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Lynn Hooker

The Girls of the Rajkó Ensemble

Romani girls and women might play instruments at home but they have rarely done so in public. By contrast, Hungary’s Rajkó Ensemble encouraged female talent: there were usually several girls in each subgroup of about 15 to 18 players.

Although the role of girls and young women was unusual given the musical genre pursued by the ensemble, it fit well with the Communist government’s goal of mobilising women as workers. The early women’s movement in Eastern and Central Europe and Russia in the early twentieth century advocated a model set of principles and programmes to facilitate women’s employment, including childcare centres and paid maternity leave.

The Soviet Union implemented many of these measures; and even if the reality did not live up to the ideal, it was assumed that both men and women would work outside the home and that, in theory, their work made them equal. Post-war Hungary adopted similar principles, and the number of female workers in Hungary nearly quadrupled between 1948 and the end of 1953. Furthermore, women were to be more integrated into education at all levels to allow equality of opportunity. At the same time, there was an effort to assimilate Roma into the Hungarian proletariat. In the Rajkó Ensemble, we can observe the intersection of these aims.

While male Hungarian Romani musicians are fairly well represented in the public sphere, the work of female Romani musicians is often overlooked. RomArchive explores the gender dynamics of the Rajkó Ensemble and professional Romani musicians through exhibits on four former members whose tenures in the ensemble span its state-socialist period: Zsuzsa Horváth, who joined the Rajkó in the 1950s; Mariánn Lakatos, who joined in the 1960s; Erzébet Katona, who joined in the 1970s; and Edit Németh, who joined in the 1980s.