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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

Lessons from an Irish pub

We live in divisive times. Debates on social issues are polarising our communities. Families are being torn in two as differences in opinions on the refugee crisis and how to deal with terrorism run ramshod over familial allegiances. Facebook updates, Tweets, and blog posts reveal a side of friends that perhaps we never knew and now need to deal with. I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to get away from it all, but even if I spent a week in a hermitage cut off from the rest of the world, I’d still have to deal with my own company and my incessant questioning of life today. I need a break.

Last weekend, I wandered into Jack Doyle’s, a popular Irish pub and restaurant here in Budapest. I knew they’d have live music but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I got.

TC

Traveller’s Company is the banner under which seven young Hungarian musicians, all in their early twenties, play their music. It took me a little time to get my head around hearing Whiskey in the Jar sung in Hungarian. Afterwards, they told me that they’d kept the music but that their bass player, Kisteleki Márton, had changed the lyrics – my Hungarian isn’t good enough to tell the difference so I was none the wiser. Their version involves a man, a woman, a pub, a broken heart, and a bottle whiskey. Meeting Captain Farrell on a trip over the Cork and Kerry mountains is but a vague and distant memory.

When I asked them why they chose traditional Irish music, being Hungarian and all that, they said that it fit. They’re into Hungarian folk music and gypsy music and traditional Irish fits right in. Talented musicians all, their repository of instruments includes banjo, guitar, mandolin, Irish bouzouki, flute, tin whistle, saxophone, bass guitar, cajón box drum, and violin.

Vocalist Rózsa Márk has captured the soft Irish ‘t’ perfectly and his rendition of Hard Life, a song they wrote themselves, would stand up against the best of Irish ballads. For a few minutes, I was transported back home to a pub in Ireland, foot tapping, eyes smiling, enjoying that general feeling of bonhomie that comes with a good night out in the company of fine people. It’s a pleasure to listen to musicians who really enjoy playing rather than simply go through the motions. I was very taken with them, and I wasn’t the only one.

The audience was mixed – all ages, all nationalities. I asked Juan Orozco from Costa Rica why it worked for him – a Hungarian band singing Irish music. ‘Because both cultures have the same feeling in their music and in their partying’ he said. ‘They’re both energetic and make the listener want to party and feel good.’ He nailed it. The band’s mission is to sate those whose souls have a thirst for happiness.

There’s a pride that I feel when I see part of my Irish culture and heritage so richly embedded in that of another country. As I watched these young people in action, I was proud that they had adopted the best of Ireland as their own. It cheered me up. And they taught me a lesson or three. Instead of focusing on our differences, wouldn’t we be much better off discovering our similarities? Instead of being threatened by others taking what we have, wouldn’t it make more sense to share our riches and our talents? Instead of turning inwards and building fences to jealously guard all we’ve worked for, perhaps it’s time to open up those gates and let the winds of change work their magic. As French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne said back in the 1500s, the most universal quality is diversity. We should celebrate it, not fear it.

First published in the Budapest Times 27 November 2015.
Photo (c) Kiss Támas