Jožka Kubík

Bandmaster from Horňácko, whose name is in the stars

Profile of a folk musician, for whom they named asteroid 1761 between Mars and Jupiter April 9, 1907 – February 8, 1978.

It has indeed been a long time since the notion that folk art, including music, arises in some mystical collective ecstasy, but, to understand how an especially gifted individual influences the flow of tradition, we would need to know much, much more about such exceptional personalities than we do now. In the case of Jožka Kubík, the bandmaster from Horňácko, it was very lucky that the great future authority on Moravian folklore Dušan Holý grew up near him.

Holý wrote not only the charming book "Mudroslovi primáše Jožky Kubíka" ( "The Sayings of the bandmaster Jožka Kubík") (1984), in which, using various forms (scientific studies, recollections and "sayings" - original Kubík expressions), he depicted this remarkable man and musician. In addition, Holý participated in writing the film "Majstr" (A Whiz) (1974, directed by Rudolf Adler), and a compact disc cross-section "Dalekonosné Husle. Muzika Jožky Kubíka a zpěváci z Horňácka" ( "Long-Range Violin. Music by Jožka Kubík and singers from Horňácko") (1998). Individual recordings are also scattered among many older media ( "Antologie autentických forem československého hudebního folklóru") ( "Anthology of Authentic Forms of Czechoslovak Folk Music"), including radio recordings. And so, even those of us who never met this legendary musician can draw a clear picture of him.

Roots

Jožka Kubík's forebears were Roma who were already settled in Moravia in the nineteenth century. The men practiced traditional professions: they were smiths producing small objects such as chains, nails, tripods that fitted into stoves, etc. [Blacksmiths] And they were musicians. (This traditional adherence to one or more related professions and to the totally prevalent custom of "endogamy" (marriage within the group) corresponds very strikingly to the caste system [Jati] which basically determines the lives of their Indian relatives – the caste of Ḍom musicians.) [Rom-Ḍom]

The women usually looked after the family – including providing food. They helped out in the households of rich farmers or they worked in the fields (men, for the most part, did not relate to agriculture), and were most often paid with food or old clothes.

The allocation of roles in the musical life of the Roma community was actually one expression of gender-based tasks: while the men played for the neighbourhood for money, the women handed down their knowledge of the traditional song repertory. They did not play musical instruments, but, on the other hand, they were often outstanding singers. (One of them, Růžena Danielová, the wife of Jožka's brother, Pavel, is the subject of a superb book, "Žalující piseň" [ "Accusatory Song"] by Dušan Holý and Ctibor Nečas.)

Like other Roma families settled in Moravia for several decades, the Kubiks stopped speaking Romani. They did not try to be different from their non-Romani neighbours. Still, they never completely succeeded. Incidentally, their music also reflects this reality. Roma played side by side with members of the majority, and together they created mostly Moravian songs. [Music of the Roma in Bohemia and Moravia] Nonetheless, the fiddler Jan Ňorek wrote, in a monograph of Horňácko in 1966, " Do you compare Jožka Kubík and me? You really shouldn't do that because it makes me feel ashamed. More than one person says: J. K. is of Gypsy origin and that other one isn’t." (From a letter to Dušan Holý concerning a monograph of Horňácko in 1966.)

Life with Music

Jožka Kubík was born to a typical Roma family with musical forebears on April 9, 1907, in Hrubá Vrbka, in a southeastern part of Moravia called Horňácko. Children born later to this family also became musicians. Of Jožka's parents' eight children, four survived to adulthood: two boys (his brother, Pavel, played violin in Jožka's band) and two girls.

A beautiful photograph by Eva Davidová, which was exhibited in Pilsen's Old Synagogue until November 2001, depicts a group of five- or six-year-old Roma boys who created their own band; instead of violins and bows, however, they have twigs in their hands. This is actually a true picture of the way Roma used to learn music: first, imitation on twigs, then on some old instrument whose strings were worn through, and again listening and practicing.

As a child, Jožka was nearly obsessed with the violin. There is a story that Jožka went sledding with his friends – while playing the violin. (Needless to say, one of the times the sled crashed and it ended the life of his violin.) The school of a folk musician offers two subjects to beginners: listening and imitating. That is how Jožka Kubík learned: first, by listening to famous bands ("The Ňorks", "The Lipárs", "The Miškeřík"). At the age of fifteen, he became leader of one of them ("The Lipárs"). From the mid-1930's he already had his own cymbalon groups. (By the way, while it is impossible to imagine a Hungarian Gypsy band without a cymbalon, the usual Horňácko ensemble played only stringed instruments. It was Kubík who introduced the cymbalon amongst the violins and violas playing typical folk accompaniment. Changes and development in the make-up of the Kubík band are captured on many recordings made between 1941 and 1974. The most fundamental of them was the inclusion of the "c clarinet" in the second half of the 1950's. During the Second World War, ninety percent of the Moravian Roma were killed in concentration camps. However, thanks to the otherwise infamous association, Ethnographic Moravia, which was headed by the famous painter Joža Úprka's son, a few Roma musicians from Hrubá Vrbka were "reclaimed" from a transport and, therefore, did not share the fate of their parents and brothers and sisters. One of those was Jožka. After the war, he held several jobs (in a needle factory in Velká nad Veličkou; in a Pováží machine works; in a South Moravian metal pipe factory). Above all, though, he played and led his ensemble. Some of the musicians who went "through" his band later became basic links to Horňácko tradition (Martin Hrbáč, František Okénka).

Starting in 1974, when Kubík began to be dogged by illness, he gradually lost his taste for music. He sold some of his instruments (he had never accumulated them like some kind of collector; instead, in the true sense, he had collected them for their use as instruments) – a piano, which he had played for pleasure, cymbalons, a violin. The last time he played was at his seventieth birthday party. He died on February 8, 1978. Twenty-two years later he returned: as a black asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid was discovered by South Bohemians astronomers and, upon the suggestion of Břetislav Rychlík, bears Kubík's name.

We still have to answer the question of actually why Kubík and his band, among a dozen first-rate South Moravian groups, made such a name for themselves.

On one hand, Kubík's repertory and style of playing, and the structure of his band, tied in with Horňácko tradition; on the other hand, like every strikingly creative person –he introduced new elements to it. Basic was the aforementioned introduction of the cymbalon, which influenced both the whole group's technique (short pauses between phrases; technically more elaborate decorative melody with innumerable small melodic embellishments evidently influenced by listening to Slovak Roma musicians) and the expansion of the repertory to include "new Hungarian" songs.

The basis for answering the question about Kubik' uniqueness is perhaps still deeper. Those who knew him personally attest to his hospitality, frankness and honesty. These meshed with an absolute passion for music, which he approached purely intuitively. In an epigram, he himself explained, "I tried out at home the things I liked. I ignored what I didn't like." And his intuition was infallible. "It is real music when you get goose flesh and your hair stands on end."(Sayings) That is how he played. Rather than reading about it, you should listen to it.

From "Sayings"

"In Velká nad Veličkou there are three artists: Martin Petrík, who knows how to repair radios, TV sets and knows everything about electricity; Jan Hrbáč, a gadžo, who repairs violins and all instruments, and old Žilkara, a Slovak who speaks well at funerals."

Vladimír Klusák offered to take Kubík to Velká nad Veličkou by car. Kubík refused, saying,

"Don't take the car (…) I won't ride with you. I'd rather go by foot." And you see, not long afterwards, Klusák had an accident.

Soon after the liberation from fascism, Kubík was called to the employment office and told that he would have to join a work team in the mines. He thought about it for a while and then answered,

"Listen to this: Leave in the earth what is in the earth. God put it there. And coal does not burn in my stove. It smokes. I don't want the smoke from it. Let whoever wants it dig for it."

References

Holý, Dušan (ed.) (1984) Mudrosloví primáše Jožky Kubíka. Praha.
Holý, Dušan / Nečas, Ctibor (1993) Žalující píseň. Strážnice.

Sound Recordings

Holý, Dušan (ed.) (1998) Dalekonosné Husle. Muzika Jožky Kubíka a zpěváci z Horňácka, Brno (Gnosis CD G-Music 014).
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Jožka Kubík (1907-1978)