Slovakian shepherd's flute wins worldwide note

The fujara, the long traditional flute of Slovak shepherds, has gained world recognition by being listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a masterpiece of the “oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”

The long flutes, which take hundreds of hours to fashion, are still hand produced by about 20 Slovak craftsmen, selling for â,¬200 to â,¬700 apiece.

The instrument, traditionally said to be played by shepherds to complain to God about their sadness and melancholy, needs patient skill to craft, not to mention the careful selection of elder and maple wood that must be dried for about two years.

“When I can not fully concentrate on my work, I halt production out of respect for these instruments,” one of the most respected flute makers in the country, Michal Filo, said.

This 45-year-old man makes about 15 of the two types of fujara a year—about 10 small flutes, and four or five long ones. The “classic” fujara flute measures 172cm to 174cm, the “small” flutes from 80cm to 150cm, said Filo, who has been making them for about 15 years.

Flutes are made in two parts—the tube with three holes at the lower end and the mouthpiece. From its appearance and the way it is played, the fujara can be compared with the flutes of the Andean Indians from Bolivia and Peru.
These, however, possess five or six holes and the sound is different.

Slovak President and former president of Parliament Ivan Gasparovic is numbered among the biggest fans of this traditional instrument. Prestigious visitors to this small central European country of 5,4-million, created from the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, are routinely offered a flute as a gift.

The United States and Russian presidents, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, both received fujaras, as did Czech President Vaclav Klaus, retiring Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and former US president Jimmy Carter.

Local tradition has it that Carter was so fascinated by this melancholy instrument that he asked Gasparovic in 1997 to send him a tape of fujara music because he wanted to surprise his guests at a musical evening by “playing” the flute in playback with the aid of a tape recorder.

Filo, who lives in the central Slovakian city of Banska Bystrica, at the heart of the region where the fujara flute was born, plays the instrument in a local folk-music group.

The music and dance group, called Bystrina, has visited numerous countries, including France, Italy, Britain and China.

On tour, Filo usually encounters great success with his fujara, with people approaching him full of questions about it. Some also come to thank him because his playing has pulled at their heart strings.

One of his proudest moments was when he played the flute, with two other members of the folk-music group, to welcome pope John Paul II on his arrival in Slovakia in September 2003.

In November, Unesco included the flute and its music in a 43-strong list of masterpieces of intangible human heritage. These also included the traditional Indian performance of the Ramayana, the ramlila; Japan’s kabuki theatre; the Zambian Makishi masquarade; and Brazil’s samba of Roda.

The list, together with accompanying aid, aims to help safeguard traditional works of music, dance, mythology and ritual from being wiped out by the increased uniformity resulting from globalisation.—AFP

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