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Lynn Hooker

The Rajkó Ensemble

The Rajkó Ensemble, also known as the ‘Gypsy Orchestra of the League of Young Communists Artists Centre’, was founded in Budapest in 1952 as a staged folk ensemble with dancers in the tradition of the Soviet Union’s Moiseyev Ensemble, led by artistic director Gyula Farkas (1925–90). It brought together talented Romani youth from all over the country.

Like Hungary’s other state-sponsored folk ensembles, the Rajkó reshaped the traditional ‘Gypsy band’ according to state socialist ideology. The group avoided the magyar nóta, a folk-like urban song repertoire usually associated with Romani musicians, because of its ‘feudalist-capitalist’ past, featuring instead more ‘authentic’ rural folk music and classical works in Hungarian style that were arranged for a Romani orchestra. Moreover, it put the musicians on stage and prohibited tipping, thus rejecting the unsavoury class implications of playing requests at table.

The cover of Rajkó Ensemble’s 1964 album, featuring Mariánn Lakatos . Photo credit: Lynn Hooker

Rights held by: Péter Korniss (photo record sleeve) — Qualiton Records (design record sleeve) | Licensed by: Péter Korniss (photo record sleeve) — Hungaroton Records (design record sleeve) | Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Hungaroton (Budapest/Hungary)

In addition to being a performing group, the Rajkó was a model social programme. Before the war, most Romani musician families brought young boys into the entertainment music industry through instruction and apprenticeship with family and friends. Girls rarely performed in public. Under the new system, music primary schools expanded institutional music education to include everyone – Romani and non-Romani, girls and boys – but those schools did not support the development of improvisatory skills or ‘Gypsy music’ repertoire. For its part, the Rajkó Ensemble did both. It invested in education, ensuring that its members obtained their secondary-school leaving certificate, and it put some of the most talented young Hungarian Romani musicians of either gender on stages all around the world.