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Slovak Matters

IT IS my own personal opinion, and one that I'm sure will be vigorously denounced by our readers, that folk music (ľudová hudba) across former Czechoslovakia gives great insight into the character and hospitality of its peoples.
Starting with western Bohemia (the area that includes Prague), I have noticed that the local folk songs seem much slower than their eastern counterparts. In fact, most of the Bohemian folk music seems more suitable for a funeral (pohreb) than a celebration (oslava). There also appear to be a surprisingly large number of songs about beer rather than romance (láska).
Moving towards Moravia, the songs become livelier (živšie), suitable for the quiet end of an evening as the party winds down. In contrast, with Slovak tunes it is hard to sit and listen to them - they really make you want to just get up and join in.

IT IS my own personal opinion, and one that I'm sure will be vigorously denounced by our readers, that folk music (ľudová hudba) across former Czechoslovakia gives great insight into the character and hospitality of its peoples.

Starting with western Bohemia (the area that includes Prague), I have noticed that the local folk songs seem much slower than their eastern counterparts. In fact, most of the Bohemian folk music seems more suitable for a funeral (pohreb) than a celebration (oslava). There also appear to be a surprisingly large number of songs about beer rather than romance (láska).

Moving towards Moravia, the songs become livelier (živšie), suitable for the quiet end of an evening as the party winds down. In contrast, with Slovak tunes it is hard to sit and listen to them - they really make you want to just get up and join in.

It is perhaps not surprising then, that sitting round the camp fire (táborák) in the Czech Republic, you are likely to hear Slovak songs alongside Czech ones, and there are probably going to be some easily recognisable American songs from the sixties thrown in.

Here in Slovakia, they seem even happier to sing the Czech songs from most adults' shared childhoods. It will be interesting to see whether the same is true in a generation's time.

Slovakia's homegrown folk songs are quite lively and you're likely to find yourself swept along with the rhythm, letting out occasional whoops (výskoky) at appropriate (and inappropriate) moments along with the singers and dancers themselves.

The best way to hear real folk songs is to get yourself invited to someone's chalupa or chata (cottage) for the weekend.

The difference between the two, incidentally, is that a chalupa is likely to be found in a village, where similar houses are used as permanent dwellings by other people, and a chata is found either deep in the countryside or with other weekend cottages.

Anyway, once there it is only a matter of time before a guitar (gitara) or an accordion (harmonika) will miraculously appear out of nowhere, and the singing will begin. Of course, not all are truly folk songs, you can also hear umelé songs, that is those made up more recently, which include the previously mentioned American songs such as Veď mně dál cesto má (Take Me Home Country Roads) and Pár havraních copánků (Love Me Tender). No prizes for guessing what Ruže z Texasu and Chodím po Broadwayi are.

If you want to join in then there are several you can ask for, my own personal favourite being a Czech song by Jaromír Nohavica - T€i čuníci (Three Little Pigs), which has an easily remembered chorus (included here in full):

Wee wee wee wee weeee, wee wee wee wee weeee, wee wee wee wee weee weee, wee wee wee wee weeee.

After too many beers, this chorus can have undesired effects, so you might prefer to ask for a Beatles song instead and just sing along in English.

If you prefer something more formal, you could go along to an organised display. Many villages will hold a folklore festival (folklórna slávnosť) during the summer (see Top Pick page 11) where you will not only be able to see folk dances (ľudové tance or ľudovky) but also tradition Slovak folk costumes (kroj).

One thing to note is that each region and many villages in Slovakia have different folk costumes often richly embroidered.

For women, this consists of a skirt (sukňa), a blouse with bag-sleeves (blúza s naberanými rukávcami), and an apron (zástera). Married women also wear a bonnet (čepiec), which was traditionally worn from the day of a woman's wedding to the day she died.

For men, it is linen trousers (gate), a white embroidered shirt (biela vyšívaná košeľa), a trilby-style hat (širák), a large belt (opasok), and a valaška - a traditional long-handled hatchet - carried in the hand. The men's costume in the Detva region is quite distinctive, with a bare midriff.

The footwear that goes with the costumes of both men and women depends on the region, with mountainous regions mainly opting for long boots (čižmy) and lowland regions tending towards soft shoes (kapce).

Slovaks are deservedly proud of their folk dancing and it can be seen at competitions across the world. There are various different types of dance such as do krutu (a twisting dance), do skoku (a jumping dance), odzemok (lit. from the ground, a lively dance which involves crouching and jumping), klobúkový (a hat dance), and palicový/valaškový (stick/hatchet dance).

The vigorous odzemok, also known as hajduk or kozák in some regions, has some elements reminiscent of Cossack dancing. It is considered the Slovak national dance and is thought to come from the shepherds of central and northern Slovakia.

Finally, if you want to try your hands (and legs) at dancing, you should suggest "poďme si skočiť/dupnúť!" (Let's dance), or, if you are trying to persuade a stranger to join you, "Chceli by ste tancovať?" (Would you like to dance?). Good luck!

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