Posts

Scream, Shout

I’ve had a string of bad news lately. Death and dying are featuring heavily in my conversations. Death notices are more frequent than marriage announcements and funerals more commonplace than weddings. It sucks.

It sucks to see people spirited away before they’ve had time to finish what they’d started. Granted, many of us haven’t a clue what it is we want from our time on this earth, other than some vague notion we have to be happy. More of us as so focused on the next goal that we lose sight of the life unfolding around us. All too few of us manage to strike a workable balance.

Thinking about drive and ambition, what came to mind was a seesaw, with that duo balanced by the twins, value and worth. I recalled an interview I did about a year ago with a 22-year-old from Gyomaendrőd who was set to take the music world by storm. She goes by the name of AGGI (the caps are all hers). What struck me about her was her determination to be herself, not a carbon copy of some other 22-year-old, pressurised by expectations to fit someone else’s preconception of who she should be. She didn’t want to be told what she should or shouldn’t do with her life. She had a plan. She knew what she wanted. In need of affirmation that the world was working for someone, I thought I’d see how she was getting on.

Photo by Bardócz Letti

She’s still writing, still recording, still singing. She went back home in April and topped the bill at the Gyomaendrődi Nemzetközi Sajt és Túrófesztivál and was thrilled to see her 91-year-old great-grandmother up front and centre along with 700 or so proud locals who’d come out to see their girl on stage. In May, she played a more intimate live gig at Legenda, and in September, she opened for The Hooligans when they played Barba Negra Tracks. That’s some progress. AGGI comes into herself when she’s on stage. She has stuff to say and she wants the world to hear it.

Already a regular on local and national radio, a sponsorship deal from a Japanese guitar company, Guyatone (and another with their US parent company DeMont), led to AGGI getting lots of airplay in Japan of all places. They love her. She has a regular slot on Radio FM RaRa (in English) on the third Saturday of each month and judging by the amount of fan mail, her 10-gig Japanese tour scheduled for spring 2019 will be a sell-out. ‘My voice is in Japan’, she told me, understandably excited. People 9000 km away have heard her sing, like what they hear, and want to hear more.

In February, on her birthday, she got the present of her dreams – a record deal from a record company in Italy. But AGGI chose not to unwrap that particular gift. Rather than jump at the deal just to have a deal, she and manager Terry V decided to hold off and wait for the right one to come along. And it will. It’s just a matter of time. The girl has plans. And she’s making them happen.

Last time we spoke, she told me she was doing her dissertation on Stephen King’s novel, Rose Madder, in which he deals with the bruising issue of domestic violence. I remembered that she’d had a keen interest in gender issues and woman power and was determined her voice would be heard.  I asked her if she’d graduated, if she’d finished the dissertation. The completer-finisher in me was a little disappointed to hear that she’d taken a gap year to focus on her music, and was only now returning to complete her final year of study. ‘But’, she said proudly, ‘my voice was heard.’ She and Terry V had written a song to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Scream, Shout was released on 25 November and for a few hours that day, AGGI’s video featured on the UN website. It tells the story of a young woman who takes back control and finally says Enough! It’s a simple, powerful video that stands on its own.

Although she’s not yet a household name, AGGI seems far too grounded to let the recognition that comes with national and international airplay, the sponsorship deals, the live gigs, the upcoming tour, the strong video following on YouTube, and her growing fanbase go to her head. But while she likes the intimacy of smaller gigs, she thrives on big crowds. When facing a teeming audience visibly engaged with what she’s doing on stage, she’s in her element. ‘It’s feedback’, she said. ‘I need feedback.’  At one gig, a former colleague came up to congratulate her on how far she’d gone since they’d worked together. She was chuffed. A classmate who’s also studying music told her that hearing her play gave the younger girl the confidence to keep pursuing her own dream. Her family is still as supportive as ever and goes to all her gigs. Her brother and sister have been in both her videos. She’s playing to nobody’s tune but her own.

Photo by Bardócz Letti

AGGI, along with her co-writer and manager, Terry V (guitar), Bence Kocsis  (drums), and Benedek (Beni) Nagy  (bass), has been busy doing what she told me she’d do. She’s making things happen. Listening to her music, it’s evident that she has a very strong sense of worth. At 23, she knows what she wants and knows the hard work it’ll take to get it. But most importantly, she wants it all for the right reasons: She has a voice, she has something to say, and she’s determined to be heard. Music was her hobby. Now it’s her life.

Is the world working for AGGI I wondered? I think it’s more case of AGGI making her world work for her. An example to us all. Catch her at Dürer Kert on 22 November.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 October 2018

AGGI rocks!!!

The world has gone off kilter. We’re in the midst of a big family feud that is pitting sister against brother, spreading to neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend. Our politics are polarising. Opinions are expected. It’s not fashionable to simply not know, to be neutral, to admit to being unqualified to decide. Sides must be taken.  And as we become increasingly quick to point out how others are different, consumerism is wielding its sameness over the world. Ikea-furnished flats, be they in Budapest or Adelaide or Dubai, lend a stagnancy to travel. Chain restaurants like TGI Fridays, with a presence on all five continents, are serving up the same fare. Clothing stores like Zara are dressing up the sameness from Albania to Vietnam and everywhere in between. Is it any wonder we’re confused?

I’ve noticed lately that I’m drawn to the odd, the peculiar. I’m craving the remarkable, the unusual. I’m sick of more of the same. My faith in tomorrow is weakening. I’ve been out and about, talking to people of all ages, from all walks of life, and were I to invent a new word to describe the mood in my tangential world, it would be ‘saimless’.

People are treading water waiting to see what will happen next, forgetting that life waits for no man. Plans have been derailed by various elections and failing pension funds. There’s an uncertainty in the 20-somethings, and indeed the 30-somethings, who seem directionless, flitting from one job to another, from one career to another, if they’re lucky enough to have either. Even the attractiveness of the much-touted nomadic lifestyle made possible by the Internet is wearing thin. Decisions are being postponed. Life is being put on hold.  Wait and see is what it’s about.

Yep, I’d made myself pretty miserable thinking of the perceived futility of it all. I wanted to take the world by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. Yell at it to wake up, to take charge, to get out there and make it happen. And then I met AGGI – her of the all caps.

(c) Paul Mc

The 22-year-old from Gyomaendrőd in Békés county moved to Budapest about six years ago. She’s studying English Literature and American Studies at Károli Gáspár University and plans to graduate early next year. Her dissertation focus is on Stephen King’s novel, Rose Madder, in which he deals with the bruising issue of domestic violence. She has a keen interest in gender issues and woman power and is determined her voice will be heard. Although born in Hungary, AGGI feels very much a citizen of the world and wishes that we’d all simply just get along. The concept of being foreign is one she abhors.

Most of all though, what AGGI wants is to be herself. Not a carbon copy of some other 22-year-old, pressurized by expectations to fit someone else’s preconception of who she should be. She doesn’t want to be told what she should or should not do with her life. She has a plan. She knows what she wants. And she’s making it happen.

A few months ago, AGGI teamed up with songwriters and fellow musicians Terry Etheridge (Tuesday Night Rodeo) and Joey MacOnkay (Paddy and the Rats). Introduced by mutual friends, the lads discovered in AGGI a unique voice, a quiet certainty of her worth, and a determination to make life happen. They’d been on the look-out for new talent, someone who stood out from the sameness that pervades the Hungarian music scene (and so much of the world).  Things are going well; they’ve already recorded six songs and are working on an album and they’re actively seeking band members. So, if you’re interested, get in touch.

AGGI splits her time between university, her part-time job as a cashier, and the recording studio. I was curious to know if the stage version of herself is very different to the one I was having coffee with. I noticed a little of the rock-chick going on, but hers is more of an understated style than her idol Pink. Yet the individuality is definitely there. When I listened to her music, I could hear strains of Debbie Harry in her voice and perhaps a tinge of Transvision Vamp in her music, but show me an artist anywhere who hasn’t been influenced by another and I’ll jog all the way to next Tuesday.

Her focus in high school was on business and economics. Today she’s studying English. Both will serve her well when she hits the market and the world opens up to her music. She writes and sings in English because it travels better. She graduates next year, but her career as a musician already takes centre stage. She’s lucky in that she has a supportive family who believe in her and what she’s doing. There’s no pattern set, no script for her to follow.  She gets to write it as she lives it. They’re happy for her to be the best that she can be. And she’s happy making it happen.

Ours wasn’t a long conversation. She was rushing to work, I was already late for a meeting. But in the time we did get to chat, AGGI did more to ease my angst than a week on valium. In her, I can hope. In her, I can believe. And I don’t doubt for a minute that she will make it happen.

Rock on, sister. Rock on.

First published in the Budapest Times 1 June 2017.