A village in southern Hungary has played host to a Christmas special featuring traditional songs from both Welsh and Hungarian cultures.
Kunágota, a village of about 2,500 people in the Southern Great Plain region of south-east Hungary, has a strong connection to Welsh music and traditions, despite the fact that none of the residents have ever visited Wales.
The latest concert, held last week in Kunágota’s community centre, was the first-ever Welsh-Hungarian Christmas special held there and featured seasonal performances in Welsh, English and Hungarian.
Welsh Christmas songs included the lesser-known ‘Tua Bethlem Dref’, while Silent Night was heard in Welsh, Hungarian, English and German – a nod to the region’s German-speaking heritage.
Organised by Hungarian-born classical singer – and former Cardiff resident – Elizabeth Sillo, who is also behind Cardiff’s annual Welsh-Hungarian concerts, the event featured contributions from performers including Dr. Hajnalka Lehóczky, Tamás Egresi and István Sipos.
Elizabeth Sillo said, “As soon as we began singing in Welsh, I could feel the locals were astonished by the performance. Thanks to the annual concerts, the residents of Kunágota really value the Welsh language and are extremely delighted to hear Welsh music right on their doorstep.”
‘A lot in common’
This was the third Welsh-Hungarian concert to be held in the unlikely location, following annual summer events in the past two years.
In 2018, Elizabeth established the Kunágota concerts with the help of two colleagues: opera singer Orsolya Ferenczy from the National Theatre of Szeged, and Dorothy Singh, Director of the Hungarian-inspired Kodály Violin School of Carmarthenshire who travelled all the way from Wales to the south-eastern corner of Hungary.
The Welsh-Hungarian concerts have proven so popular in the region that the nearby town of Mezőkovácsháza, home to around 7,000 residents, also requested a concert this summer. Later, the popularity of the event spread as far as the Romanian border, with the town of Battonya taking an interest in Welsh folk performances for 2020.
Elizabeth, who is also a member of the BBC National Chorus of Wales, added, “My proudest moment so far was teaching popular Welsh songs such as ‘Sosban Fach’ and ‘Ar Lan y Môr’ to the locals, who then sang along with excitement. It was truly heart-warming to see people who had previously known very little about Wales joining in and embracing this amazing culture.”
Alongside the annual Welsh-Hungarian Concert and Folk-Dance Event which takes place in the Urdd Hall of Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre every March, Elizabeth is also keen to build bridges between the two cultures in Hungary.
“I’ve noticed some parallels between the way Hungarians and the Welsh embrace their folk music, language and traditions,” she said.
“I was particularly touched by the story of ‘The Bards of Wales’, a Hungarian poem that all Hungarians learn in school, yet not many in Wales are aware of its existence. I believe Wales and Hungary have a lot in common – and this is something the residents of Kunágota would definitely agree on!”
With regular musical performances, an annual ‘Village Day’ and a tradition of horseracing, the people of Kunágota are seen by many as a friendly and delightful community in the Great Hungarian Plain, with a strong interest in classical music and a growing passion for Welsh culture.
Kunágota and its neighbourhood are looking forward to seeing more Welsh-Hungarian events in the new year and are keen to build a strong friendship with Wales and its people.
Yesterday, Hungarian-Welsh information portal Magyar Cymru published a short video of the village’s residents wishing “Nadolig Llawen” to their Welsh friends, as they reach out to the far-away nation they now feel attached to.