Sena Dagadu is the most exciting performer in Hungary right now. She has an incredible solo records ‘Lots of Trees’, sings with the incredible Irie Maffia and collaborates with just about anyone who is anyone in Hungarian popular music (including Petérfy Bori and Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra). I first came across Sena through her collaboration with Petérfy Bori & Love Band ‘Csodaidő’ where she enters half way through with a classy bridge including the lyrics: ‘So if you don’t know who I be, won’t you try to know me little better’ so let’s accept the challenge and try to get to know Sena a little better. I caught up with Sena earlier this week and here’s what she had to say about music, collaboration and Hungarian music.
By: Sam Murray
Sam: I wondered if we could start of by you telling me about your musical background and what inspired you to become a musician?
Sena: It’s a tough question. Who doesn’t want to become a musician?! I was born and raised in Ghana to a Hungarian mother and Ghanaian Father who both loved music and Ghana is a very musical country. So growing up I had all kinds of wonderful traditional music and all kinds of traditional and world music. My father travelled a lot and he always brought back with him music. My mother had a wonderful record collection that she brought with her from Hungary from Bob Marley to all kinds of classical music, opera and Hungarian music she liked. She was a big Sting fan for instances and liked Tracy Chapman. My whole family loved listening to music. I didn’t actually want to be a musician to later in my life. I fantasised about being a vocalist for Bob Marley but I was a bit late for that unfortunately. I moved back here to Hungary in 2001 with not much a plan a part from registering for some kind of University and to become 18 and enter the world from a different angle. Nothing much happened for a year and a half my eagerness drowned but was revived by diaries and poems and all kinds of writings. That is when I thought it would be nice to make music, to put the words to music. I had a friend who was supportive of me Silas a fellow uni mate of mine, keeping our ears to the ground. My sister found a reggae, hip-hop dancehall clubnight in Budapest and we went and went again the last week it was the classic DJ MC set up with young guys rapping their raps and passing there mics around and I just wanted to be them. So I joined the Gimmeshot Crew in early 2002 we worked so well together we just jived and vibed and though lets makes make an album! We made an album quickly finished by the end of 2003 called ‘Sena First One’ that album is a musical log of my life before 2003. I ended up meeting so many musicians and forming so many different formations playing with cellists, double basses and horn sections. Once I was tapped into it I was not letting go. I joined a group that plays Shakespeare Sonnets with an interesting interpretation of music and sound. So Irie Maffia I joined about 5 or 6 years ago, they were part of the Gimmeshot Crew, and they came to me with an album plan and I had nothing else to do and was close to starving so was really happy with the offer. We dived into hard work learning to be together to work together to play together. We’re a 12 piece band so it takes a lot of organisation. It is bascally what I do for most of my time. To crown it all off and to put a full stop I made a second album this year released, it took me 10 years to get it together with one or two being old ideas I’ve had Everything held up to having enough money and time and had some good vibed from France to do it. I had to prove myself so we made this album ‘Lots of Trees’. Trees have so much symbology and meaning.
‘Lots of Trees’ is a diverse record with a lot of different styles, how would you describe your music?
I have no idea what I would call it. I have problems writing the set list!! I like to associate myself with symbol of the chameleon and in Ghana and different African traditions it is held in high esteem for its clairvoyance, patience, dedication and adaptation. I pick pieces that I like and get stuck in moments I enjoy, it becomes a cavalcade but it is one animal. All these colours and still one animal!
Do you have a set way to write your songs?
I usually only have time for a set project or tune, I have to focus on one thing to the finish. I’ve had a daughter who is the creator of my musical future, so inspiring. If we have a project or a tune we go into the studio, lockdown and do as much as fast as possible. I find that my writing has improved. I just set to it and try to associate with something, it is very personal, and it is like my diary log. How to describe it? Well you’ll have to listen to it and judge for yourself.
You’ve collaborated with many artists, how did these collaborations come about and what do feel you get from them?
I started making music by making friends and they introduced me to their friends so collaboration is a handshake, it’s a ‘hello, hi let’s vibe’. I can’t read music, I like to be ad hoc, let’s go let’s try. I like to collaborate because I learn so much from different people it’s so refreshing to see so many different way of working. You can learn to use what you have and make friends and go out a play together. Collaboration is key. It is the honest way of making music. It’s the life-cycle way. I always miss the intimacy of knowing the person before working.
If someone offered you however much money to do collaboration with anyone in the world who would it be?
How much money we talking about hahaha!
Maybe a few million dollars?
That’s a lot of money I would probably not make one collaboration with one very interesting person I would probably get my circus on the road. I call it a circus but it’s more serious than playful. A travelling caravan of sorts with my friends, people I have collaborated with I would go to Ghana and a few places in Africa and round Europe and show everyone small that collaboration is key! I have so many nice people to work with all over the world I would rather work with them!
Reggae/Dancehall/Hip Hop is not the kind of music synonymous with Hungary, most people see it linked to Gypsy music and classical music. Do you think the underground scene in Budapest and Hungary is healthy?
At the moment I would say no. Around 2003/4/5 there was a strong reggae dancehall gathering club wise and we used to go around Hungary a lot, not as big as London or America. It is very young with world musics. Recently I don’t know of much reggae/dancehall action going down. The underground scene grew and added any music not form around here and it was getting every bigger and blending into underground/mainstream. The hip hop and dancehall had really huge followings. Now the new generation from 15-25 know what’s going on it’s so easy to access everything now and everybody is a DJ now. I don’t know what you would call underground anymore.
What effect has the internet had on you as a musician and how you present your music?
Firstly I’ve always been terrible about those parts of music. I get stuck after recording and just think of performing it. The internet helps solves these problems as you can put it on and friends can hear it and share it. I mean I’m speaking to you right now! That would not have happened a good few years ago. The internet is here and now it’s there for this. I need to learn how to use it for my advantage and I’m meeting people who are better connected to it. The internet gets the job done.
What are favourite places to perform in Hungary? Do you have any favourite venues?
Last year and this year we played in Budapest Park it is huge and has a massive stage and can fit around 8,000 strong. I like the park for that. A38 is a classic place to play because the place is awesome, the staff are awesome the sound is wikkid and the lights are amazing there’s nothing to complain about ever at A38. That’s my favourite. We play mostly festival because outdoors in the sun or under the moon everybody seems free and nice I love to play outdoors. The musicians know each other we play a lot of them together, we do meet each other here and there, it is like a travelling circus with everyone travelling on their own bus. There is a community and I’m happy to be part of it.
I just hope I have enough tie patience and skill to perfect the projects I’m working on: Irie Maffia, my solo project the WA Shakespeare project. Shakespeare Rocks by the way! My collaborations take a lot of tie I hope my future is filled with time enough to do all these and cultivate them and continue them for a long time.
Sena’s album ‘Lots of Trees’ is out now on Soulbeat Records. You can also check out the latest Irie Maffia record Nagyon Jó Lesz out now by self-release. Both are definitely worth checking out and adding to your record collection.
Keep your eyes peeled as Irie Maffia will be heading to UK shores soon!