Writer: Sam Murray
3 October 2013
Welcome to a new feature here at Secretly Rad Media, Union of Sound which explores popular music in the European Union. Each week I’m going to attempt to give you a picture of the exciting music coming out all over Europe from the traditional to the unconventional to give a picture of what sounds are filling Europe’s ears. All the music you will read about I am more than excited about and I scurrilously have to track down these somewhat hard to come by, in the UK, records.
At a time when my fellow countrymen are being contrite, jingoistic and just damn stupid when it comes to their xenophobia and hatred of Europe I want this section to say hold on a minute, you do know we’re about to leave a pretty cool club right? Yes Britain probably has the most recognised and wealthiest set of music industries in Europe but it’s all starting to get generic and boring and lacking inspiration. We need our European neighbours to culturally challenge us to bring our game to stay at the top!
I thought I would start this journey with the land of my ancestors, Hungary. A small country in Eastern Europe which has been in the past a vast imperial land with grand cultural riches. The working class music of the traveller communities bewitched the world and inspired the great Western Art composers Bartók and Kodály to collect these traditional folk forms for ages to come. Hungary was also home to the great composer Franz Liszt, to whom the airport in Budapest is named after with affection. Hungary has been through a lot, namely two world wars and soviet occupation, but it has always kept it head up. Even through its darkest days Hungary has stood united and proud. In 1956 following what was a successful uprising against communist control giving Hungary independence, the country was infamously bombarded by Russian forces. These brave men and women provided the ultimate wasted sacrifice; if the US and UK provided support as promised, instead of chasing after Suez, the cold war may have ended early and the Iron curtain may have fell within just over a decade of its erecting. I urge you to look into such a tragic and inspiring narrative to mark the memory of these honourable brave souls.
If we look to the modern music of Hungary there is a treasure trove of popular music from folk to jazz to indie rock. Upon my trips to Budapest I have encountered several musicians who are innovative, creative and exciting with their performances in such a way that you don’t even have to understand the notoriously hard to learn language. I will begin by recognising that Budapest is only a small piece of the whole picture of Hungary but nonetheless being capital is the centre of the industries. It is home to the Sziget festival, the Hungarian Glastonbury, which attracts more and more attention each year as Hungarian acts join an exciting line up of music over several days on an island in the Danube.
One of the reasons I wanted to write this article is the singer Ági Szalóki (in Hungarian she is known as Szalóki Ági as it is standard practice for surname to proceed Christian name), a singer whose music is exciting me the most out of my record collection at the moment. The more I discover and learn about Ági, the more I respect her as a musician and performer.
My first conscious encounter with Ági Szalóki was at the 2012 Christmas Market in Vörösmarty Square, Budapest. It was my last day in the city and all my time going around the market each day I was unexplainably drawn to a poster advertising her last release Öröme az égnek, ünnepe a földnek, which by title roughly translates as The Joy of Heaven, A Celebration of the Earth. Not knowing this translation at the time I took a chance and bought it as I needed to spend up my forints (the Hungarian currency). Upon getting it back to Yorkshire I was delighted to learn it was a collection of Hungarian carols and temple songs for Christmas and Chanukah. The album is understated and does not regale with the camp one thinks of when cracking out the Christmas albums. It glimmers with a gentle grace and composure that makes it a wonderful festive record, and one I know I will be putting on as a yearly event.
More recently I have begun to become enamoured with Ági Szalóki’s work feeling it a way into a country my grandfather grew up in full of traditions I want to be part of. I recently went looking for her music again and came across Cipity Lőrinc, or Cipity Lawrence as comes the closest translation. This album has simply beguiled me with its gentle trusting nature and invitation into a world you will feel that you want to belong. The album may be a collection of folk songs for children but it doesn’t really patronise if you excuse the child song in it. I simply haven’t heard folk music like this and this is perhaps the most exciting aspect.
Ági has more presence than her solo records being a prominent member of Besh O DroM a Balkan beats group who have received widespread acclaim, although her presence with the band due to her own pursuits has been more limited to guest appearances. The other day I was overjoyed to find out she appeared on British Klezmer/Balkan group Oi Va Voi’s eponymous record singing the stunning song Dissident which is a haunting Balkan poem about leaving a homeland and mourning the loss of it. I’ve had this record for a while and for such a great light to come on through this connection I am given a new perspective and context to place this record in. She appears on various other records that you shall have to seek and explore, I assure you the journey is more than fascinating when connecting the dots.
The next Hungarian act I wish to talk about is Péterfy Bori & Love Band, the first Hungarian act I ever properly invested time and knowledge into. Again a chance poster led to me encountering their music, it seems that in Hungary looking at posters tells you all you need to know about the popular bands about! I saw they were headlining a local festival, whilst I was in Budapest in the summer of 2012, so naturally thought the buzz must be justified so I picked up a copy of their record 2B, mainly because the front cover is cool. I spend a few days dreading that I would be disappointed but found the record spacious, interest and unusual. I liked what I heard but I wasn’t fully drawn in until later in the year I heard the song Fehérre Festem az Arcom which blew my mind. The track has such a funky riff to it that makes you walk with swagger as you have it in your earphones. The main sample sounds like some kind of violin with effects that’s laid over a funk beat and syncopated for extra cool. When Bori’s vocals come in they twist in an ethereal manner around the Love Bands cool groove with such style. While in Budapest last Christmas I was lucky enough to see Péterfy Bori and Love Band at their last album launch at the Pirate ship themed Barba Negra club and they opened with this song. Bro has an undeniable stage presence that holds the performances and demands attention, she commands the crowd which holding them transfixed. Indie rockers this band is your way into Hungarian Popular music, it has recognisable musical features taken to a new exciting level that you will be glad you indulged in.
There are many ore musicians from Hungary I can mention but I could be here forever! Other artists you should check out are: Sena, Ladyabene 27 and Lajko Felix who all offer new exciting ideas to popular music. It is safe to say Hungary and in particular Budapest is still rich of the culture and creativity of days gone by and will be for a long time to come!
Photos courtesey of Emma Bates (c) 2012