There is a sleepy village in the Žilina Region of Northern Slovakia that stretches alongside one single street. With its 3500 inhabitants, Oravská Polhora comes into life during the second week-end of September, when the street is invaded by dozens of peculiar individuals wearing funny clothes and carrying weird instruments.
It is the week-end of Gajdovačka, the annual bagpipe festival. It’s the time of the year when people from different countries, languages and cultures get together to celebrate their love for folk music.
This year they came from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Scotland, Italy and France.
They came wearing the traditional clothes of their countries. They came with bagpipes of all shapes and colors, and they came with flutes, accordions, guitars, basses, fujaras, launeddas, grails, and drums.
They play together, adults and children, men and women. They compare their instruments, the Polish speaking Polish and the Slovak replying in Slovak. Communication is not a problem: the lingua franca is the language of music.
Last year, during my first months in Slovakia, I had fun exploring all the local festivals, whether that meant taking long train rides to Detva or Zuberec, or simply walking to the dancing evenings at V-Klub and KC Dunaj in the capital.
So when my friend Zuzka invited me for my first Gajdovačka last year, I enthusiastically accepted. Her dad is one of the minds behind the festival – for he has two big passions: physics and music.
This year’s Gajdovačka had a different flavor. Not only did it taste like these Eastern European lands that have adopted me, but it also tasted like home.
These are Roberto and Gigi, from Quartu Sant’Elena, Sardinia. They play Launeddas, a typical Sardinian woodwind Instrument made of three pipes.
It is amazing how such small objects can produce such a powerful sound and make you feel nostalgic of places you’ve never been to, and traditions that have never been yours.
These instead are Marie, Bernard, Philippe, Marine and Michel. Together, they are the Canta Graile, a folk ensemble from Toulouse, and they made me travel back to France with their beautiful songs in Occitan.
And this is Marianka, whose mom makes delicious smoked cheese that she serves with raspberry jam on top. Marianka doesn’t speak Italian, she told me when I addressed her with my poor Slovak, and she doesn’t like snails 🙂
Last Sunday I said goodbye to Oravská Polhora and its incredibly starry sky for the last time. It looked like all the stars in the world had also gathered there to listen to these ancient melodies coming from powerful instruments played by expert hands.