On Sunday, while cooking lunch and gardening, the second program of Radio Novi Sad was on in the background. My non-Hungarian speaking friends were fine with any noise coming from the radio, while for me the irritating but in a way also pleasant sounds were very familiar. It was the Sunday szívküldi, or Vaše želje, vaše pesme, a radio program I haven’t heard in ages and in which listeners chose from a list of songs published in a newspaper earlier that week, and before playing the song, the speaker reads the greeting they send to their family and friends for weddings, birthdays, name-days, graduations, and the like.
One would think that if there is a specific music genre that is characteristic of Vojvodina, that is tamburica. And one would be right. But there is another type of music that was born out of this region: the so-called geranium-music (muskátli-zene), named after the flower hanging from many windows in the rural parts of Vojvodina, which became extremely popular in the early ‘80s among Hungarian-speakers in Vojvodina and in Hungary, and also among the Hungarian diaspora worldwide. As the band-leader, Zoltán Bugyi claims, a Serbian audience was also present at their gigs and concerts, and some of their songs were even translated to Serbian.
The founders of this genre were the band 3+2, made up of the three Bugyi brothers and two of their friends from their native Ürményháza/Jermenovci. The peculiarity of their music, as they claim in the interviews published in Bugyik és Kombinék, was that they combined rock music they were listening to as teenagers and the csárdás rhythms popular among their parents’ generation performed mainly at weddings and other celebrations. They had some formal training or were self-thought in playing the guitar, bass guitar, drums and keyboards, and in the beginning they played popular wedding songs with this unusual music arrangement.
Their first performances were in their father’s inn, but as they became more and more popular, they had songs written specifically for the band. The lyrics of the songs were on women, love, with some elements associated to nature (one of their most popular songs was entited Halvány őszi rózsa [Pale autumn rose], another Sárgul már a kukoricaszár [The corn stalk is turning yellow]), the homeland (as in the song Kicsiny falum, ott születtem én [My small village, that’s where I was born]) and some implicit sexual connotations (to spice things up, the surname of the founders of the band, Bugyi, means ’knickers’ in Hungarian), and they were played on electronic instruments. They were invited to play all over Vojvodina, and they also conquered Hungary, where the music industry was more regulated and where the cassettes bought on the black market with the modern music by 3+2 were a true refreshment from the schlager type of songs characteristic for the Hungarian music scene at that time.
The band moved to Temerin, and after unsuccessful negotiations with PGP, they recorded their first album with the Zagreb-based Jugoton in 1986, and claimed to having sold 1,380,000 cassettes and LPs, not counting pirated versions (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGVSlPZY2-g — a three-part documentary on the history of the band in Hungarian language). With this number, Jugoton achieved its biggest export ever, to the Hungarian market, and the band received the ’Golden bird’ award for the most sold album of the year in Yugoslavia. They filled concert halls from Budapest to Sydney.
Very similarly to newly composed folk music (novokomponovana narodna muzika) in Serbian music culture, which they admit was inspiration for their music, even though the band and the genre were extremely popular among Hungarian speakers worldwide, they received very harsh critiques in both Vojvodina and Hungary. What they played was termed as kitsch, bad taste; people listening to geranium-music were seen as low-class, rural. Yet, I don’t know any self-respecting Hungarian household in Vojvodina who do not own a 3+2 cassette. They still hold concerts from Muzslya/Mužlja to Toronto, and as I learned on Sunday, their songs are still the most popular in the musical requests program.
Source: Unpacking Vojvodina