„What I love about him, my God, I love everything about him. Sweet, salty, bitter. He is able to fill concepts with content, their originally meant content – concepts that, by today, are empty or had been made empty, chewed up and ripped apart. Kiss, love, desire, blood; life and death. He gives, gives back, gives his all and the spectators and the audience has but one thing to do: reach out their hands and receive the gift. Of course, at times this act is painful, at times it kills us a bit by the time we – gently or fiercely – take the miracle in, but that is just the price to pay; this is the gratitude. Because he opens doors, doors that may have been closed in many of us for a long time. Music, poetry, and the everything. Tamás Szarka.” – Szilvia Polgári
Translator – Hajnalka Geib
|Tamás Szarka, music producer, author, singer, violinst; Kossuth Award winning performer, founding member of the musical formation, Ghymes|
You held the debut concert of your solo album „For the love of heaven” at the National Theater in the middle of March. Tamás, you kissed the audience on the heart there. Melting, thunder of applause in between the songs, standing ovation at the end. Did you start it off with great vehemence?
Truth is, I did not start off this concert with great vehemence, but principally I did so the past thirty-nine years. There really isn’t such a major difference between a club performance and a concert in front of 450,000 people, as it has happened before. That light existence of the initial 10-15 years, when I accompanied a dance formation with the band, has passed.
A matter of livelihood?
Obviously; when a man does this, he loves it and makes a living out of it, then the aspect of livelihood also matters. Livelihood is always a factor. A musician gets really frightened and starts taking himself seriously always at that moment when he actually makes a living out of what he does. And that’s when he makes many mistakes.
Does he become self-conceited?
Either he gets self-conceited or he starts lining into trends. I’m not saying that everyone makes mistakes, but it happens…
At the expense of quality?
At the expense of quality or at his own expense. Or at the expense of his health. I can certainly state that failure is quite harmful to one’s health; but the same statement holds for success. It is a very dangerous thing, success can be particularly detrimental for one’s health. Even these days, kids are shot up. I don’t think this should be done at all, seventeen-year-olds are shot up to the sky and then they are left there to fall back down hard.
15 minutes of fame?
Yes. So, this is not a joke that later on they stand there, lining up at the psychiatric ward saying that their life is over. They say so at nineteen when their life is just about to start, it has not even started yet. Their destinies are at stake here. Furthermore, lately I’ve been seeing six and eight-year-olds on the television. There are the mothers rubbing their little hands and they don’t even know just how dangerous the ice where they sent the children to walk on is. I have received success, this poison, in small dosages and my body has gradually got used to it. Then again, the way someone can handle this clearly depends on one’s personality as well. But it is a dangerous thing.
We wandered off a bit…
A bit, yes. So, what I wanted to say is that I was very happy that the National Theater welcomed this concert. There was a reason, too since I have played many songs from my theater music and play On Eden and Earth, and finally those pieces of music were played live on that stage. Thank God, the play has been rocking on for the second year now with great success, but that is only partially live as there are no live instruments. And now it has finally been played live – by the author himself, to top it all off. But to be truthful, even after thirty-nine years, or after certain successes there are some jitters. Well, you were there, you saw it…
I was bathing in it.
So it wasn’t like a man coming from far away telling us what he wants. Even after the very first song I, we have received such love, such an applause as if the concert was ending. We could barely carry on. It was indescribably amazing to feel that love and I can never get used to it, nor do I want to. Of course, there is a healthy level of jitters. It’s a different state. One or eight people stand – in front of eight hundred. Or in front of eight thousand, or four hundred thousand. So, this is an extreme situation, not normal, basically this is not how we have been socialized.
That would have been my next question, the case of the artist and the stage fright.
Thank God, I haven’t got used to it yet, a man does not play out of routine, however, it can be reasonably expected to possess the routine of the profession after all these years. Still the way, the atmosphere of how people received the songs made me feel unbelievably amazing and suprised, it gave me enormous happiness. I can say it for certain that there were many people there who have never heard these songs before. Not live, nor any other way. They sat in for this concert to hear brand new songs. Needless to say that I had a goal in mind with this, I also chose a solo career so I can sustain being new. Because this has always been important for me, this is what keeps me moving forward; and not just me, I think this holds for everybody. I don’t want to get comfortable in any kind of armchair. New things attract me, they keep me alive. Being on the way, life… and I’m not finishing the sentence because the other other side of this is not so good. We keep opening doors and I have just opened another one. I can’t complain because where I live there is a saying that says things must be taken from those who complain. And this is a great truth. But I don’t even really have anything to complain about. I will complain, of course, once I have a reason to do so, that I can promise, but now I have nothing, even considering all the problems that are present in the world, and I see them. I am also a minority being cumulatively from the country-side since not only do I not live in Budapest, I don’t even live in the country. I’m from the Upland (Fölvidék in Hungarian – the area that was historically the northern part of the Kingdom of Hungary, now present-day Slovakia – translator) which many do not even know anymore.
Although you pointed it out during many of your appearances.
Sure. I am constantly surprised when people who’ve known me for a long time ask me, so where do you live in Budapest? Where is the apartment? There is no apartment in Budapest, I don’t live in Budapest, I don’t even live in Hungary. I live in Galánta, at the Upland. That’s where I have been and that’s where I am. Many don’t even understand how this is. Am I not telling the truth maybe? Whatever, I am not going to give out my address, it would be quite unhealthy these days…
Not even your address?
Haha. Well, the point is that yes, I came here from the Upland and that is where I’m going back to.
Does this healthy amount of jitters change along and in direct proportion with the frame of a given performance? Would you tell me a bit about the concert you had in co-production with Al Di Meola last October?
Certainly, an event like this can make a man feel like he’s grasped in a fist for months for sure. There we were on the stage, seventy of us with a large choir, I had to pay attention to everything, naturally to Al himself as well. So we can have a conversation via music. It was a dual emotion. I had to deal with leading the concert as well as the jitters. There were many of us and so little time for rehearsal. We rehearsed one day prior to the concert, we did not have the opportunity for more as he also performs a lot, travels the world. We have become good friends, he is an infinitely kind, modest person. What’s more, he is also humble in music. And the exceptionally outstanding thing is that for some magical reason he was playing my music during the concert. This was the greatest piquancy of the entire concert. All throughout the whole thing he wanted to be dissolved in my music, wanted to comment on it. And this is what’s so rare these days. That a world-famous, Grammy Award winning performer comes here and would like to play my music. I can’t tell you how wonderful that felt.
Besides the folklore basis the atmosphere is becoming more and more eclectic. This time there was gypsy music, Latin beat, and on top you brought in the piano and a certain jazzy mood of the sunrise. Can we expect a further expanding pallet of musical colors, further scoops? Because it’s obvious that you are quite fond of diversity.
I have always loved it. By the way, I inherently always start from classical music, Bach was my great love, there were about two or three years when I played exclusively Bach and only Bach, his violin partitas, marvelous pearls written for solo violin…
Did this happen at college? (Pedagogical College of Nyitra – editor)
Yes, that is where I come from, classical music defined everything. Sometimes I am scoffed, I get accusations that I was given too much, but learning to play the violin, that was not given to me. I am sorry but nobody is born in such a way that they already know how to play the violin.
That’s blood, sweat and perspiration…
Certainly. The practice… On stronger days I would practice for twelve hours, if I did not do it for at least six hours, I would feel severe self-reproach. Out of nothing, of course, as nobody has ever asked me to play the violin. Even my parents did not understand why I had practiced so much, since I was not preparing for a musical career, I was studying pedagogy. But I fell so madly in love with it… Oh, and I did not count folklore in, it was only the hours of practicing Bach that I counted. My college buddies would drop in by the dorm, this fool is practicing again, but why are you doing it? I don’t know, I would tell them, I don’t know. Only football could distract me from my daily practices which is why I sometimes thought to myself that if I poked my eyes out I wouldn’t be able to play football. As to the violin, I don’t need my eyes for that, so then I would really only practice. And then one of my music buddies told me, listen, what if you just closed them? Well, I said, that is quite a good idea as well…
And since then you have been applying this solution quite often.
Yes, this has remained my solution since then. You see, we lived in a small village and my father would come to the basement at five in the morning because I was playing there and they slept two floors above. So, he came down at five and said, you think I can’t hear you? Well, yes, he was woken up by it often. Because at five in the morning when he was leaving for work I had still been playing. Then we also had a pantry in the back where there were sacks of wheat, in the summer I went there, sat on a sack – it is very comfortable to sit on by the way. So that was the place where I practiced throughout the night, it went on till the morning, the birds were singing already when I finally fainted into my bed. Such were these years. This is the point from which I say that I got the instrument, I got to know its language, I could speak in violin. So, this is not something I received as a gift, I had to work for it. But I loved playing the violin.
Let’s talk about your poems because similarly to the variety of your musical world, your poems are very colorful as well. Starting from acute suicidal moods across melancholy all the way to euphoria every mood appears. Not to mention the erotic lines and those that go even beyond that. Because there really is such a song that I can barely listen to without blushing…
Yes, the Witch. So, what is it with this very colorful scoop? How conscious or how instinctive is it? Because these moods are worlds apart from each other.
Yes, as people get up in the morning and go to bed at night they are impacted by many different moods. I have never really liked travelling, but those were the cards that I was dealt, as they say in Pest; I have had the opportunity to travel almost all across the world. I have met so many people, so many atmospheres, Hungarians as well, but also Americans all the way to the Japanese, and also in between, I saw the Middle-East and the Arabian world. I didn’t really want to get to New York, colorful cars and wow, so much concrete! I’ve never been interested in that, my only interest has always been people. How they think, how nice they are – that’s what has interested me. I only wanted to make it to one place, in between the Tigris and the Euphrates, I thought something might have started right there.
Something important has definitely started there. And we will continue from here.
We left off discussing that there was only one place that you really wanted to visit, between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Yes, and by chance, by utter chance I managed to do so, we went to Iraq with the band via a government mission. And I have travelled quite a lot despite that fact that I didn’t want to. We played with African musicians, with oriental musicians, in a drama, on a stage, in one music with the Italian drummer, the English saxophone player, the Parisian pianist and I can go on for much longer. The wind blew me among such people, so my job is fairly easy because I just take something out and I say that eighteen years ago, on that day there; and I see exactly that day in front of me. I see what happened, how hot it was, whom I met, how they spoke, how they smiled. I am able to recall the atmosphere. I reach into that and I write. So obviously, instinctively. Not consciously, I doubt anyone can even do that. As far as I know there is no poetry college as of yet. Nor university. This cannot be taught, exactly because it’s all coming from instincts. In order for somebody to write a poem all they need is speech. One must be able to speak. One does not even have to be able to write, we know of many beautiful poems that had survived without anyone ever writing them down. They are there in the folksongs, so all one needs is the ability to speak. One must speak. I have been impacted by many things and I hope I will be by many more. Well, for one there is the jungle and I think that I live in it. There is a salt lake in the United States of America, a dried out salt lake, I’m sure you’ve heard about it.
Sure. (Bonneville Salt Flats – editor)
They break speek records there…
The movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” with Anthony Hopkins takes place there.
Yes, I saw that movie twice. Well, it is white like a virgin, beautifully clean, right? Not a single weed grows there. Because it can’t. You look across it all and it’s beautifully clean, sterile. Nothing in the world happens there. It’s white death itself. And then we go into the jungle, where animals feast upon each other, blood flows, fights go on, the animals eat their cubs, they rip them up so they can copulate with the female again, horror. Horroristic things happen in the jungle. But that’s where life is. So, somewhere in me I am still able to love this jungle we live in. Because Eastern-Europe and Western-Europe are both jungles. It’s turning into a jungle…
We will turn towards this direction soon.
I know, I’m running ahead again, but this is starting to resemble a jungle for me. But I am still able to love it. Not human violence, obviously, rather that beat, that life. That’s what I choose. For now, I’m staying and not going away into the white desert.
Don’t. Let’s admit, though that you write not only poems, but short stories, what’s more, theater plays for a while now. The first invitation came in 2006 from the Jókai Theater in Komárom for the Bloodnuptial, then came the rest afterwards, the Benyovszky, the Dózsa, the Mary és finally On Eden and Earth which has been mentioned before. Let’s talk a bit about theater.
In fact the first invitation arrived in 2001, it came from the Nová Scena musical theater in Bratislava. They requested a musical play part of which I wrote, the other half I orchestrated. So that’s where it started. I already got very close to theater there, they even pulled me into the casting sessions, I was sitting there the whole time. So that’s where started and I already worked there. Then Tibor Tóth asked me to do the Bloodnuptial and indeed I played a role in that one too, but I don’t want to do so again. I tried it then, I think we performed 25 times, I also sang and was on stage the whole time. And well, the pressure was tremendous, entering at the end word, playing a part. When as a musician you give yourself, you don’t have to play a role. As a musician it is foolish to play a role. That’s showing off. I’m not interested in one’s acting abilities when they are playing at a concert. He has to be himself. That’s half the success already. However, there it was a role to play, and there, from the reading rehearsals until the premier I was part of the birth of a play; from beginning to end. Well, there I saw how amazing it is. Of course, these days I contact the theater in case, by chance they don’t contact me. But eventually we find each other.
Let’s mention that the last two plays, Mary and On Eden and Earth are entirely yours, from beginning to end. They are your works.
Yes. One musicial play is usually written by three people. Three people write it, but in this case they are all me alone (author, composer, scriptwriter). I like writing the play myself and I would rather not „music into” another play unless I write the whole thing. Sure there are ideas, many of them. By the way, I can only recommend theater to everyone despite the fact that many people reject it.
Going back to Bloodnuptial for a moment, at that invitation your brother, Gyula said that Tomi, you should do it as you can hurt so much better. What’s the deal with hurting these days? Where I am trying to get to is, quite a while ago, you did not receive the anticipated support for a French performance neither from the Hungarian, nor the Slovakian government. Eventually, the French gave it to you. At that time, you were hurting a lot.
Well, yes, these wounds ache. But they came about due an oversight. Then, there at Trianon. And we carry it to this day. I carry it, obviously this brings something with it, a burden. I was punished for something that I have never done. Obviously, it wasn’t just the French gentlemen that were at fault, many mistakes have been made by the Hungarian government of that time also. And fundamentally, we really are a foreign body in Europe. Hungarians are very different, with their culture and language. Which is one of the reasons why it is so incredibly precious. So I can honestly recommend ourselves to the Europeans, hello, we have been here for 1000 years and our culture is phenomenal, beautiful, tragic and heartbreaking – you can came and bathe in it as you wish. So one carries these wounds, whether they want to or not. Of course, many things have changed by now, now we do get support from the Hungarian side. We do. So, well, 20-30 years were necessary… which I gave kindly by the way, because I think that a person just gives it whether he wants to or not. So, despite of it all we are Hungarian, now it is well-known that we are Hungarian. We have been noticed already and this feels really good to me. We got into actual street fights because of this, and of course, when we were getting the beating we were not reading the newspaper, either. They tried beating me up in the street because I was speaking in Hungarian. Well, from that moment on strangely, because this does not happen in Budapest… I mean that someone would try to poke another person’s eye out beceuse he speaks Hungarian. Right, there is no such thing? Or not yet. Dot. Dot, dot.
I really won’t interrupt now.
Yes, I put three dots. But! Where I live it happens, it did before and it will happen in the future. From this moment the life of a Hungarian in Hungary and one in the Upland will take a different direction. Right? Because they got slapped in the face for different reasons. Obviously their emotions are different – the way they wake up in the morning, how they interpret a sentence from their neighbor, the storekeeper or a politican. This is the point from which we feel things a little differently.
Because it is different, simple as that. In the recent past I have not run into any interviews with you where you would have discussed politics. I know that you don’t deal much with current affairs but you did make your voice heard regarding the language law and regarding the abuse that took place in 2009. When László Sólyom got stuck on that particular bridge. I know that as a Slovakian Hungarian you have never tried to make a living out of this identity; you’ve always wanted to live for and from music. What do you think now, in regards to the migration processes, now that the opinions of the Hungarian and Slovakian government within the V4s are getting closer to each other… did this bring any kind of change into the lives of those roughly half a million Hungarians who live in Slovakia? Is there a kind of thawing of tensions?
You mean has the atmosphere improved? Because that’s the most important thing. And I can report that yes, there is some improvement, but nothing major. When the opinions of governments are able to meet, due to some kind of miracle. We, Hungarians of the Upland, but I think also the Transylvanians, are always rooting for this and it makes us very happy. But I think that the real change of mood will be sensible much later. It is encouraging and good if there is no constant oppposition, when there is conversation, when we are not staring at each other from the rifle-pit. It is easier to disregard the visceral opposition once we are able to speak to one another. I don’t know how long this will last, but if it lasts I hope it will last for a long time. I’m sure that we can only benfit from this. It is obvious.
Shall we talk about the migration process?
Sure. There is something evident, we need to accept it. Because we have statistical data about a lot of dead people. The most persecuted religion in the world is Christianity. So besides the kittens, whales and puppies it is not a bad idea to adopt a few Christians, or some Christians thoughts as well. Christianity may be worried about, we may protect those who try to protect others who are helpless. For example those who talk about love. It is simply about the fact that we have our culture: it is the Christian culture. We have a Baby Jesus, we have an Easter, when we sprinkle the girls. In other worlds there are other wonderful customs. And they are beautiful! But ours is beautiful as well. This right here, this is the European, and allow me to call it European (even if Europeans don’t call it that way) Christian culture – miracle, as it is founded upon love. We cannot protect it anywhere else, but at home. It is ours. We will not interfere with any other cultures, we don’t want to, it is not our goal. There were attempts to do that in the past centuries but we should not discuss that now. We live here now, we should not go back. But today attempts are being made to take this culture away from us, right, they asked the king of Saudi-Arabia why he is not helping the persecuted Syrians and he said, „I? Immediately! I’m more than happy to build 20 mosques; in Germany.” Our culture must be protected! Because there is noone else to protect this miracle, this beauty, the love that Jesus preached. We have to guard this because nobody else will do it instead of us. By protecting it it, we do not attack other cultures – Islam, which is also a miracle. We don’t want to take anything away, do we? That is not the issue here. But we do have to protect our own culture. That’s all. Because it is of value. Of course there is no point in saying that it is of value, in and of itself it is but an empty slogen. Do your research, please. You will be shocked to see how great the value is that I’m talking about. So this, only this we have to protect, just this.
Besides ingenius talent and blood and sweat, do you think you need something else to become successful? Like some lucky positioning of the stars? Did you have something like that?
I do have tremendous like, let me tell you that. Because I was given something. Not everyone possesses it, it’s a fact. I am able to talk about other people’s pain through my own. Others can feel it. Maybe when I speak about these pains, when I violin them out, when I sing them out, when I recite them out… we can become a little lighter together. And when the pain somewhat goes away, we can laugh together. And maybe people really walk away feeling lighter after a concert. A lighter soul. My soul certainly gets lighter and the world becomes a little bit of a better a place. And this I was given. It really was given to me and I feel incredibly lucky for it. Because I do indeed love this, I love what I do. I love my work. When I go to the studio, I say I’m going to work. But I don’t go there to work, I go there to write music, to record songs; this really isn’t work for me. Sure, I get exhausted by the evening, I stutter, but I get back something really nice. Because a song or two are born. It’s a miracle. From genetics, or from the heavens, I don’t know. People say it and call it differently. I was lucky, no doubt. But that is enough only to start with. Someone is given certain talents and starts off. But the road has to be walked on. Or doesn’t have to be. They either have the strength or they don’t. The fact that I can make a living out of what I love doing is lucky for me. So besides the fact that I can keep on listing all the problems that affect me, you and all of us every day, I am able to be happy. I’m happy being able to fly together with others in music and poetry. Because it is a joint flight.