The Hungary program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival aims to highlight Hungary’s multicultural heritage and ethnic diversity. The organizers treat cultural diversity both as a great value and source of joy in itself and as a basic, defining characteristic of Hungarian tradition.

In keeping with this goal, the organizers placed special emphasis on showcasing Roma cultural traditions as part of the richness of Hungarian folk traditions. While celebrating its distinctness, Roma folk culture is an integral part of Hungarian culture. So in addition to showing Roma culture, interactions between Roma and other aspects of Hungarian culture will be highlighted.

The Roma are the largest minority in Hungary representing approximately 5% of the population, although estimates vary on the exact figures, with some estimates putting the number substantially higher. The Hungary program will feature Roma music, dances, traditional crafts and folk customs to give visitors a broad experience of Hungarian Roma culture. Some of the most famous Roma artists arriving are the members of the band “Parno Graszt” from Paszab, as well as István Jámbor with musicians from Szászcsávás.

In the last 20 years, the name of Parno Graszt (meaning 'White Horse' in Romani language as the symbol of purity and freedom) became the equivalent of authentic Hungarian Gypsy music. For the group, being authentic was nothing more than being themselves. living in integrity, living the life and playing the music they have always had. As Simon Broughton (Songlines) said after spending a weekend with Parno Graszt in their home village Paszab: ‘They do not use sources of Gypsy music, they are the source itself.’

Indeed, back in Paszab during social ceremonies, music is shared between each member of the community: instruments are passed from one hand to another and practically everyone is a dance master. There is no band, there is no audience. There is one unified festive gathering. Either they play in their backyard or on a festival stage for 10,000 people, the same spirit of cheerful delight vibrates in the air.

The sound of Parno Graszt is rooted in the traditional Gypsy songs of North Eastern Hungary, representing a specific local dialect of Roma music. Their instruments are acoustic guitars, double bass, tambura, accordion, spoons, one stereo (!) milk jug and the 'oral bass' which is a continuous vocal improvisation made by the percussionist. Occasionally, the 9-piece family is taking the audience for a time journey where the dancers, using an archive video projection, are performing parallel with their grandparents on stage.

World music radios discovered Parno Graszt after the breakthrough of “Hit the piano”, (2002) which was the first Hungarian record in history to reach the TOP10 of World Music Charts Europe. The much anticipated second album “In my world” (2004) featured Kálmán Balogh, world-class Hungarian Gypsy dulcimer player. For this record, Parno Graszt was voted to be among the 10 BEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR by the Swiss Vibrations Magazine. Since then Parno Graszt has played all over Europe in venues and festivals like Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Couleur Café Festival (Belgium), Paleo Festival (Switzerland), Tribu Festival (France) or Sziget Festival (Hungary). As recognition for their work in preserving Romani culture and heritage, EBU and BBC produced a music documentary about Parno Graszt. The movie was selected for the Official Film Screening at WOMEX 2008 and is currently touring worldwide via IMZ World Music Films on Tour.

In 2007, the band celebrated its 20th anniversary. On this occasion, DJ Gaetano Fabri (remixer of Taraf de Haidouks, Kocani Orkestar, Mahala Rai Banda) made his debut remix for Parno Graszt’s Gelem Gelem. In 2008, the Paszabi Gypsies were invited to India where they spent two weeks in Rajashtan, supposed motherland of the Roma people, meeting and playing with local musicians, tracing their roots, looking for familiar faces, customs and melodies. The result of this unique musical exploration is an undisguised and sincere documentary coming out on DVD soon. In the fall of 2009, Parno Graszt had their first US tour ever. The band reached more than 25 venues in 40 days, bringing smiles to everyone they met on the long road from New York to San Francisco. Parno Graszt was selected to perform at WOMEX 2009, the foremost international summit of world music professionals. In the words of the Peter Gabriel, owner of Real World Records, ‘we loved as they kept on singing out in the crowd after they finished their set and the stage was being cleared – a great moment of spontaneity.’

Another outstanding group of musicians on the way are the Roma musicians of Szászcsávás with lead fiddler István Jámbor “Dumnezeu”. The performers descend from two prominent musical dynasties. The most remarkable artist among them is lead fiddler István Jámbor, whose nickname, “Dumnezeu,” allegedly refers to his divine musical talent. Isván Jámbor was barely fourteen when he started playing lead fiddle in his own band, performing at weddings, baptisms, balls, as well as at staged events. The band plays music regularly, entertaining at weddings on weekends, performing at occasional festivities, or simply for the pure joy of making music. Their repertoire is immense and covers a range of musical traditions. This is partly due to the fact that their performances depend on their audiences, performing according to the very diverse local repertoires of Transylvania. They play different music to different audiences but play Hungarian, Romanian and Roma music equally well. The musicians from Szászcsávás are true guardians of the authentic traditional Transylvanian string music that was once prominent throughout the region.