Jani Lang - Playing violin with a Hungary heart
It’s no secret that YouTube has developed into one of the music industry’s most invaluable tools. Musicians reach international audiences – in some cases massive ones – through the medium and can find agents who can plonk them in front of these fans. They can also find other musicians to play or form bands with. This much everyone knows. It’s how Jani Lang came to meet Tcha Limberger – and now they’re touring Scotland together.
At least that’s the simple version. The story of how Lang, a Hungarian violinist resident in Scotland for the past decade, invited the Belgian-born Limberger, the sometime guitarist with Belgian gypsy jazz specialists Waso and a master of Hungarian folk traditions on violin, to work with his band is a mite more convoluted.
Lang began hearing about Limberger round about the time the Belgian arrived in Hungary to study Balkan gypsy music. At this point Lang had just recently left his homeland and was living in the south of England.
“I kept hearing from people back home about this amazing violinist who had appeared, apparently from nowhere, and was wowing everyone with his playing of Hungarian folk music,” says the now Edinburgh-based Lang. “But it wasn’t until I found him on YouTube that I was able to see and hear him for myself, and the reports were right: he is amazing. I’d never heard anyone playing that style with such assurance and feeling for the music, never mind his fabulous technique. I immediately decided that we had to do something together.”
Emails were exchanged and expressions of interest swung to and fro but Lang was unable to take matters further until, a good number of years after Lang first heard about him, Limberger turned up to play at Edinburgh Jazz Festival this summer. The pair met up at Limberger’s concert, jammed together through the night at his hotel afterwards and clearly found the admiration mutual.
“My band has two Scots, on accordion and double bass, who have very quickly become at home in Hungarian music, but we also have Tamas Ferencz, another Hungarian, who specialises in the brácsa, a three string viola, and was a professional dancer back home,” says Lang. “Tamas likes to include some dance steps – he can be very persuasive at getting people out of their seats - on our gigs and Tcha has a huge repertoire of Balkan music, a lot of which is dance-based. So I think we’re going to have a lot of fun putting these concerts together.”
If the merging of Limberger and Lang’s talents wasn’t exactly straightforward, it has nothing on the journey that brought Lang to Scotland and saw his own love of Balkan traditional music develop.
A classically trained violinist from the age of seven, he knew little or nothing about his native traditions until he began to play Scottish and Irish music while still studying for his music degree at the Music Academy in his home town of Szeged.
“My dad played folk music but I was totally immersed in classical studies and not really interested in much else,” he says. “Then when my dad went to play in Denmark, I went along with him and some Danish players showed me a few Danish tunes, which I enjoyed playing. A while after this there were quite a few Scottish and Celtic bands coming through Szeged. Shooglenifty played there and I loved what they were doing, and I remember seeing Flook, whose Brian Finnegan was actually living in Budapest at the time, and they made a big impression on me. I continued with my classical degree but on the side I was becoming more and more involved in Celtic music and strange though this may seem, it was actually through playing Scottish and Irish music that I discovered the Eastern European traditions.”
Having moved to the south of England, where he had friends to stay with, he made a few trips up to Scotland and over to Ireland, where he continued his love affair with jigs, reels and slow airs, before a job teaching violin came up at Peterhead Academy.
“It was ideal,” he says. “I was able to use my degree to earn a living and in my spare time, living in Aberdeen, I could meet musicians like Fraser Fifield, who shared my interests in both Celtic and Balkan traditional music. I also played in a ceilidh band up there, as well as starting the Jani Lang Band, but now the music I play with my own band leans much more towards the Balkan and gyspy traditions.”
Living in Edinburgh for the past four years, he’s been able to join in the thriving traditional music session scene as well as developing his own band and meeting Tcha Limberger, of course. Had he found any similarities between Scottish and Hungarian music?
“If you look into any tradition, I think you’ll find – deep down – that the reasons people play traditional music in the first place are broadly the same,” he says. “As far as Scottish and Hungarian music are concerned, there are maybe a few ornamentation styles that are similar and the act of creating rhythm with the fiddle or violin bow is something we share. But I’m just glad I discovered Scottish music because if I hadn’t done that I might not have discovered the music I play now.”
From The Herald, November 26, 2011.