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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

2016 Grateful 16

Friday evening. The last day of the working week. The question of who was going to go down the pub for drink would inevitably raise its head after lunch, when all anyone could think about was not having to come to work for two days. The stalwarts, those who were religious about kicking off their weekend with a couple of pints of a Friday evening, spearheaded the recruitment campaign. Those who recognised the danger of going ‘just for one’ and still had vague memories of how the previous Friday night’s excursion had carried over in to Saturday morning were a tad more reluctant to commit. Others, who had sworn ‘never again’ would leave it to the last minute to say – Ah, what the hell.

I was a great fan of the FND, when I had to escape from under the yoke of someone else’s corporate harness. Before I knew that Americans for the most part prefer to socialise at home, I remember being completely shocked when my workplaces in California didn’t engage. Now, every day is a Friday or a Monday or a Wednesday. I don’t have weekends. I work when the work is there and don’t when it’s not. The FND may as well be the WND or the TND.

This weekend though, we decided to have that FND. But not go down the pub. We walked over Rákóczi híd, the most southern of the Danube bridges in Budapest.

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Previously known as Lágymányosi híd, this massive steel girdered construction which runs parallel with a railway track was opened in 1995. The views upriver were spectacular. We were heading  to Kopaszi gát, a landscaped peninsula accessible from the Buda side, a relatively unknown spot in the city, a smaller version of Margit Sziget the island which lies off Margit híd farther north.

lebistroLined with bars, restaurants, and cafés, the river runs down both sides. We saw two wedding receptions, one kids’ party, and numerous other picnics and meet-ups. The place was buzzing. We walked the length of it and decided to stop at Le Bistro for a fish dinner on the way back. It’s a little more spendy by way of drinks than other places, but it’s the one I tend to gravitate to. I got to speak Hungarian with the waitress, all evening. She was patient with me. Very patient. And didn’t once lapse into English although she speaks it. We sat with our FNDs, overlooking the river, watching the rowers make their way up and down the water. A far cry from a London or a Dublin pub on a Friday evening.

20160909_192019_resizedHeading back around 9pm, we stopped on the steps up to the bridge to peek in at the live gig going on at the old Zöld Pardon (aka ZP) which is now the Barba Negra Track. While the crowds sang to the stage inside the venue, others had brought their beers and blankets and were enjoying free music from the bridge. Kowalsky meg a vega were on stage and sounded good. Good enough to keep an eye out for them in future, when we have that blanket and that beer.

barba_negra_music_club_0We walked between Müpa and the National Theatre and marvelled, not for the first time, how beautiful both buildings look at night, all lit up. We had a choice of trams and let fate decide where we’d go next. If the 24 came, we’d head back to the VIIIth; if the 2 came, we’d go to Bálna (the Whale) and have another FND by the river there.

Nehru-part, the park between Báross tér and Bálna that is named after the first Prime Minister of India, has been undergoing a facelift for most of the summer. It reopened last week and is quite something. Fearless teens were busy trying out their bikes, scooters, and skates, hurtling through the air, falling and picking themselves up again without so much as a grimace. The multicoloured lounge chairs were full of groups of young people sorting out the world. The basketball courts waited to be discovered. Those too old to try the swings in daylight were getting in touch with their inner child.

sts2 st3 st2

st2small basketballcourtsmall[And yes, you sharp cookie, it does look too bright for that time of night… photos taken later.]

We sat for a while over a few hosszúlépés and talked about how good life is, how blessed we are, and how grateful we are to live in this city and when the yawns started to come more quickly, we knew it was time to leave. We decided to walk back through the IXth, up Ipar utca, to Bokréta, and back home. Along the way, we stopped for a nightcap at a cheerful neighbourhood bar on Ferenc tér – the only non-nationals there. The bells were chiming midnight as we unlocked the front door. A lovely Friday evening. In a lovely city. What’s not to be grateful for?