Songs, Towns, and Time

Cz.K. Sebő’s new instrumental song “4224,” released yesterday, has so much in it that I don’t want to try to sum it up in any way. I love the sound-filled silences and pauses, the beguiling chords, the changes and returns, the acoustic guitar sound, the ending. It is my favorite of his instrumental (wordless) songs so far; three other favorites are “First Day Without,” “Maybe I Should,” and “Interlude II,” but I think this one takes a new musical direction. Fruzsina Balogh’s cover picture is beautiful too.

I first heard it on the road to Szentendre, where I went yesterday evening to hear Galaxisok. Have you ever arrived in a town you have never visited before, and gone off looking for the concert you are about to attend, only to hear them doing soundcheck in the distance and playing “Gyuri elmegy otthonról” (“Gyuri is leaving home”)? And then you know you’re heading in the right direction.

And what a great show it was—on the outdoor stage at the Barlang, with ivy behind them, fir trees, colored lights, and a thrilled, dancing audience. They played so many songs that I love, including “Janó és Dzsó,” “Elaludtam az Ikeában,” “Mondo Bizarro,” the aforementioned “Gyuri elmegy otthonról,” “Focipályák éjszaka,” “Húsvéti reggeli a Sátánnal,” “M6,” “Ez a nyár,” and others.

I left immediately afterwards (to get back to Budapest in time to catch a late train back to Szolnok) but look forward to returning to Szentendre soon.

And now for the subject of time, which the post title promised. It is common to think and say that “summer’s almost over,” “time’s running out,” and so forth, and to bewail how little we got done when time was in abundance. And all of that has some truth. Summer really does come to an end quickly, and most of us don’t get everything done that we plan or intend (including relaxation and fun). But I actually did a lot: not only translating, writing, getting ready for October, but taking care of the cats (who went to the vet on Friday for shots and flea treatment), seeing friends and family, running every day, cleaning my apartment thoroughly, going to some wonderful concerts, biking around Tihany, leading Szim Salom services, and going to Szentendre for the first time. Moreover, the phenomenon of time running out is just mortality, which there’s no getting around anyway. Yes, make the most of “your” time, but is it really yours, and is there any way of knowing what “the most” is? Sure, set goals and deadlines, but also realize that such control is partly vain, and we’re always capable of being slightly wrong about what’s important.

Song Series #18: Hungarian Songs I Missed While Abroad

I have returned from the U.S. It is good to be back. Many thanks to everyone who was part of the trip in any way: the person who fed Sziszi (update: I found Dominó and brought him back inside today!), the friends and family I saw in the U.S., the events I attended (including a play, a Kandinsky exhibition, a musical, and a songwriter showcase), all the staff at the various places I visited, the wonderful morning minyan service at B’nai Jeshurun on Thursday morning (which feels like this morning, not yesterday).

I had Hungarian songs in my head throughout the trip, not always the ones I would expect, but no big surprises either. These are background favorites, I’d say. Songs that hold their own whether I am listening to them or not. In this piece, I will not be translating the songs, but I think they come across (in large part) through the music itself.

One that kept coming to my mind was Cappuccino Projekt’s (Dávid Korándi’s) “Vidáman se.” Too hard to explain in a short space, but sad and exhilarating at the same time. It captures life somehow. Here it is.

Another was Noémi Barkóczi’s “Dolgom volt” (approximately “I had something to deal with,” narrated by someone who has been out of touch with others for a while). Barkóczi sometimes seems to me (slightly) like a Hungarian Joni Mitchell in the 2020s. I love the true-to-life lyrics, the chords, the rhythms, the swooping and diving of the vocals. Here’s the video.

Galaxisok was in my ears most of the time. Which song? Hard to choose, but let’s take “Focipályák éjszaka” (“Football Fields at Night”), since I listened to it in the rental car several times, and there’s this live video.

Felső Tízezer’s “Semmi pánik 2” (“No Panic 2”) figured in there somewhere. Here’s their delightful infomercial-style video of the song.

A song that I played for others (from my phone, not on an instrument, unfortunately) was Kaláka’s “Hajnali rigók” (Dawn Thrushes), a poem by Lőrinc Szabó, which they set to music. They have a whole album and songbook of bird songs (and many, many albums on other themes: bicycles, various poets, musical instruments, psalms, and much more). I can’t wait to hear them again in August. They are legendary; just as Russian literature, it has been said, came out from under Gogol’s “Overcoat,” so contemporary Hungarian song comes out from under Kaláka.

On a tangent: At Arlene’s Grocery on Tuesday, I heard Noah Chenfeld play his song “Orioles,” which was inspired by the rhythm of an oriole’s call. I like it. Although it isn’t Hungarian, I’ll include it, because it was part of the week, and because there’s something interesting going on here. I look forward to more of his music. (My favorite music of the evening was SugarSugar—especially their song “Cruel Things“—that’s another tangent, but you can listen to them and watch their wonderful “Unbreakable” video.)

Lots of Platon Karataev songs played in my head, some of which haven’t been released yet. From Partért kiáltó, “Csak befelé” (“Only inward”) came up again and again. Here’s a performance of the song by the Platon Karataev duo, whom I will get to hear on Tuesday.

And to finish off, Cz.K. Sebő’s musical rendition of Pilinszky’s “Egy szép napon” (“On a Fine Day,” in the translation of Géza Simon) played itself persistently, as did other favorites from his work, including “Pure Sense.” I have brought up “On a Fine Day” many times here, but there’s always room for repetition. Who knows: maybe he will play it tomorrow night.

On A Fine Day
(Egy szép napon)

János Pilinszky, translated by Géza Simon

It’s the misplaced tin spoon,
the bric-a-brac of misery
I always looked for,
hoping that on a fine day
I will be overcome by crying,
and the old house, the rustle of ivy
will welcome me back.

Always, as always
I wished to be back.

Shabbat Shalom and a happy weekend!

For other posts in the Song Series, go here.

Listen Up: Galaxisok

I have been looking forward to this post—the sixth in my Listen Up series—for a while, with some trepidation: What do I say about Galaxisok? Their music is serious fun, with catchy rhythms and melodies, subtle textures and chords, and some heartbreak and worries mixed in. The songs evoke pictures, films, states of mind, eras, stages of life; they tell stories, ponder dilemmas, and crack wry jokes. They sink into you, so that when you remember them, they are already classics for you. But what is the music like? Their own description (at least I think it’s theirs) offers more questions than answers. All I can do is bring up a few songs. But another problem with Galaxisok is that they have so many good songs, it’s hard to pick just a few. On the other hand, it’s hard to go wrong.

The band members — Benedek Szabó, László Sallai, Ákos Günsberger, and Soma Bradák — have substantial and multifarious musical knowledge (and knowledge of other arts), unusual views of the world, and a knack for a good hook. They bring their own different perspectives and influences together into that undefinable entity that is Galaxisok. There’s something about that tuneful, beatful music, the surreal world-weariness, that not only pulls me to the albums and songs but suggests that there will be many more. The songwriter and lead singer, Benedek Szabó, who grew up in Baja (one of my favorite cities in Hungary), has more stories to tell, more moods to draw and paint, more questions to raise.

At the Müpa concert this coming Wednesday, they will be playing their favorite songs from across their repertoire. So let me bring up some of my own favorites here. I bet there will be a little overlap.

I have to begin with “Galaxisok,” which appears on the first Galaxisok LP, Kapuzárási Piknik, which is basically a Benedek Szabó solo album, with Péter Futó on keyboards on five of the songs. The album title’s literal translation is “Gate-closing picnic,” but it’s a play on “kapuzárási pánik,” “closing gate panic,” or Torschlusspanik in German: the psychological state of terror over getting older, and the behavior that accompanies such panic: trying to act like you’re younger, doing things that younger people do, going out with younger people, etc. The title song sings of a point in life where you wonder if you’ve already lived more than you will live, and other questions and worries that come with that. As for the picnic aspect, there are lots of ways to understand it; I will leave that to you!

The album was released on Szabó’s 26th birthday (March 14, 2013) and was heralded with a wonderful write-up in Recorder.hu. At this point Szabó was already well known as the lead singer and songwriter of the dream-punk band Zombie Girlfriend, whose songs are in English. Kapuzárási Piknik is Szabó’s first album in Hungarian. I have no idea whether the idea was already in place for a band named Galaxisok, but I suspect the song came first, and then the band was named after it. The music is strongly reminiscent of the legendary ensemble Kaláka, but the lyrics take a different direction.

Wait, but now I have to digress, because this Zombie Girlfriend song “Stories of You and Me” (recorded in 2011, a full eleven years ago) is so good. I don’t know who else is playing on this song, but later the lineup included László Sallai, Eszter Kádár (about whom I know nothing), and, on a few of the songs, Dávid Korándi (Felső Tízezer, Cappuccino Projekt).

And now for the “Galaxisok” song! I will translate it, since I think that will help things. I take a few liberties with the translation, to preserve the rhyme, the rhythm, and the couplets. With the syllables placed correctly, this translation could be sung to the melody.


nedves a szemed, száraz a szád
spirálkarokkal ölelnek át
a galaxisok, a kertben a fák
az ablakod alatt ringatják
a lombjaikat, de te nem szereted
se az égieket, se a földieket

viszket a bőröd, a kezed remeg
könnyűnek lenni a legnehezebb
két hete folyton fáj a fejed
az orrodban apró kis hajszálerek
kárörvendően pattannak el
nézed a véred és nem érdekel
wet are your eyes, dry is your mouth
the galaxies hug you and spin you about
with spiral arms, in the garden the trees
under your window rustle their leaves
but you have no love for those in the skies
or those on earth below your eyes

your skin is itchy, your hands trembling
being light is the heaviest thing
for two whole weeks your head has ached,
two capillaries within your nose break,
snapping for good, no chance of repair,
you look at your blood and don’t even care

This song has the mixture of lightness, world-jadedness, and slightly grotesque beauty that I hear in other Galaxisok songs. Its quasi-abstract anxiety seems to flow out of the preceding song, “Huszonöt” (“Twenty-five”), which is about being twenty-five and still not knowing what you want in life but finding it harder to do the youthful things; being too old to rebel and too young to acquiesce; not knowing if you have a place in life at all. “Huszonöt” has a slow, dark texture, with a hint of Bowie, I think.

Their second album, A legszebb éveink (Our Loveliest Years, 2015), now has László Sallai on bass and vocals (in addition to Szabó and Futó). It has beautiful piano, keyboards, organ, and other instruments. You can listen to it and love it without understanding a word. In the interest of time, I’ll just bring up the first song, “A teljesség felé” (Towards wholeness), whose lyrics contain the album title. Interestingly, the video features not only Szabó, but Ákos Günsberger and Soma Bradák, who were soon to form Galaxisok along with Szabó and Sallai. Or probably, by the time of the video, they already had. The song, which begins, “esküszöm, hogy nem fogok hányni” – mondtam a taxisnak az astorián” (“I swear I’m not going to vomit,” I told the taxi driver at Astoria) has to do with solitude, feeling ill-adjusted to life, yet realizing that these are our loveliest years, years of getting up, going to work, getting drunk, lying down, and getting up again.

Their next album, their masterpiece Focipályákon sétálsz át éjszaka (You Walk Across the Football Field at Night, 2017), is the first album with the full band (at the time known as Szabó Benedek és a Galaxisok, later Galaxisok). If you like this kind of music and listen to this album enough, it could easily become one of your favorite albums in the world. It has become one of mine. Brooding, rocking nocturnal songs, with titles like “Boldoggá akarlak tenni (de nem tudom, hogy kell)” (I Want to Make You Happy but Don’t Know How,” “Húsvéti reggeli a Sátánnal” (Easter Breakfast with Satan), etc. “Éjfél” (Midnight), my favorite song on the album, has Domokos Lázár (of Esti Kornél and Lázár tesók) on “angel vocals.” But I am going to talk about another favorite, “Innen El” (Away from Here), because of its brilliant simplicity.

The guitar melody reminds me of other songs by other musicians, the vocal melody of other Galaxisok songs, yet this song stands out with its contemplative tempo, the sparseness of its syllables, its filmlike feel. It is at once a pop song and as far as you can get from a pop song. The lyrics are too sad and cryptic for pop, the arrangement too sparse, the pace too slow; that is precisely the song’s beauty. I love the drum/bass syncopation, the chords just before the chorus, and the slow ascending scale in the break. The song has to do with the dream of taking someone away from here but realizing that that would only be a trap, because the person would have to start all over again with a half-alien. In the song, distance exists not only in space, but in the mind, and in both cases, there is no way to go away; the faraway place exists in the imagination only. The chorus goes (I took slight liberties with the translation, to convey the cadences),

Én már csak képzeletben viszlek innen el.
Csak akkor figyellek, ha senki nem figyel.
Messziről nézni úgyis sokkal biztosabb,
mindig távolról voltam boldogabb.
I whisk you away from here only in my mind.
I watch you only when the world pays you no mind.
Gazing from far away is trustier by far,
I have always been happier from afar.

This album deserves attention to every song. But let’s go on to their 2018 album, Lehet, hogy rólad álmodtam (I might have dreamt about you), and in particular to the second song, “Láthatatlan lovak” (Invisible Horses), which I am pretty sure Szabó played in his solo concert in 2021. This song is important to the Galaxisok repertoire, not only because of the role that a dream plays in it (dreams and half-dreams figure largely in their songs overall) but because of the musical details. Here’s a wonderful video of Szabó commenting on the song and playing parts of it on piano.

This time, for the sake of space (this is already the second-to-last song that I will bring up in this post), I will just give a prose translation of the lyrics. You can listen to the song and read the original lyrics at the link below.

Prose translation, without the verse breaks that exist in the original:

In my dream it was summer again. In the mid-nineties, beside our old house, we wandered in the woods, you and I. Invisible horses were neighing in the garden, in the sky thousands of planes moved in a special pattern. We were waiting for piano class, but it’s also possible it was over. One of my friends’ brother found an old video. It was made on a residential block — lush trees and a playground, it’s evening, but still light. I know you lived there long ago. And you’re really in the picture, your semi-long hair is blurred. We don’t know each other yet, but you look happy from here. I was standing in the water in a suit, throwing frogs ashore. I got lost around our house when we headed back. In my dream it was summer again. We went up to the castle, but it was higher than I thought. For hours we were walking down.

And now I have to do the unthinkable and choose just one song from their most recent two albums, both released in 2020, Cím nélküli ötödik lemez (Untitled Fifth Album) and Történetek mások életéből (Stories from the Lives of Others). I have brought up a couple of songs from the latter on this blog, so I am going to cheat and choose a song on neither of the albums: their most recent single, “Ez a nyár” (This Summer). It has a punk feel, a mood of anger and anxiety, a rich sound, a terrific video (filmed in their practice space), and a particular chord that I love (at “egyhamar”). “Ohh, ez a nyár más mint a többi, ohh, ez a nyár nem múlik el egyhamar….” (Ohh, this summer is different from the others, ohh, this summer isn’t ending any time soon….). You can read more about it in Hungarian on the KERET blog.


Before wrapping up, I should mention Szabó and Sallai’s tradition of releasing a two-song Christmas EP together, with a song by each. There are three of these (from 2018, 2019, and 2020), as far as I know. There are also demos, live recordings, and other rarities. This is just a brief introduction to Galaxisok, but I hope someone will come upon this piece, listen to a few of the songs, and then go listen to more. I am lucky that the music is so close by, not just here in my room, but at concerts that I can attend. May this be the case for years and years.

The next Listen Up piece will be devoted to Sonny Smith / Sonny & the Sunsets, whose music I have listened to for over two decades. I hear some kind of affinity between them and Galaxisok. I keep dreaming that one day they will play a show together, in San Francisco, Budapest, or both. Who knows; it might happen. But whether or not it does, they will be neighbors in this series.

Photo credit: A still from the official video of Galaxisok at Fishing on Orfű, 2019. See also this wonderful video of them on the water stage at Fishing on Orfű in 2021.

I made a few small edits to this piece after posting it.

For more pieces in the Listen Up series, go here.

Update: The Müpa concert was so good that I forgot to pick up my backpack at the coat check afterwards! Playing and speaking about their own favorites, they gave us a thrilling long concert that included a few songs mentioned here and many others too—some of them already beloved in my ears, others still on my periphery. I can’t wait to go back to the albums this weekend (and will also go back to the Müpa for my bag).

Remembering Concerts

I don’t want to go to so many concerts and literary events that they start blending into each other or twisting into oblivion, but so far that hasn’t been a danger. Each one has stood out in a particular way. A few details can bring the whole evening back. Last night’s event (pictured to the left) at the MITZI café was one of my favorites here in Hungary so far. Hosted by the Anna Juhász Literary Salon, it focused on the Partért kiáltó lyrics book but took this in many directions. Anna Juhász related it to Pilinszky (and led the discussion overall); Ákos Győrffy and Csaba Szendrői gave their thoughts, both about the book and music and about questions of language, creation, and more; Gyöngyi Hegedűs, Gergő’s mother, spoke about being a poet, doctor, and mother, and read one of her poems; and Gergely Balla played three songs and spoke about his music, influences, quests.

One of the most interesting ideas for me was the distinction between passzió (strong enthusiasm) and passió (holy passion, which is bound up in suffering). Another was Gergő’s story about how someone had said, after Partért kiáltó was released, that he didn’t think Gergő had quite found his voice yet. Gergő’s response was that he had no interest in finding his voice; to the contrary, he has been reaching for something beyond the “I.” Still another favorite part was when Ákos Győrffy told the story about how some of the lyrics of Partért kiáltó described exactly a dream that he had had, and Gergő read aloud Győrffy’s description of the dream. And Gyöngyi Hegedűs’s comments, humor, and poem. And Gergő’s exceptional humility toward the others: for instance, his deeply appreciative praise of Elefánt (Csaba Szendrői’s band). And Anna Juhász’s comment on the shortest song on the Partért kiáltó album, “Fagyott csontok,” and how its lyrics have the true density of poetry. There was much more that came up—and the music itself at the beginning and end said what the discussion could not. All of this took place in front of a hushed and densely seated audience. I had lots to think about on the train ride back home.

As for other recent concerts: Just last week, though it seems longer ago than that, I went to a terrific Cataflamingo show at the Szimpla Kert, a labyrinthine venue with colorful lamps, dark passageways, open-air places, wooden steps, mirrors, and at least two enclosed performance halls. This was only my third time hearing them in concert; this time I was blown away by their musicianship, the beauty of the songs, the transformations inside them. The audience reveled in it all: listening intently, dancing along, sometimes singing along (there’s a song where the audience takes over the singing at one point), cheering at the end. Here is a video of one of the songs from the concert, “Nevess.”

The week before that, I went to two concerts: Cz.K. Sebő at the A38 Hajó, and then, the following day, Galaxisok at Budapest Park. The Cz.K. Sebő concert was a little difficult for me at first because of the noisy crowd (I think this had something to do with the acoustics of that particular hall at the A38); also, they played some of the songs slightly faster than I hear them in my mind. But the concert grew more and more beautiful and absorbing as it went along. I can still hear the sounds of “Interlude II” in my mind; “Fox in the Holt,” “Pure Sense,” “Keveset olvasok,” and “Papermache Dreams” were also highlights for me, and there was a new song too, which I am eager to hear again. It has been almost exactly a year since I first heard Cz.K. Sebő in concert, and I look forward to at least two more concerts in the next couple of months (one at Fishing on Orfű and one in the middle of July in Budapest). I am eager to see and hear how his capsule boy project develops; he is releasing a new song, “Fázom, ha nézel,” the first capsule boy non-remix single, this weekend!

As for Galaxisok, I hadn’t heard them in a while and was excited to hear them at Budapest Park, where they were playing for the first time. The sound was rich, the songs already familiar and evocative for me, the performance thrilling. It’s hard to describe them, because their songs take different directions without becoming a hodgepodge at all. There’s a whimsical coherence to them, a kind of worldly-wise melancholy mixed with zest. The best description I have seen so far is their own (for the upcoming concert at Müpa):

The singer-songwriter Benedek Szabó, who you may also recognise from his earlier band Zombie Girlfriend, founded the Galaxisok in 2013 under the name Szabó Benedek és a Galaxisok (Benedek Szabó and the Galaxies). They have released six major albums to date, ranging from chord-strumming hits inspired by Tamás Cseh to catchy guitar pop, end-of-the-world ballads on the piano and South American and African-influenced songs, creating a daring, ever-changing, unpredictable whole. What kind of music do they play? ‘Well-being polbeat’? Jangly guitar pop? Dreamlike piano ballads? The band, which is approaching its tenth birthday, has a meandering repertoire that means something different to every individual, depending on what age, place or given moment they hear it for the first time. But what is the essence of the Galaxisok, which has such a strong relationship with the public? Maybe the frontman has a radically different picture of the band from the guitarist, while the drummer thinks in another way entirely – and who knows what alternative production the bassist might have imagined? All our questions will be answered on the Müpa Budapest stage, as the Galaxisok play their favourite tunes.

Some of my favorites from the concert were “Elaludtam az Ikeában,” their new song “Ez a nyár,” “Húsvéti reggeli a Sátánnal,” “Mondo Bizarro,” and “Középsulis szerelmes szám,” but the one playing in my mind right now, “Sandy View,” stands out among them all. In any case, I think Galaxisok will be the subject of my next “Listen Up” post, because there’s so much there to listen to and reflect on.

To take in a concert fully, I need to stay away from concerts now and then. Especially with the train rides from Szolnok, I would wear myself out if I went to them all. Also, I have large ongoing projects and a need for sustained quiet time. So, for instance, I am not going to the Platon Karataev duo concert this evening, although I would have loved to, since I am attending the Grand Bleu/Cappuccino projekt concert tomorrow and a Platon Karataev (Gergely Balla) discussion and brunch on Sunday. The upcoming weeks are dense; I have to check my calendar frequently to make sure I’m not forgetting something.

But that’s the gift of it: holding back from concerts just enough that when I do go, it’s with full joy. Joy not in the sense of glee and cheer, necessarily; there’s melancholic and sad joy too. But catching and holding the notes as they fly by, wrapping myself in them, carrying them for days and weeks and sometimes much longer. Even when the memories fade, the concerts leave some kind of texture behind, and though I can’t pinpoint it and don’t need to, I know it’s there. There’s a new shape to the air.

First photo (of last night’s event) by Kriszta Lettner; more photos here. Second photo (of the May 12 Cz.K. Sebő concert) by me.

I made a few edits to this piece (in several stages) after posting it.

Five Songs Chosen for a Birthday

All right, I told myself, get up and choose five Hungarian songs for your birthday! Don’t give it much thought; just choose five that you especially love and that are calling you right now. (Why Hungarian songs? Because they are in my ears, thoughts, and life, and if I had to choose songs in English, it would be a much harder task, with decades of favorites, and different kinds of favorites, to consider.)

These are the five. With minimal commentary. A way of marking not only a day, but something that cuts through time.

First, “Felzizeg” (“It buzzes/rustles forth”) by Cz.K. Sebő, from his 2021 album How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain?, one of my favorite albums of any time. I wrote about it and the whole album in the essay “To Crave the Edges of Speech,” published recently in the online version of The Continental Literary Magazine. The song title is better understood through the first line of the lyrics, “Felzizeg a szaradó levelű juhar” (approximately: “The maple tree with its drying leaves is rustling”); but alone the word suggests a rustling, buzzing, rattling sound that bursts gently out of the silence.

Next, “Éjfél” (Midnight) by Galaxisok, from their gorgeous 2017 album Focipályákon sétálsz át éjszaka (You walk across the football fields at night). I love the lyrics, the pace, and the atmosphere.

Next, “Lassú madár” (“Slow bird”) from Platon Karataev’s 2022 album Partért kiáltó. It has been playing in my head recently; I am eager to hear it and their whole concert this Thursday. It evolved slowly from one of Cz.K. Sebő’s early songs, “Fear from passing” (from his 2015 EP The masked undressed); the lyrics are by Gergely Balla.

Next, “Gyertyaláng” (“Candle flame”) by Dávid Szesztay, from his album Iderejtem a ház kulcsát (I am hiding the house key here). I couldn’t attend his concert on Friday—though I had bought a ticket and was looking forward to it—since I had the Shakespeare festival all day long and then had to finish preparing the Torah verses that I was going to chant at the Szim Salom service on Saturday. (All of this went well.) I imagine that this was one of the songs he played.

Finally, a song and an album very new to me (thanks to Cz.K. Sebő for recommending it): Grand Bleu’s “Öreg halász” (Old fisherman), from their 2022 album Gyalog a tengerig (On foot to the sea). Just listen to where this song goes. I will be listening to this album a lot and expect to devote a blog piece to it soon.

There are other songs I could have included as well, but these are great choices, and they came together early in the morning on this lovely-cloudy April 25.

Image credit: Partért kiáltó lyrics book, published by Prae Kiadó. Lyrics by Gergely Balla; illustrations and text layout by Emőke Dobos.

Kolorádó, Home and Not-Home, and More

The Kolorádó Fesztivál is sweet and beautiful, with one drawback, which I’ll get to in a moment. I felt out of place there (older than most, and conspicuously alone), but this feeling disappeared during the shows themselves and during some quiet hours in the kunyhó, the miniature cabin where I stayed. The experience was enveloped by the shows before and afterwards: the Platon Karataev acoustic duo at Papírkutya in Veszprém, and Felső Tízezer and Jazzékiel at Monyo Land in Kőbánya-Kispest.

Kolorádó is a fairly large but intimate music festival (with some theater and other arts as well) in the Buda hills. It has large and small stages, renowned and lesser-known musicians. Being able to hear Platon Karataev, Galaxisok, and Kolibri on three consecutive days was just great. Granted, not everything there went perfectly. Buses didn’t run often enough. There was only one phone-charging station in the whole place. Etc. Those, to me, are minor issues, things that can happen anywhere. My one big complaint is that there was a constant thumping of an electronic drum, in at least one location, almost all day and night, without any pause except for a few minutes here and there. This interfered not only with my sleep, but with the concerts on the KERET stage, my favorite feature of the festival. I am not against electronic music in itself—it can be brilliant—but this went overboard. Other than that, the festival is great.

As for being alone, I usually enjoy it—but here, when not listening to music, I felt unusually self-conscious, maybe because part of me would have liked to be with friends, or gather enough courage to meet people. The vast majority of the audience seemed not only younger, but accompanied. I say ”seemed” because there actually were a few people closer to my age, and people who, like me, had come alone.

But the self-consciousness did not take over everything. As I walked around and took in the festival, I discovered more and more of its wonders: the campfire open to everyone, the tents upon tents, the beautiful wooded valley with the bridge running over it, where people go to be quiet and read, the delicious food (which you have to buy, but still—while there, I had two burritos, a serving of fish and chips, and a gyros pita sandwich), the different performances happening, the brilliant music, the natural surroundings. All the more reason to get rid of or limit that thump, thump, thump! I know that many people at Kolorádó love techno/house music, but perhaps it could be moved somewhere where it didn’t interfere with other concerts or sleep.

I stayed in a kunyhó, a kind of triangular miniature cabin equipped with a mattress, blanket, pillows, an LED light, and a lockable storage space. That was a great choice, because when the festival and hot sun were too much for me, I retreated there and read Pilinszky for hours.

I had planned months earlier to attend Kolorádó, and originally intended to be there the whole time. But then it turned out the the Platon Karataev duo (Gergő and Sebő) were playing in Veszprém, and if I went there first and stayed the night there, I could easily head on to Kolorádó the next morning. The concert was dreamy and the whole evening lovely; I saw Zsuzsanna and Atti there and had a comfortable stay at the Éllő Panzió.

At the festival itself, on Thursday I heard Mordái (very interesting but a little bit over the top for me), Platon Karataev (an exuberant and gorgeous show), Csaknekedkislány (whom I liked), and a few sound checks and bits of other concerts. On Friday, at the KERET stage, I heard Cataflamingo (my favorite new discovery from the festival—they were wonderful), the tail end of ДEVA (beautiful voice), Galaxisok (just fantastic), a little bit of Carson Coma (first time hearing them), and a few other bits and snatches. Then on Saturday I heard Kolibri (again at KERET) and took off immediately afterwards.

Let it never be said of me that I treated a Felső Tízezer concert as a “B-terv” (Plan B). That is not what happened. I had bought the ticket weeks ago, before realizing that it coincided with a few shows at Kolorádó that I was going to want to hear, particularly Ben Leavez. So until Friday morning, I wasn’t sure whether to stay at Kolorádó or to take off right after the Kolibri show and go hear Felső Tízezer and Jazzékiel at MONYO Land in Kőbánya-Kispest. But after a night of thumping electronic drums, my mind was made up, and I figured out the logistics, which were not simple.

It was good to hear Kolibri except for that thumping drum in the background, just a few meters away, through the trees. I almost went to ask them to turn it off just for this show, or at least to turn it down, but realized that the set was very short and I would end up missing too much of it. So I stayed still, and then took off.

To get to MONYO Land, I took the Kolorádó bus to the Hűvösvölgy stop, took the tram from there to Széll Kálmán tér, took the subway to Blaha Lujza tér in hopes of catching the special MONYO Land bus, realized I was going to miss that bus, took the subway back to Déli pályaudvar, took a train from there to Kőbánya-Kispest (with a transfer at Kelenföld), took a taxi from there to the venue, and arrived a little before Felső Tízezer took to the stage. The security guards kindly held my luggage for me.

I was so happy to be there. A mix of ages, a friendly open-air atmosphere. A feeling of home, though I had never been there before.

And Felső Tízezer, and then Jazzékiel, thank you for crowning these past few days so gloriously! I danced my heart out to songs I knew and loved, and songs I was hearing for the first time. “Majdnemország” was one of the highlights of the week. So were some songs whose names I don’t know.

I realized at the concert that I had heard László Sallai play on three consecutive nights, in three different bands: Platon Karataev, Galaxisok, and Felső Tízezer, the last of which he fronts. That is a first for me—I have never heard a musician play a public concert on three consecutive nights, not to mention in three different bands, not to mention bands that I love, and terrific shows to boot—and an astounding accomplishment from him, not just the three nights, but the years of work and inspiration that made them possible. So thank you, Laci and all your bandmates.

As for Jazzékiel, I had heard a few of their songs before, and commented on a song by their frontman, Péter Jakab, but the show drew me in completely, and I will be hearing much more.

Many thanks to Marianna and Gyula’s son Zalán for feeding Dominó and Sziszi while I was gone. The past few days were an important experience. I not only heard some of my favorite music and made some discoveries, but recognized that my partial discomfort at Kolorádó did not detract from the festival itself. One’s feelings about a thing are not the same as the thing itself or its quality—and feelings can change. While there, I found my way into some beauty (quite a bit of it, actually), then came back home in stages, first to MONYO Land, then here, and last of all, after some sleep, to this quiet morning.

Update: I shortened and edited this post a few months after posting it, because my perspective changed.

Dancing Through the Galaxies

Musicians here in Hungary are playing their hearts out, and their audiences dancing, exulting, and cheering past the end. It is so good to be able to play and listen again, and so uncertain what will happen in the fall. In the U.S., the mood is different: with cases of the Delta variant rising, many are urging caution, and some clubs require masks as well as proof of vaccination. But here, while we have this respite, I am all for making the most of it (while taking the necessary precautions—for instance, many of these events are in the open air, and you need to show proof of vaccination to get in).* So it has been exhilarating to attend concerts by some of my favorite musicians, including new favorites, the wonderful Galaxisok.

How to describe Galaxisok? Let’s start with their announcement of the show (which took place last night at the KOBUCI, Kert):

A Galaxisok végre cakkumpakk bemutatja tavaly októberben megjelent főművét, a gyerekkori emlékek félfiktív álomvilágában játszódó Történetek mások életéből című duplalemezt. A twee pop, a bossa nova, a tropicália, a soukous, a perui folk, a shoegaze és a pszichedelikus rock kontinenseken, évtizedeken és életeken átutazó karneváljának szereplői közt ezúttal a lemezen szereplő vendégzenészek egyike-másika is felbukkan, miközben Gyuri elmegy otthonról, Dóráért nem jön el a szerelme, Janó és Dzsó a tetőn dolgoznak, Diána nem lesz már öregebb, és egyszer mindennek vége van.

In rough translation:

Galaxisok is finally presenting, lock, stock, and barrel, the masterpiece released last October: the double album Stories from the Lives of Others, which takes place in the semi-fictional dreamworld of childhood memories. From the characters in this carnival of twee pop, bossa nova, tropicalia, soukous, Peruvian folk, shoegaze and psychedelic rock that travels through continents, decades, and lives, one guest musician or another from the record will pop up, while Gyuri leaves home, Dora’s love doesn’t come for her, Janó and Joe work on the roof, Diana won’t get any older, and at one point everything is over.

What do you make of this? It’s all true, it all happened, but the music is anything but a hodgepodge. Even with all its different styles, it flies as a single body, a single spirit. It’s some of the happiest melancholic music I’ve ever heard. It’s melancholic from start to finish, but the music has so much joy, the musicians so much heart and talent (Soma Bradák, the drummer, looks like he’s dancing sometimes), and the lead singer and songwriter, Benedek Szabó, has a way of filling the crowd with love. There’s a generosity and gentle eccentricity to him; you feel swept into a glorious and familiar weirdness, a place where everything’s different together.

He was speaking rather fast when introducing the guests, and this was my first Galaxisok show, so I may have some of this wrong. But I think his parents joined for one of the songs, and his godfather for another. And the saxaphonist Marcell Tóth came up several times. The crowd was ecstatic. And I felt so happy to be there. The song “Janó és Dzsó” (both of whom were there at the concert, if I understood correctly) captures some of the feeling that was there last night:

És boldogok, mert hosszú a nyár,
és boldogok, mert fiatalok,
és véget értek a hetvenes évek,
és ki tudja, mit hoznak a nyolcvanasok.

(And they’re happy because summer is long,
and happy because they are young,
and the seventies come to an end,
and who knows what the eighties will bring.)

For those just entering the Galaxisok cosmos, I recommend just listening to Történetek mások életéből from beginning to end, without interruptions, and taking the songs in. They are all in Hungarian, but you can get a limited, flawed idea of them from Google Translate. That, along with the music, is enough of a start to take you into the album. Who knows: the lyrics may get translated one day.

Galaxisok and Platon Karataev are closely related in membership and maybe (slightly) in terms of music too. There’s a lot of history here that I don’t know, but the rosters themselves tell a story. The current members of Galaxisok are Benedek Szabó (singing, guitar, keyboards, etc.), László Sallai (bass and keyboards), Soma Bradák (drums), and Ákos Günsberger (guitar and maybe another instrument or two). Sallai and Bradák are also the bassist and drummer, respectively, of Platon Karataev. But it doesn’t end there: Sallai is also the frontman of Felső Tízezer, and Szabó and Bradák are Cz.K. Sebő’s band members (besides Sebő himself). This is particularly interesting because of the differences between the bands. No matter how you describe Platon Karataev, you probably won’t say “bossa nova” or “Peruvian folk” in reference to them. Nor are the lyrics similar; Szabó’s songs are stories, slices of life, whereas Platon Karataev goes inward, asks questions, cries out. Sebő’s music is different still, and Felső Tízezer’s too.

They have something in common, only it’s difficult to pinpoint. They play so well and tap into some kind of truth, different kinds in each case, a truth that can only be reached through music and lyrics, yet something we know in ourselves. The listeners may gravitate toward one band or musician more than another. That is natural, and probably good; a relationship to music is personal and intimate and doesn’t spread evenly. But listen to them all, and something new starts to build, a different kind of imagination, a larger world (or a smaller one, depending on your perspective). There are moments of dancing through the galaxies.

So I am grateful that these concerts are happening now, and thrilled about last night, which throbbed with such sweetness and life. The audience roared for more and more. We got a five-song encore and then roared again. But that was the end—of the music, that is, but not of the evening or the aftersounds. After the concert I stayed for a little while, then took the late Bucharest-bound train home.

*There are people in Hungary who find it unfair that they can’t attend events unless they get vaccinated. In some ways I sympathize. But for these events to take place at all, there have to be some protections in place. Weighing everything, this seems like the best of solutions: better than cancelling the events, requiring tests, enforcing strict social distancing rules, or taking a reckless approach. I am grateful that the events can take place.

Song Series #16: Songs as Experience

This is true about poems too, and other works of literature and art, but today I am focusing on songs. Songs do not give us direct messages about how to live. Or sometimes they do, but those are not usually the best ones. Songs change us by being the experience itself: maybe reminding us of other things we have seen and lived, but also taking their place among them. I will give a few examples of this today.

The first is a song I have mentioned a few times before: Cz.K. Sebő’sLight as the Breeze,” from his 2018 EP The Fox, the Thirst and the Breeze. I return to it again and again, and to the whole EP. The song has to do with those moments, in the midst of getting over someone, when a lightness actually breaks through and you see the world differently. The lightness doesn’t last long; you may go right back to longing for the person, or feeling morose about the situation. But it comes back. And with each return, it brings a brief illumination: you know a different way of living, feeling, and thinking, and you know that it is real. The song does this not only through the lyrics, but through the guitars (which feature Cappuccino Project as guest musician), the rhythms, the textures.

The song has an important role in my life. For a long time I was struggling to get over, or come to terms with, a particular relationship (not a romantic relationship, but a friendship of sorts, or what I hoped would be a friendship), and was discouraged to find the loss and regrets coming back again and again. But these light moments had started happening too, and when I first heard the song, I recognized a light moment like the ones I had already experienced, but new. And every time I listened to the song, it was another light moment, and they built and built and keep on doing so. The song does not describe an end state; none of Sebő’s songs do. As I hear them, they are all songs of seeking and changing. But that is part of why they move me and take up a place in my life.

Before I go on, here is a gorgeous recording of Sebő playing in concert in 2020 on the A38 Hajó. If you want a sense of his performances, this is a place to start. The first two songs are wordless, with guitar only, and from then on he sings.

The next song I want to bring up is “Előszoba” by Kolibri (the stage/project name of Bandi Bognár), whom I got to hear at the KOBUCI last Wednesday, and whom I will hear again at the Kolorádó Fesztivál. It might be my favorite of his songs so far. It describes a quiet evening, when he is all alone in the living room, no one is around, there are dirty dishes in the sink, but only he could have left them there; there is mess in general, everything has fallen down. But it is beautiful:

Nem magány, de nagyon szép
Hogy csendéletté válik a hétköznapi lét
A hétköznapi lét
Sárga fény az előszobámban ég
Olyan szép
Olyan szép

A rough translation:

(It isn’t loneliness, but it’s beautiful
That weekday existence becomes a still life
weekday existence
A yellow light burns in my foyer
So lovely
So lovely)

It’s hard to translate, because “magány” means “solitude,” “loneliness,” “isolation,” which are different things. “Hétköznapi” means “weekday” or “ordinary.” The title word, “előszoba,” means “foyer,” “anteroom,” “antechamber”; it has a specific image in Hungary, where many apartments have them. But the meaning also lies in the melody, the pace, the rhythm, the repeated phrases, and the soaring voice. So here is the song.

In this case, the song not only describes but becomes an evening like many I have known over so many years. I listen to it and am there in the room, taking in this quiet time of evening or night, taking in the light and shadows, even the dishes I have left in the sink.

The next song is one of my favorites by Art of Flying, “What the Magpie Said,” from their album asifyouwerethesea. The lyrics are exceptional and should be read in full. Verses and chorus become one and the same, in a way; the actual chorus is this:

& all the horses of the moon
drag both night & day
& as the clouds of eyes awoke
I heard the magpie say:

but it goes right into what the magpie said, which has several variations. This one is the first:

that “everyone talks of love
ever since yr tale began
why can’t you face the fact
it’s never going to be perfect
little miracle little miracle
tell Annie to come over
I’m like…’the snow is falling
the beautiful is not forgotten.'”

I love how the real and the magical come together here: “Tell Annie to come over” and the colloquial “I’m like” come right from everyday life with all its imperfections, but there’s the falling snow, too. The song proceeds with its reflection and living of beauty and failure.


It is hard to explain what kind of experience this song is, but it is everything at once: “the horses of the moon” dragging “both night and day,” the pool of tears, the moment of telling someone to tell someone to come over to watch the snow, the heartbreak over the world. And it proceeds so slowly and subtly; the music lets you take it in syllable by syllable.

The next one, quite different in pace and mood, is “Ring My Bell,” from New Day With New Possibilities, the latest album by Sonny & the Sunsets (led by Sonny Smith, whose music I have loved for over two decades now, and many of whose stories I published in my erstwhile literary journal Señor). It’s a lighthearted song, but it has something to do with the contradiction of wanting to shut the world out and also hoping someone will just show up and ring the doorbell. That surprise and excitement of hearing the bell, that secret openness to new friendships and relationships. I listen to it and am right in it, hearing the doorbell ring. The video is delightful.

And now finally, a band I haven’t mentioned before except in passing, Galaxisok, whom I will get to hear at the KOBUCI this Saturday and then later this month at the Kolorádó Fesztivál, along with Kolibri, Platon Karataev, and others. Out of their most recent album Történetek mások életéből (Stories from the Lives of Others), there are many songs to choose, but this one, “Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble” (title in French, song in Hungarian), stands out because of the story it tells: of a person who loves music and loves to talk about it, loves film, loves to read, cracks jokes, doesn’t yell when he’s nervous but instead steps out for a cigarette—and one evening, before going to bed, tells his friend that he feels sometimes as though everything were dark inside him. I know that person (not literally, but through the song), I have been with that person, I have been that person too. The music has a bounce to it, with a mixture of electronic and acoustic sounds, but there’s a part that gets suddenly sparse. It’s a cheery-sounding song that brings a lump to my throat.

And that wraps up this installment of the Song Series. For other posts in this series, go here.

Update: Sonny & the Sunsets’ New Day With New Possibilities is Bandcamp’s Album of the Day!

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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