CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston residents gathered Saturday under the sycamore trees on Capitol Street to listen to two artists from the West Virginia capital's sister city perform traditional Slovak folk songs.
The sister-city partnership began five years ago and, since then, government officials, professors and medical professionals have traveled back and forth between the two countries, sharing insights and forming friendships over discussions of medicine, politics and education.
The performance Saturday offered a different channel for communication -- music.
The musicians -- Jozef Mak and Veronika Bodnarikov -- come from that sister city, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.
Saturday afternoon, Mak, belted out the folk songs while whistling and gesticulating, his face grew steadily redder. Bodnarikov sang along beside him.
Both wore traditional garb worn on celebratory occasions in Slovakia -- pale yellow britches and a voluminous white shirt trimmed with intricate red ribbon for men and a pleated shirt and intricately embroidered vest for the women.
Mak pranced lightly across the stage, a round black hat on his head. They both pounded thick black boots on the stage.
A lively audience sat before them, enjoying the songs.
One song chronicled how a wife goes about her work on Saturday mornings. Another tune talked about how a man considers a lady a "gift from God."
John Biros, who hosted Mak and Bodnarikov, likened the songs to American country music -- a genre that also chronicles hard times, enduring love and hard work. He noted, though, that the Slovak tunes often appear happier than American country songs. The Slovak melodies are generally upbeat and lively as musicians holler, whistle and clap energetically.
According to Biros, shepherds sang those tunes as they protected flocks of sheep on the northern Slovakia highlands.
The songs have become an integral part of Slovakia's history and tradition, Andrea Makoua, Mak's daughter, said.
And the songs remain popular today. Biros said everyone in Slovakia knows the words. In fact, the mayor of Banska Bystrica stood opposite the stage, singing along and clutching a Slovakia flag.
Slovakia was formed in 1992 after communist Czechoslovakia dissolved amid a nonviolent revolution.