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Unlike other Eastern European peoples, the Hungarian people, Magyars, emerged from the intermingling of Finno-Ugric and Eastern Turkish peoples during the fifth to eighth centuries CE. This makes the origins of their traditional music unique in Europe. Modern Hungarian folk music was first recorded in 1895 by Béla Vikár, setting the stage for the pioneering work of Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and László Lajtha in musicological collecting.

Hungarian popular music in the early 20th century consisted of light operettas and the Roma music of various styles. Nagymező utca, the "Broadway of Budapest", was a major center for popular music, and boasted enough nightclubs and theaters to earn its nickname. In 1945, however, this era abruptly ended and popular music was mostly synonymous with the patriotic songs imposed by the Russian Communists. Some operettas were still performed, though infrequently, and any music with Western influences was seen as harmful and dangerous. In 1956, however, liberalization began with the "three Ts" (tűrés, tiltás, támogatás, meaning toleration, prohibition, support), and a long period of cultural struggle began, starting with a battle over African American jazz. Jazz became a part of Hungarian music in the early 20th century, but did not achieve widespread renown until the 1970s, when Hungary began producing internationally known performers like the Benko Dixieland Band and Bela Szakcsi Lakatos. Other renowned performers from the younger generation are the Hot Jazz Band and the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band.

In the early 1960s, Hungarian youths began listening to rock in droves, in spite of condemnation from the authorities. Three bands dominated the scene by the beginning of the 1970s, Illés, Metró and Omega, all three of which had released at least one album. A few other bands recorded a few singles, but the Record-Producing Company, a state-run record label, did not promote or support these bands, which quickly disappeared.

In 1968, the New Economic Mechanism was introduced, intending on revitalizing the Hungarian economy, while the band Illés won almost every prize at the prestigious Táncdal Fesztivál. In the 70s, however, the Russians cracked down on subversives in Hungary, and rock was a major target. The band Illés was banned from performing and recording, while Metró and Omega left. Some of the members of these bands formed a supergroup, Locomotiv GT, that quickly became very famous. The remaining members of Omega, meanwhile, succeeded in achieving stardom in Germany, and remained very popular for a time. In Hungary bands like Piramis and Skorpio kept the underground progrock scene alive. These bands also succeeded to get more in the mainstream by supporting female singers like Sarolta Zalatnay, Kati Kovács and Zsuzsa Koncz on their albums.

But further rock bands in the late 1970s mostly had to conform to the Record Company's demands and ensure that all songs passed the inspection of the Song Committee, who scoured all songs looking for ideological disobedience. LGT was the most prominent band of a classic rock style that was very popular, along with Bergendy and Zorán, while there were other bands sounding like The Sweet and Middle of the Road who catered to the desires of the Song Committee, producing rock-based pop music without a hint of subversion. Somewhere in between was rockband Edda Müvek producing standard seventies rock. Meanwhile, the disco style of electronic music produced such performers as the officially-sanctioned Neoton Familia, and Beatrice and Szűcs Judit, while the more critically acclaimed progressive rock scene produced bands like East, V73, Color and Panta Rhei.

In the early 1980s, economic and cultural depression wrecked Hungary, leading to a wave of disillusioned and alienated youth, exactly the people that rock, and the burgeoning worldwide field of punk rock, spoke to the most. Major bands from this era included Beatrice, who had moved from disco to punk and folk-influenced rock and were known for their splashy, uncensored and theatrical performances, KFT, P. Mobil, Bikini, Hobo Blues Band, a bluesy duo, A.E. Bizottság, Európa Kiadó, Sziámi and the restarted Edda művek. Meanhwile Locomitiv GT's member Gabor Presser also started releasing solo material and writing for and recording with singer Klári Katona. This material differed from the prog LGT made and was more quality singer/songwriter orientated.

The 1980s saw the Record Production Company broken up because Hungary's authorities realized that restricting rock was not effective in reducing its effect; they instead tried to water it down by encouraging young musicians to sing about the principles of Communism and obedience. The early part of the decade saw the arrive of punk and New Wave music in full force, and the authorities quickly incorporated those styles as well. The first major prison sentences for rock-related subversion were given out, with the members of the punk band CPg sentenced to two years for political incitement.

By the end of the decade and into the 1990s, internal problems made it impossible for the Hungarian government to counter the activities of rock and other musical groups. Clubbing and electronic dance music started gaining popularity in Hungary following the system change of 1989. One of the first acts to emerge were Dr. Beat and Bonanza Banzai creating Depeche Mode-styled synth-pop. That band's singer Ákos Kovács would pursue a succesfull and artistically interesting solocareer from the mid-nineties. Acts like Anima Sound System, Korai Öröm, Yonderboi, Žagar, and Neo followed quickly. Popular Hungarian hip hop is especially popular among the large Romani population in Hungary, some of whom have a folk tradition of oral percussion. Performers include Ganxsta Zolee és a Kartel, his local fellow Dopeman, LL Junior and Sub Bass Monster.

  • Beat and Rock Music in Hungary. Central Europe Review
  • Szalipszki, Endre, ed.. Brief History of Music in Hungary. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Budapest





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