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A to Z of world music

Hungary has an array of folk-musics which composer Bela Bart"k once went in search of with one of the earliest recording machines. But the most exciting form he found - which he insisted was "not truly Hungarian" - has now become the trademark of this politically-disoriented land: gypsy violin.

You can find gypsy fiddlers in restaurants all over Budapest - some real Romanies, others simply classically-trained players cashing in on a fad - and you also hear this music played as encores by international virtuosi such as Maxim Vengerov.

But there is one Hungarian gypsy fiddler who could be described as the living embodiment of this tradition. Roby Lakatos's story starts in the 18th century with the man whom Liszt and Beethoven christened the "Hungarian Orpheus", and from whom Brahms cribbed his Hungarian Dances.

This was Roby's ancestor Janos Bihari, seven generations distant, but from him the musical secrets have been passed directly down. Roby started playing a tiny 16th-size instrument when he was two; by the time he was nine, he was touring with his father's gypsy band in the Middle East. Playing by night in the family band, Lakatos was also pursuing classical studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where at 19 he carried off the top violin prize. Then he was invited to play at a nightclub in Brussels, and that was where he was discovered by the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grappelli.

Each year Lakatos now comes to play at Ronnie Scott's in Soho where - with his neatly curled moustache, wild bush of hair, and plumply power-packed limbs - he radiates both authority and massive repose. His art is also to be heard on two Deutsche Grammophon CDs - Lakatos (457 8792) and Later With Lakatos (459 642-2 11), where he and his group of fellow-virtuosi (guitar, piano, bass, and zither) perform with irresistible swing. Lakatos's music has a huge range of colour, and an intonation which stays rock-steady, no matter how high or fast he plays. He's got young imitators back home in Hungary, and intends to do something to help them. "When I was young," he says, "there were 950 gypsy bands playing in Hungary - one for every restaurant and hotel." What he wants to do is set up a school.

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