The Bard’s story V : the origins of “Bards in Exile”

I left Switzerland in April 2018 while keeping my job as a remote web developer. One of the reasons for my departure was to try my luck in a cheaper country that inspired me for artistic and musical projects, but also had its advantages for my professional field. And where I knew people.

I lived for a year in Fémlemez Tető utca, 2092 Budakeszi, a suburban town near Budapest, hidden in the hills of Buda and overlooked by most of the capital’s inhabitants.

Then for a year and a half in Nagyon Meredek utca, 1025 Budapest, a rather upscale neighborhood, at the residence of a lawyer, a certain Dr. Csaló.

(All these names are anonymized for the narrative.)


Buda, old town.

Once there, I tried to start a normal social life again, far from the unavoidable political tensions of Switzerland and the French-speaking world. I attended language meetups and linguistic gatherings to either practice Hungarian, English, or German, or to help locals practice French. In the course of 2019, I was strongly advised to participate in a tánchaz – a traditional dance gathering – in order to meet Hungarian women. I was told it would suit me, as I don’t enjoy nightclubs and noise. As the only foreigner present at most of these tánchazak, I immersed myself in local culture, with many Hungarians from the countryside, working in Budapest, also participating. An old musical inspiration that I had in my childhood and adolescence, but which had disappeared during my years of computer training, reappeared in me.

I began to compose rhymed texts and melodies to accompany them. One of these early texts was Le Platiste, a humorous piece aimed at ridiculing the Flat Earth theory, a belief that asserts the Earth’s real shape is the one visible on the azimuthal projection of the Earth, Antarctica being actually around us and the physical limit around our world. It’s an extremely “out-there” worldview, but nonetheless very inspiring for creating heroic-fantasy universes, which experienced a resurgence of interest in those years. (I even drew inspiration from it for my narrative Les Derniers des Boréens (Last of the [Hyper]Boreans) published on The Book Edition in 2023.)

During a period when France was marked by terrorist attacks and various incidents involving radicalized individuals driving trucks into crowds, the song Interdisons les Camions (Let’s prohibit trucks) also gained some notoriety. Other texts like Sur Paris l’vent va souffler, Les Frères La Truelle, or La Vie de Château emerged during this time and were among the first of my Bards in Exile project. However, I later removed them from the project because I found them needlessly politicized and unnecessarily negative. It was “humor of poor people”, meant to amuse my conspiracy theorist friends, radical content to generate buzz, misogyny to attract clicks. It was a vital outlet at the time but didn’t truly represent me. Instead, I chose to dedicate Bards in Exile to a more constructive approach: folk and traditional songs.

That worked out well, because I was in Hungary at that time. Contemporary Hungary has had a rich unbroken tradition of orally transmitting folk songs from generation to generation, especially in preserving this heritage. Composers like Béla Bartók or Zoltán Kodály traveled across Greater Hungary, from the Voivodina to Kassa (Kosice, Slovakia), from Sopron to the Gyimes Valley (Ghimes, Romania), with their tape recorders, to record, classify, and categorize tens of thousands of songs. These recordings are publicly accessible through an official database. Even today, professionals maintain this tradition and continue to record in villages.

I was fortunate to find a Hungarian folk singing circle through the website, which listed tánchaz events. The circle was taught in English by a bilingual singing teacher, Mrs. Zina Bozzay ( I highly recommend her folk singing classes because the songs are learned on solid foundations directly from source recordings made in villages between 1910 and 1970, and sometimes even more recently. Her teaching technique allows participants to approach songs in a language that is initially unfamiliar (although this wasn’t my case as I was learning Hungarian, but it was the case for most participants).

I was even appearing on her website at some time:

A portion of the Hungarian songs that I arranged later on in my Bards in Exile project, were learned during her classes.

During a singing class, a French participant informed me that there was a book of old Swiss songs for sale at an antique shop in Budapest. I found and purchased the book for 500 forints (approximately CHF 1.50). The book is titled “Recueil de Chants à 2 voix” (Collection of Songs with Two Voices), by Paul Bratschi, 1914. It’s quite telling that you have to delve into the depths of antique bookstores in Budapest to hear about traditional Swiss songs, indicating that they have not been preserved at all in the Swiss environment where I grew up. So, I made it a bit of a mission: if the Hungarians are making source recordings of their musical heritage and engaging in folk revival to modernize them, and if the Swiss aren’t doing it, well, then it’s up to me to do it. Since sources have probably been long gone, only folk revival is possible then.

Having become acquainted with Scottish and English songs earlier on, I also added them to my project. And French songs, as my earliest fans were French-speakers. From there, why not expand my repertoire to include songs from all over Europe? And from all eras too! Reviving the Palästinalied, or Corsican polyphonic chants. The songs of Occitan troubadours. French scout songs. Those mysterious Georgian chants heard in the game Civilization VI. A universe unfolded before me. To my ears, medieval European songs were no longer just relics of the Middle Ages. From the moment someone interpreted them in the 21st century, they were European songs, period. Authentic, of the oldest origin. It was a style that belonged to us.

This way, in an atmosphere of pandemic and confinement, my project Bards in Exile truly took off.

Having fled a ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Western’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ environment (the numerous quotes are necessary!) vibrating with rap, reggae, kizomba, or the electronic compositions of DJ Mouloud (arbitrarily chosen random pseudonym), an American producer in the top 10 of the billboard, in short, a mixed brew with the artificial aroma of auto-tune… For a dissenter like me who believes that “diversity” isn’t just about hip-hop being injected into the whole world’s veins, a simplistic form of rebellion was to criticize and say that this mainstream music was stinky. “Your Shakira and your Danza Kuduro were cool during two youth parties in the Swiss countryside and a night out at the club, but nowadays, I’ve had enough.” But from such a statement, I would attract the anger of all the gangs of rappers and all the Black Lives Matter movements in the world. So, a more constructive rebellion was to completely secede from this music of “the other people” and to promote the music of “my own people”. Keep your rap, do your Caribbean and Amazonian dances, your twerk, or whatever, in praise of whatever you want. I’ll join a universe that is closer to me, made of rock, metal, folk, classical, polyphonic singing, and medieval festivals, and I won’t encroach on your world anymore. But don’t impose your noise on me anymore.

So, this is how I came to create my musical project Bards in Exile. And each of your views, every subscriber, but especially every minute of listening, matters to me and reminds me that I’m not alone in thinking all this and that my musical project fulfills a need to reconnect with one’s roots. I have over 1400 subscribers as I write these lines, I have at least 300 listens per day, and my most listened-to composition is nearing 100,000 views (in 4 years).

In the continuation of the story, you’ll discover why I left Budapest to go live by Lake Balaton.