Vilo Mesko

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Born Viliam Mesko, this performer of traditional Slovakian music created several fine recordings during the '80s. Luckily for Mesko, his type of music was considered "good for the state" and he was allowed…
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Born Viliam Mesko, this performer of traditional Slovakian music created several fine recordings during the '80s. Luckily for Mesko, his type of music was considered "good for the state" and he was allowed to perform as well as record for the government's Opus label. Such policies were inconsistent in these former Eastern bloc lands; other countries tried to wipe out non-Russian folk music influences completely.

Mesko was first discovered by a larger audience in the '70s, particularly by students doing research in Slovakian folklore. At that time he was one of the younger musicians from the Terchova area, and apparently was unable to explain exactly who had taught him to play and sing. He was certainly part of a tradition in which a local musician was expected to master whatever repertoire of music existed in that area. His region is one of the areas of the world where musicians are extremely prominent and plentiful. This music would most often be performed at weddings or other social occasions. Mesko's earliest performing activities of note were as a dancer with the Slovak Folklore Ensemble or SLUK, which he left to hook up with the Ukranian Folklore Ensemble or PULS. After this he returned to Bratislava to join the choir of the Slovak National Theatre Opera House. In this locale he often joined up with other players from his region to perform a body of songs which included ditties based on the exploits of Janosik, a legendary highwayman hero from the Middle Ages who is the Slovak version of Robin Hood. Mesko and musicians were regularly asked to perform for students at the university clubs. Out of these gigs was formed the Terchova Music Band, an ensemble under the leadership of Mesko devoted to the Slovakian repertoire.

Mesko is also an extremely talented wood carver, a hobby with strong roots in his family. Both his grandfather and father produced wooden figures of musicians, local shepherds, sheep tenders, and even their sheep. Yet the sheep connection is about music as well as mutton or wool, since the shepherds themselves become masters of a wooden flute traditional to this area. Mesko got so enthused about the carving that he dropped out of the choir to devote more time to it. His wooden artistry is on display in the amphitheater of Vychodna as well as in various exhibitions in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and abroad.

The music of Mesko and his ensemble features solo and ensemble vocals backed by a string quartet of two violins, viola, and cello. These instruments are all played in the manner of fiddlers, the instrument is held out flat and not cradled on the shoulder like a classical violinist. The cellist also remains standing while performing, holding the instrument in front of him at a perpendicular angle. In addition there is much use of native instruments from the area, such as the helicon, fujara, and drumbla, all variations on stringed instruments. Terchova playing has many elements of pastoral music and has spread throughout the world. Mesko himself also has stepped outside the realms of this genre to experiment with overdubbing. Since the fall of the Czechoslavakian regime, Mesko has become something of a globe-trotter, pursuing his many talents throughout three continents.