Interview with Katalin Bársony and Barnabás Kelemen- English Translation

„If only they could play music together since when they are children”

Interview with Katalin Bársony and Barnabás Kelemen

by Révész Sándor (translated by the Romedia Foundation)

published in Népszabadság Magazin, XXIII. 40. page 4., 4. October 2013.

Online version in Hungarian:

Kelemen Barnabás and Bársony Katalin Fotó: M. Schmidt János

Kelemen Barnabás and Bársony Katalin
Fotó: M. Schmidt János

Magazine: “My great grandfather grabbed the breathtaking Terka from the wagon in which the Roma were traveling- they fled together and so the Daróczi-family started.” 

This is how the article written  by Ágnes Daróczi begins. Katalin Bársony is the youngest member of that generation. She was raised at the frontier of two different cultures: the old traditional community of the small village the Daróczi’s lived in and their intellectual environment from Budapest. How was it like experiencing these cultural and societal differences?

Katalin Bársony: I was growing up between two cultures and two languages: my mother and my grandmother talked to me only in Romanes for a long time. For me, the village and the urban traditions of my family were always in complete harmony. Before my grandparents moved to Pest, I spent a lot of time in Bedő, I was usually there during the summers. In Pest, it was different: here I had to meet my family’s strict requirements. My great-aunt, my mother’s sisters, all of them had aspired to get a diploma. Therefore, it was a must that I should have a diploma and that I should be able to speak foreign languages. My family was a first generation of intellectuals and this gave me great motivation.

Magazine: Where is this small village located?

Katalin Bársony: It is very close to the Romanian border. It’s a very small, wonderful, multi-lingual village.

Magazine: Recently, is there still a Romanian majority?

Katalin Bársony: Yes there still is, today. The locals learned how to live together cooperate and respect each other. For example when my mother went to secondary school in Debrecen that had a great impact on the whole community from the village.

Magazine: According to your CV that I found on the internet, you have both Roma and Jewish backgrounds. How real and strong is the latter?

Bársony Katalin: It is real, but in a different way. The relatives of my father moved to America when I was three years old. I missed them very much, we met very rarely and this has not changed until today. My impression was that my Jewish friends did not have a stronger Jewish identity than mine. My life is utterly determined by the Roma culture but in spite of this I am also a Jewish woman, I live in Budapest and I have many other identities too. I belong to a new generation that possesses complex identities, and values cultural diversity and the harmony of living together in these diverse communities.

Magazine: There are three decedents of three famous Hungarian “primás” (leader of a Roma band; violinist) the musicians from these families are travelling across the globe. They all represent three different styles: Roby Lakatos, whose story was filmed by Kata, plays traditional Gipsy music, József Lendvai plays classical music, his first teacher – who was his own father – was also a great “primás” (leader of a Roma band; violonist).

Barnabás Kelemen: And his father is one of the greatest primás (leader of a Roma band; violinist) of our time! His name is Lendvay Csócsi József!

Magazine: Your grandfather was also one of the best primás of his time. What does this past give to you?

Barnabás Kelemen: A lot. If I go to a restaurant and meet Gypsy musicians, they recognize me, they know who my grandfather was. They always make a low bow to me when they give me a violin to play. We deeply cherish his memory: for instance we would always turn up the radio, when his records were played. There are also a few films in which he played with Pál Jávor! When I started to play the violin, I immediately tried to play his melodies. Still it is not the same as if it would have been is he would have been my first violin teacher. His story is very interesting, by the way. In a primás family, if it seems like someone has a great talent for music, the mother would always pay attention to that and not allow the son to marry at an early age. This was an attempt to prevent careers from being ruined by marriage. Behind almost every great primás there is always a strong parental support. Once, my grandfather Pali fell in love with a non-Roma girl. He wanted to marry her. It seemed that there was no hope anymore, but suddenly a kidney surgery broke made everything change. Everybody seriously feared that my grandpa will die. Then, he said to his mother that if he would not be allowed to marry Joli, the non-Roma girl, he will die after the surgery. My great grandma had no other choice than to promise him that she will give her consent for the marriage.

Magazine: The Pertis’ are Romungro, the Daróczis are Oláh Gypsies.

Katalin Bársony: My family always avoided these isolating conflicts. As far as I am concerned, I am familiarized with the issue now, as I am working on a film about a Romungro jazz violinist, József Balázs. Through his band, he connects the Romungro Gypsy music with the Oláhs Gipsy music. In this way, he attempts to bridge differences.

Barnabás Kelemen: We did not experience any tensions from these differences. The only problem serious problems we had to face stemmed from the marriage I mentioned before (with my grandfather). After the death of my grandfather, his relatives took his Guarneri-violin from us and they did not take care of the the children of my deceased grandfather and his wife. They apologized for this at my mothers death bed.

Magazine: Your grandfather played on a Guarneri?!

Pertis Pál- grandfather of Kelemen Barnabás.

Pertis Pál- grandfather of Kelemen Barnabás.

Katalin Bársony: Yes, he did! He bought it in Belgium. He played at one of the biggest coffeehouses in Paris where Ravel used to go. Allegedly, my grandpa’s violin playing, might have inspired Ravel’s famous Tzigane, My grandpa’s violin is world-famous; and it is also mentioned in a melody.

Magazine: Yes, I know that song! Its title is ‘Three night of a love’.

Barnabás Kelemen: Exactly! The well-known primás families differentiated themselves from other Romani people, especially from Roma who used metal pots- as drums (which were normally used for holding liquids) for making music.

Katalin Bársony: This means, like us, Oláh Gypsies.

Barnabás Kelemen: I don’t differentiate. I love those Gypsy bands! We always buy their CDs, and play it for our children, sing along together and so on. It is fascinating how many talents there are among Romani people! I always say this could be one of the greatest opportunities for integration.

Katalin Bársony: How do you feel: are you also a Gypsy who belongs to those talents?

Barnabás Kelemen: Of course, I believe that dance and music has the power to make people connect. I am sure that Roma and non-Roma children would have a completely different relationship if they had the chance to dance and play music together from their childhood and if this would be central to their life.

Magazine: On the contrary, current situations shoe that the quality of music education in schools has been dramatically decreasing.

Barnabás Kelemen: I find this profoundly sad. Sports are important, too, but it cannot and should not replace other important aspects of growing up.

Magazine: In musical families the children are encouraged to be a professional musician. How important was for your family that you follow the career path of your parents?

Katalin Bársony: My mother wanted to protect me from this. She wanted me to become a diplomat. I studied diplomacy and I was a researcher and an intern in Brussels. I was still there when the former head of the Duna Television offered me a job in Budapest. He promised me money, ‘steeds and arms’. My first two documentary films were made in India, and I was responsible for getting the money for half of the costs. This is how I made the 42 episodes for the Mundi Romani series.

Magazine: This series was screened from 2007 until 2011 and were made across the globe including countries such as France, Portugal, Russia, Macedonia, Turkey and India. Will the series be continued?

Katalin Bársony: They will, but in a different format. The Romedia Foundation is steadily growing. This summer we founded BAXT Films, a new film company where we are already at our fifth movie. Our current project is about a family, who’s story is full of sorrow, and who has been forced to fled from Kosovo to Germany. They lived there for ten years but in January 2010, the two younger brothers and their mother had been repatriated to Kosovo. The older brother and the father stayed in Germany. They are a hard-working family, the older brother goes to university in Hannover. As a result of the sudden upheaval the younger brothers experienced a cultural shock. They only spoke German, they did not speak any Albanian or Serbian. That world was completely alien to them. During three and a half years they also could not receive education. Now their story seems to be solved through the reunion of the family. The production plan of the film has been awarded at the International Documentary Film Festival in Zagreb this February.

Magazine: Kata’s most dramatic film also has to do with Kosovo. It is about the case in Mitrovica where a dangerous lead contamination seriously affected Roma camps. Many of them died or suffered terrible mental handicaps.

Katalin Bársony: This was one of my first films. It got to the final of the Monte-Carlo Festival. Since then, film professionals recognize me and are interested in my projects. Of course, I did not expect this, I do not expect that they would start to celebrate me for presenting such a painful story which by the way, is embarrassing for numerous international organizations.

M.: What is the situation with the camp now?

Katalin Bársony: Two years ago, thanks to enormous international pressure the people were finally relocated from the contaminated area, but they still do not have any access to appropriate treatment. The mountain that was built from infected waste is still there and the wind still blows the pollution towards the city. Everybody gets is still getting affected by it, but not as much as before.