Traditions, costumes, songs and often special food. This is the basis of folk culture, which is strongly rooted in Moravia. Interest in it has been growing recently – the Czech Republic is taking it as one of the bases of its promotion for domestic and foreign tourists. What is folklore actually about? Are young people coming back to it? And what makes it interesting? We interviewed Marie Hvozdecká, a music editor focusing on folklore at Czech Radio and also a long-time programmer of the folklore scene at the Brno Music Marathon Festival. As she says, “having an interest in folk music is a good thing. However, in order to remake it into a new form, one must know its origin and meaning, otherwise it becomes a mockery.”
On your profile on the website of Czech Radio Brno you write that you “want to convey to people the beauty and diversity that you see in folk music.” What exactly do you see in folklore?
I often perceive beauty in simple melodies and lyrics, but they hide something deeper, which one discovers only after listening a few times. The moment you immerse yourself in something, you gradually start to notice the differences – not only regional or national, but also in the individual performers from the region.
Does this mean that folk music is not simple, but has several layers?
It is simple in its essence because it was created in a folk environment. But it has a hidden depth that most people don’t know about. Even at the time of its inception, it was composed and created by talented people who were innovative, with creative souls. It has a very interesting evolution, influenced by the subsequent interpretation by the musicians. Connoisseurs can tell from the songs what region they came from, what conditions were like in those regions, and so on.
You have been cooperating with the Brno Music Marathon Festival as a programmer of the folklore scene for three years now. How did you join the project?
Jiří Plocek, former Czech Radio programmer, musician and publisher, told me about it. He made many amazing recordings that are unique. He knows how to capture the essence of the music and find artists who can represent their region and traditions. He is an inspiration to me in his approach, and we share a common mindset. He suggested to me that they were looking for a programmer for the Marathon and maybe I would like to give it a try. I didn’t hesitate and went for it; I’m happy about it.
What do you want to say to the visitors? Does the theme of the dramaturgy change from year to year?
I stick to one idea, and that is to invite musicians from the regions, not from Brno. The thing is that when regional musicians come to Brno, it is usually as part of a wedding or commercial event. When there is something public in the area of folklore in Brno, it is done by locals. That’s why I want to give an opportunity to others who have a more difficult opportunity to make it here. Moreover, I see the Marathon as a very professional environment. At the same time, I try to bring contrasts. One concert is always a fusion of folk music and another genre. Often the connection is very experimental and shocking to many. Folklore is a very traditional genre whose community doesn’t like innovation very much. Not surprisingly, fusion is often done in very bad taste. Recently, however, new and interesting projects have emerged. That is why I want to offer them to others, even those who may reject them out of hand. Moreover, folk music has been an inspirational theme since the time of Leoš Janáček, but respect for tradition should be maintained.
Looking ahead to the next few years – do you have any other programming plans for Marathon? Are you thinking of a new concept?
I would like to stick to the concept I mentioned. Continue to support musicians directly from each region. But in the future I would like to invite musicians from abroad, e.g. from Slovakia or Ukraine. I really like some of their approaches to folk music and I think they could be an inspiration.
Outside the festival, you prepared your own musical and educational programme “Folklore and City”. What exactly is it about?
I found the close relationship between Brno and folklore very interesting. We are located in the centre of Moravia, a large number of students come here and many of them bring their traditions with them to the city. Then they start to visit local groups that have been active since the 1950s or new groups are being formed. When there is a folklore event in Brno, a cimbalom band plays or it’s a concert, but this connection is never emphasized, and I wanted to change that. So I chose a café in a functionalist building, another dominant feature of the city. I thought it would be a very unconventional but all the more interesting combination, a combination of folklore and functionalism. So I went for it.
What is its content?
I always try to make it overlapping. So, before the actual music event, there is a discussion or perhaps a workshop, usually in conjunction with the performing artists. I want people to get to know different views and opinions, even though they may differ from their own.
You probably hinted at it, but is there any interest in folklore in Brno?
Definitely yes, especially lately, when it is losing the aftertaste of communist times. People used to associate it with some “boring” brass band. With the younger generation, this is disappearing, and so they can only see nice things in it. Not only the meeting of people, but also the beauty of songs, costumes, accessories and clothes in the style of folklore. For many, it is a source of inspiration for further work, not to remain preserved in stereotypes. On the other hand, it’s important to teach people traditions and have respect for that. Often, mockery can result. If someone wants to remake a folk song, they should know its context.
Isn’t folklore rather “overtaken” by popular music, nightclubs and the like? At least in Brno as a student city? Or is it thriving and being seen more often nowadays?
It will depend on what time period we are talking about. In the fifties we had a big boom, orchestras like BROLN were formed, there were a lot of well-known singers. From the present time I have experience with Brno for the last fifteen years. When I started university, the first two years of my studies, there was a strong generation, but it was gradually coming to an end. After that it was quiet for a long time, almost nothing happened. In the last three years, and I’m not counting the COVID year, it’s coming back and interest is growing.
Folk music and creativity figured strongly in the lives of people in past centuries. With the coming of the 21st century, young people have broken away, gone to the cities to develop careers and live a different way of life. Now, at least in my opinion and from observation of my surroundings, new generations are rediscovering the magic of tradition. Any idea what it could be?
Folklore has its own charm. People do it together, they get together, they can dress nicely, guys and girls have fun. It’s about the simple joys of life, moments well spent. In many villages, it can also be related to the leadership of someone in the village who takes the lead and gets others to take action. In some regions, alcohol is added to the mix. Personally, I don’t like it, folklore has much deeper meanings for me than just having fun while drinking wine.
How do you perceive various customs, such as the organization of feasts, when maypoles are stolen between villages, competitions for the most beautiful decoration, etc.?
Some rivalry can be beneficial. Of course, everything should be within the law. But some things are nothing but narrow-minded from my point of view, envy is harmful.
Moravia is known for its folklore and traditions. Travel agencies promote this theme, combined with wine and beautiful nature. Moravian Slovakia’s verbuňk and the Ride of the Kings are on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. Do you have the feeling that something from folk art is being forgotten, that something hasn’t been “discovered” yet?
That’s a tough question. I’m not sure it’s supposed to be “all-Moravian”. For me, it has more value when it involves a smaller region. Even verbuňk has been registered because it is practised only in a small area such as the Slovácko Region. There are very strict rules for registration, and if we were to say something that would meet this throughout Moravia, we would have to look very deeply. If there is one thing common to all, it is cimbalom music, although in some regions it can be played without the instrument. But that is a very broad term. In Slovakia, for example, the music from a single village (Těrchová) has been entered on the UNESCO list, although there is music in other regions as well.
And how does Czech folklore stand abroad?
We definitely have something to offer. Our entire folk culture, both intangible in the form of music and tangible in the form of decorations, costumes and traditions, is very interesting and can attract people from all over the world. For me, the Slovaks are better at selling it and not spoiling it. They care more about music, they put more money into it than in our country. We could learn from our colleagues from the East, for example, by promoting folklore events. The prevailing opinion in our country is that if we love folklore, we will do it for free. This is slowly disappearing in Slovakia, they have more respect for the people who work on it.
When did you develop a love for this genre? Did it come spontaneously or were you influenced by your surroundings?
From the age of four I was in a folklore group. I was the only one in my family who played old records of folk music at home. I come from Valašské Meziříčí, where folklore has its background. So I was more influenced by my friends and the people I was hanging out with. Later, the debates turned into the study of ethnology at university. In Brno I started going to local ensembles where I met other inspiring people.
Many people, if they are close to folklore, are divided into either cimbalom music lovers or “brass band” lovers. Do you belong to one of the groups?
I’m definitely more in tune with cimbalom. But my favourite music is the original fiddler line-up of bass, viola and violin, without cimbalom. It’s got a raw, ancient sound. Cimbalom was added at the turn of the twentieth century. At the same time, I have been learning to play the trumpet for many years, although I am still a beginner.