Frequent commenter zaelic, whose intimate knowledge of all sorts of byways of Eastern European, Jewish, Romany, and musical lore is the envy of everyone who values such things, especially me, was kind enough to send me a kucsma (pronounced KOOCH-ma) he’d picked up at the Black Lake peasant fair in Romania from a family of Gypsies from Tirgu Mures. What is a kucsma, you ask? Zaelic defines it as a “big furry astrakhan winter hat,” adding “My favorite is the ‘oversized boy scout cap’ design favored by Ceausescu, Karzai, and half of Boro Park.” I asked him about the etymology of the word and he said:
My guess is that it may be from Old Turkish/Chuvah/Bulgar level of loan words from the 6th – 9th century, when the Magyars/Mogurs/Someday-we-will-be-Bashkirs were learning the horse culture from proto-Chuvash types south of the Kama river. The consonant cluster “chma” or “shma” gives it away.
But what I really want to talk about is the CD he included in the package, A Mazeldiker Yid, by his group Di Naye Kapelye, for which he plays violin, mandolin, koboz, cumbus, flutes, and Carpathian drum:
Di Naye Kapelye plays old time Jewish music the way we imagine it was played in eastern Europe both before and after the Holocaust. Learning from Jewish people still living in the region, and from Gypsy musicians who played for them, DNK carries on a living tradition of music.
I was blown away both by the music (my feet wouldn’t keep still) and by the learned and hilarious liner notes, which I’m happy to say you can read in their entirety here. I’m going to quote a bit (adding links) to illustrate the historical and geographical interest:
Northern Romania, in particular the regions of Maramures and the Bukovina, was once home to a large Jewish community unlike any other. Hasidic Jews first settled in the poorer mountain areas of the Habsburg Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries, in the aftermath of the Chmielnicki massacres and the resultant messianic confusion. Led by disciples of the Baal Shem-Tov, Hasidism’s pioneering leader, these Jews coalesced into Hasidic “courts” (hoyfn) centered around rabbinic dynasties residing in Szatmár, Vizhnitz, Munkács, Sighet, Sadagora, and Shpinka (Sapinta). Free of the official oppression and pogroms suffered by Jews in the Russian Empire, they lived in a relatively healthy social atmosphere with their neighbors – Romanians, Hungarians, Hutsul Ukrainians, Slovaks, Zipser Germans, and Roma (Gypsies). Reflecting the strongly conservative nature of the region, the Jews of Maramures rejected the “Jewish Enlightenment” offered by the 1868 reorganization of the Hungarian Jewish community, and maintained an existence apart, Yiddish speaking and deeply Hasidic in character, until the Holocaust. After the war this same stubborn independence led to the rebirth of Carpathian Hasidic communities in centers such as Brooklyn, Antwerp, and Bnei Brak, where the culture remains as vibrant and quarrelsome as it did the Romanian mountains.
Isn’t that great stuff? Do read the song annotations; among other things, you won’t want to miss the recipe for matzo balls.