VA: Billie Holiday, Vocal Sampling & more - Hungarian Noir


"Hungarian Noir" - VA: Billie Holiday, Vocal Sampling & more

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  • Artist:VA: Billie Holiday, Vocal Sampling & more
  • region:Borderless
  • release year:2016
  • style(s):
    • World
    • World Pop
  • country:Hungary
  • catalogue numberPIR2958
  • formats:
    • CD

Out on Friday 13th of May 2016

WARNING: This music may be hazardous to your health. Listener precaution is advised.

»I don't want to go near that song... It's totally haunted and cursed. I want to live.« Thomas Lauderdale - Pink Martini

It is the world’s deadliest song, a musical composition so lethal that merely to hear it hummed may induce suicidal tendencies. It is “Gloomy Sunday”, public menace of such potentially epidemic proportions the BBC was compelled to ban it for decades. Indeed, if contemporary news reports and eyewitness accounts are to be believed, no other song comes close to it for sheer morbidity.

“Helter Skelter”? The Manson murders were horrific, to be sure, but the role of the Beatles’ song in those tragic deaths was incidental at best, and in the end, seven lives were claimed; the number of fragile souls, meanwhile, to have succumbed to the unrelenting lugubriousness of “Gloomy Sunday” may number in the hundreds if not the thousands.

“Better By You, Better Than Me”? When played backwards, a US lawsuit alleged, this 1990 Judas Priest song prompts listeners to “do it” and commit suicide. But how deadly can a song be which must be listened to backwards? “Gloomy Sunday’s” impact is direct and instantaneous. One need only recall the story of the Roman shop boy who, hearing a beggar hum it, handed the man his money and jumped from the nearest bridge. Hungarian pianist and composer Reszo Seress wrote the original music and lyrics for Szomorú Vasárnap – Gloomy Sunday – in 1933, while heartbroken over the break-up of a romance. Though local publishers initially rejected the song as too despairing, a new version with less forlorn lyrics by poet Laszlo Javor became an instant hit – and began claiming innocent lives almost immediately.

The song’s first victim, it is said, was the woman for whom it was penned. In the wake of its initial success, Seress’ ex-lover poisoned herself, leaving a suicide note of just two words: “Gloomy Sunday.” Hers was but the beginning of a wave of “Gloomy Sunday” suicides that ravaged Budapest in the 1930s. According to a US newspaper report from the time, “Budapest police have branded the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ public menace No. 1 and have asked all musicians and orchestras to cooperate in suppressing it, dispatches said Today.”

No one was immune, the article claimed. “Men, women and children are among the victims. Two people shot themselves while gypsies played the melancholy notes on violins. Some killed themselves while listening to it on gramophone records in their homes. Two housemaids cut their employers’ linens and paintings and then killed themselves after hearing the song drifting up into the servant's hall from dinner parties.”

Seress was never prosecuted for the havoc his song unleashed (though fate may have caught up with him in 1968, when he leapt to his own death), but he and Javor alone can hardly be held responsible for “Gloomy Sunday’s” death toll. Like a plague, the song has spread, passed along by some of the most reckless and reprobate “artists” of our times.

Paul Robeson introduced the English version in 1935. Billie Holiday immortalised it in 1941. Björk, Ray Charles, Marianne Faithfull, Serge Gainsbourg, Diamanda Galas, Pyotr Leshchenko, Kronos Quartett – this list of infamy goes on and on. And now we can add to it the ultimate act of music industry callousness and irresponsibility – the release by Piranha Records of a collection of 10 new versions of “Gloomy Sunday” from around the world, plus the Billie Holiday masterpiece and the very Hungarian original for your digitally remastered listening pleasure.

Go ahead, listen to it if you must. But don’t say you weren’t warned. And should you be one of the fortunate ones to survive this ordeal, have the decency and good sense not to recommend it to others. Piranha Records must not be rewarded for their cynicism and betrayal of the public trust. Above all else, they must be discouraged from releasing “Gloomy Sunday vol. II”, which our sources say is already in the works.

Alex Marashian


01 Vocal Sampling Grammy nominees Vocal Sampling are today Cuba's leading a-capella & doo-wop ensemble. Conceived as the perfect music solution for ill-equipped house parties, the six accomplished singers and graduates from Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte went from Salsa, Son and Rumba to all kinds of other musical forms – their meditative, almost classical version of "Gloomy Sunday" provides maximum comfort to each funeral party.
02 Wazimbo feat. Kakana A meeting of the generations: Wazimbo is the undisputed champ of Mozambican dance music Marrabenta; Kakana singer Yolanda Chicane is one of the exponents of the current generation following in his footsteps. Together they deliver not only the first-ever African version of "Gloomy Sunday", but reinvent the song as an accoustic lamentation between a couple, between Changana and Mozambican Portuguese: "Domingo sombrio" – reflective, yet with sinewy attack.
03 Matuto Built around the nucleus of guitar player Clay Ross and accordionist Rob Curto, the band cruises between the Appalachians and Brazil's Nordeste to maintain their typical Brazilian Bluegrass crossover. Rich folk ingredients from all over the place feeding back and forth with Jazz and Blues, the occasional spice of Avantpop and what not – equally heavily groovy and blue - helps to rejuvenate “Gloomy Sunday” for future generations.
04 Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco Sixteen-member orchestra Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco ranks among Cuba's busiest live ensembles. Stylistically centred around the bulk of its many Salsa hits, it nonetheless also incorporates whatever new trends are blooming – Timba and Salsaton included. Its instrumental interpretation of "Triste Domingo" serves as a perfect example of how you can dance away the pain in an old school balladesque big band sentiment.
05 Kayah Sporting collaborations with Goran Bregović, Cesária Évora as well as an MTV Unplugged appearance, Kayah is both one of the most successful and internationally-renowned Polish singers of our time. Her Polish "Czarna Niedziela" version measures almost the complete range of her artistic spectrum; from Medieval to Avant-gardism and Dance with a generous shot of Eastern.
06 GOG feat. Pianola With a prolific career of almost 30 years in various artistic fields, rapper GOG is one of the key figures of independent Hip-Hop in Brazil. Together with the Pianola Duo he goes for a radical rework of "Gloomy Sunday". Under the title "Travessia" he talks about death and suicide among youth, a subject very much present in the Brazilian 'favelas' everyday. If that doesn't fit "Gloomy Sunday", what would?
07 Glenda Lopez Glenda López Exposito is an example of a new generation of Cuban singers – deeply steeped in the island's heritage, yet open to global Pop as well, moving easily between Havana and London and working on her debut album with Coldplay producer Danton Supple and Motown veteran Alan Roy Scott. Her version of "Gloomy Sunday" starts like a smooth operator but ends on the hysterical outcry of a woman left behind, while all the time breathing the air of the old Sons, Dancas and Boleros.
08 Chango Spasiuk Born of Ukranian heritage in the Misiones province, Chango Spasiuk helped the rest of the world to understand that there is more to Argentina than Buenos Aires and its Tango. He made a name for himself around the globe for his explicitly virtuoso accordion play of the local Chamame. It can be high speed and agile or quite melancholic and gentle – as is the case with his acoustic ensemble's gentle instrumental version of "Triste Domingo".
09 Bambarabanda Founded as a theatre band that provided the stage music around the different plays of their mother company, this ensemble from Colombia knows how to play in many different crossover ways. When doing their own thing, they like strong local flavours, such as Huayno, San Juanito, Sonsureño, Cumbia, Andean sounds, and echoing, on a laid-back international groove – global music such as Mestizo, Mulatto and Creole styles, with some Hip-Hop spices on top.
10 CIMBALOMDUÓ Cimbalomduó is a summit meeting of two master Cimbalom players. Kálmán Balogh is respected for his talent rooted in tradition, proven in formations with Alan Bern and Frank Zappa. Also as a soloist with many symphonic orchestras similar to his partner, Miklós Lukács, who has played with Jazz greats from Charles Lloyd to Archie Shepp, Herbie Mann to Steve Coleman. Traditional, Classical Music and Jazz, old and new – as their outstanding instrumental solo version of "Szomorú vasárnap" vividly depicts.
11 Billie Holiday The late great Blues singer Billie Holiday's version of "Gloomy Sunday", recorded with Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra in 1941, is the one that basically made the song famous around the world and through Columbia Records' promotion department, it earned its popular label as the "Hungarian Suicide Song". The BBC originally banned this version for undermining wartime morale and did not lift the ban until 2002.
12 Pál Kalmár Born in 1900, the singer was a first class celebrity in the Budapest of the 30s-40s, popular in coffee houses but also an operetta bonvivant. In the 30s he embarked on an international career for Columbia Records, during which time he also recorded "Szomorú vasárnap" – the first version ever to be recorded of "Gloomy Sunday" worldwide. Silenced during communism's darkest times, Pál Kalmár was slowly allowed to sing publicly in restaurants after the 50s again, but never did another record, appearing neither on radio nor stage. He lost his voice due to a failed operation in 1968 and died forgotten in 1989.


"Hungarian Noir is a heroic attempt to shake the song from its depressive association and reveal it as a work of musical art worthy of celebratory recognition, proposing it as a song for the ages."

All About Jazz (April 2016)

"It's not a gloomy song, but a wonderful work of poetic beauty."

Stuff - The Dominion Post (28.06.2016)

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