsy band inside and, when they come out for their cigarette break, we go and approach them and say “will you teach us these particular songs?”.
And, is it traditionally the way you would learn music is shared between musicians or is it with sheet music? How are you learning these traditional songs and be able to bring them back to Australia?
It sort of depended on who we were learning from. At one point, I was learning from a guy who used to play with Taraf de Haidouks which is quite a big band from Romania and we were doing that all by ear and, at first, it was fine learning it by ear except he never played it the same way twice. I’d keep thinking “did I forget?” and it’s like oh, he’s always adding something different and changing it so it was just adapting to that teaching style. Occasionally, we would get musical scores. I would pretty much have the task of transcribing what we were learning and sometimes while I was doing that, Alana would be going off to the market and learning all sorts of vocabulary around that and a few funny stories, where she asked for a bus ticket but was given a bar of soap or something.
It was always the guys playing the music who would be teaching us and the woman would be in there cooking for us and we got fed so much food.
We got over-fed. We could hardly move sometimes.
Often, we were staying actually in the houses, especially if we were in a village, we might stay in the house of the actual gypsy people and, once the wife even moved out of her bed and went to sleep in some other room so that we could sleep in the big, comfortable bed.
They are so hospitable. They would insist on spoiling us every day.
Bringing back this music to Australia, has there been many different communities – cultural communities - that have appreciated hearing some of these traditional songs?
Yeah, that’s what is really great is when there are people who really get what that music is and where it comes from.
It’s also very rewarding to play for people who have never heard that music. Occasionally, we get paid to pay somewhere like the Moorabbin shopping mall or something and people come up to us and say “what are you?” and “what is this?”, “this is fantastic” and it’s great to be able to introduce people to new types of music.
This week, the theme is More Than Human and I know that the piece that you’re going to play has some very specific over tones.
The song is about a domestic argument between rabbits. I mean, actually, folk music – often, when they sing about something, it’s often symbolic.
Lady rabbit is talking about going and building her own house and getting away from it – getting away from him. One rabbit ends up being fried and served up but then it could also be analogy that the lady rabbit is saying that she is – she’s good for the market. She’s available, she’s going to make – put herself back on the market. So, there’s a bit of ambiguity there about how it can be interpreted.