Alba Hyseni arrived in Hungary as a war refugee from Yugoslavia, and now, she loves to live here so much that she wouldn't move to anywhere else. In Hungary, she has become a singer, lots of people love her deep, mysterious voice. Currently, she is working on her second album called “Amor Faiti”. According to the singer, Budapest is mysterious, and the Hungarian people are patient and peaceful.
You arrived in Hungary in 1997 as a Yugoslavian refugee. Did you deliberately chose Hungary?
As a 16-year old girl first, I wanted to go to an English-speaking country, but I was rejected by the British Embassy, because they had enough of the Yugoslav immigrants. All Western countries have imposed an embargo against Serbia, but the neighboring countries and Hungary was one of them, did not have visa requirements. To me, then, this country seemed to be the freest place in the region, and today, I still think the same. We had a lot of Vojvodina Hungarian friends in Belgrade, I knew that the language will be of a major difficulty, but in a cultural sense Albanians have lots of respect towards Hungarians. History also unite us, as one of Albania's queens was Hungarian.
Soon after I arrived here, my parents and my three brothers emigrated to the United States, my sister is the only one who remained in Europe. Everyone asking me, especially since I've started my music career, why don't you go to the United States, but for me it is unimaginable to leave this country for good, and start everything from scratch again. It could happen that I leave for a couple of years, for work or to play music, but to me this country is my second home, I live in Hungary for sixteen years.
How did you live in Belgrade during the war?
My parents worked as Albanian diplomats for twenty years; we lived in the center of Belgrade in the most difficult times. In 1997, the situation became so bad that it wasn't safe for Albanians anymore to stay in the country. We lived in the conflict stricken country for eight years and it was not pleasant to live there as Albanians. We were in danger many times, my father was often beaten up, we had to bring him home several times. He started a new life in America at the age of nearly fifty, he misses his home, but ultimately, he has settled down. If they don't leave Yugoslavia, they are definitely not alive today.
In Hungary, did you live in a refugee camp?
Yes, I spent nine months in the Bicske refugee camp, but I received the permanent resident status in record time, after two and a half months. I often hear that nothing works in this country, but this is not entirely true. I would have accepted if the processing of my case would have taken longer, because if a country accepts you it doesn't matter what you are or where you are. Even then, I often said, I did not want to be relied on government support, I wanted to go to school and work. I worked even in the refugee camp as an interpreter, since I speak seven languages, I learned Hungarian in nine months. I knew I wanted to live here, and I had to speak the language. Now, that 16 years have passed, I've applied for the Hungarian citizenship because I feel after those years it's time to get it.
There are lots of talks lately about the crowded refugee camps and the difficult situation of the refugees.
Even then the refugee camp was crowded, about five or six hundred refugees lived in the camp. The situation was no better than it is now. In the Hungarian media there are frequent reports about the unpopular measures taken by the government regarding refugees, but there are good reasons behind those measures. A lot of people come here who are illiterate and do not want to learn the language, because it is hard. They want to go to the west because they think they can live better there, the language is easier and they expect higher living standards – it is true that here refugees receive nothing. But apart from that, I think they should be grateful that they managed to escape from Afghanistan, Syria and this country welcomes them. Life should be loved and one should want to live?
What was the hardest part in learning the Hungarian language?
It wasn't that hard. The Albanian is just as special as the Hungarian, despite the fact that it belongs to the Indo-European language family; in the region, there is no language that resembles to Albanian. The grammar of the Hungarian language is very similar to that of the Albanian so we can learn perfectly each other's languages, precisely because of the difficulties of leaning them. The pronunciation is similar, “ú”, “ű” and the double letters exist in Albanian as well. Very interesting to study the two languages side by side.
You have a son, do you speak with him Albanian?
Not always. I saw that in the nursery, and in kindergarten he will need to speak Hungarian, and I thought of myself. I grew up in an Albanian family, but I went to school in Belgrade, I preferred responding to my mother's questions in Serbian because it was easier. His first language will be Hungarian. My parents too told me, no matter what language he speaks Albanian or Hungarian.
Your musical career began in Hungary. Did you sing in Belgrade as well?
As a child, I sang in the school choir, in elementary and secondary school, but that was it. I was always interested in alternative rock, punk and the underground scene, and as a kid I already fantasized about being a singer but the family expectation was that each of us had to go to university and learn languages.
After arriving in Hungary first, I worked with the president of the Helsinki Committee Ferenc Köszeg, we did humanitarian work together helping war refugees; then, this work ended, since most of the ex-Yugoslav refugees left the country; after, I started working for a multinational corporation. In 1998, I posted an ad in Rockinform looking for musicians to start a hobby. But I worked too, I was teaching, and raising my child, so there wasn't that much time left to play music. In 2008 we formed a band called “The Absolute”, and played all major places in Budapest. The group was disbanded in January 2010, and then, my producer Tamás Csigó told me to start thinking about a solo album. Then, we recorded the “Inner Mission” album which is a soul music album.
Can you make a living from music?
I can't make a living only from music, I work for a multinational company, I live in a rented apartment, and I'm raising my son alone. I'm not a mainstream person, I'm not a pop singer, I don't do the American Idol kind of things, I'm Alba Hyseni, an underground fanatic and a proud representative of the genre. I have no manager, I organize everything by myself, but I do it with all my heart, that's the whole point; expressing myself in an ongoing manner.
Why don't you have a manager?
I wanted one, but they all asked me to give up my own style, get out of the progressive world music scene, and do pure pop. But I can't do that. My music ranging from jazz to Balkan motifs to trip-hop and Transylvanian folk music, and I stick to those motifs. My long-term plan is to make a world music album, with fourteen songs performed in fourteen different languages to show my style.
Do you listen Hungarian folk music?
When I came to Hungary I almost immediately enrolled in the library and I started listening Hungarian folk music. I listened the songs of Marta Sebestyen and Lajkó Felix, but I also love the old songs. When I first walked on Váci street and I heard gypsy music filtered out of the restaurants, they really touched me. I'm interested in everything that has roots here, because this place means more to me, than native-born Hungarians.
A few years ago, Balkan music was in fashion in Hungary.
People love it to this very day, I see that, but there are too many repetitions of it. But I hear the same thing in the radio, 90 percent of Hungarian songs are very similar, and they don't have meaningful messages.
Do you understand the lyrics of Hungarian songs?
Of course, unfortunately, too many of them filled with sadness, depression, grief, heartbreaking and "I'm looking for my way" kind of feelings. I love Hungarian poetry especially Radnóti because he was the first poet that I read, moreover, his style is very close to the style of the Balkan poets. And Sándor Weöres because he is a mystery to me.
You write your songs in English.
I do not want to write songs in Hungarian. I speak English very well, with a good accent, that's why I can sing them so well. In English you can use your voice differently than in Hungarian. Singing in English is liberating while Hungarian would limit me, I have a hard time dealing with limits.
Did Hungarian bands influence you?
My first experience regarding Hungarian music was VHK in 1999; their energy captivated me, and I loved the Anima Sound System as well. But I can't name any single Hungarian band, which left an impact on me. Currently, I think there are very few bands that you can look up to and say they are doing great stuff. I listen to “Zsagar”, “Neó”, and “Yonderboi”, but something is not right, stylistically speaking the Hungarian underground scene is in a bad shape.
I respect the “Beat Dis” band for their persistence and not because they are working with me; “Korai Öröm” and “Másfél” are also my favorites. I like Heaven Street Seven, because you still feel that they are struggling to write meaningful lyrics. You had once a singer, Katalin Karády, she impressed me a great deal, I think my voice closely resembles hers. She could sing certain songs very well. Zsuzsa Cserháti has fantastic range of voice, but I like Deák Bill's voice as well.
How do you write your songs?
Tamás Csigó writes the music, and structures the songs, after that I write the lyrics and the vocal melodies. Then, we decide together on the instrumentation and the musicians. You have to stage the whole thing, it's a long process. It would be difficult to accomplish anything without Tamás, because he composes for my voice, he is my master. I try to be four times better on stage so that he can trust me.
In what extent will the second album be different from the first one?
“Amor Faiti” will be an authentic record, it will have some psychedelic effects, some Tom Waits, but I'm trying to bring back Bowie's old style, and Joy Division. In the meantime, of course, the whole album reflects my style, the whole range of my singing voice. I can not believe how much I love this album, despite the fact that it hasn't been finished yet.
Who will be the guest star on your new album?
I would like Félix Lajkó to participate, it seems he agrees, and a jazz singer from Boston, Gabrielle Agachiko. In addition, I would like a gospel choir, but there will be an even bigger surprise, whose name I can't say. And a modern underground singer from New York city who I like a lot.
Your first album received only positive reviews. Is there anything that you would do differently in retrospect?
Nothing! “Inner Mission” is a perfect first album, the most important thing is that I know this; and also how, I feel about it. It's true, it got only good reviews from both sides of the political spectrum, which is a big thing at home. Radio “Lánchíd” broadcasted programs with me several times, just like “Tilos” and “Kossuth” radio; but I was invited by the “Gazdasági”, “Civil”, “MR2 Petőfi” and many other stations as well.
When one gets invited, one does not think of what political side the radio station represents; who cares? I hear some of my colleagues saying as long as this government is in power they don't give interviews. I think this makes no sense. I am also aware of the political debates, but many times I feel the debate is overblown. I remain neutral because this country accepted me as a whole, this means that everyone has accepted me. It would not be ethical if I would side with any of the political platforms – I do not see much difference between them anyway.
What do you like the most about Hungary?
Budapest is my great love affair, I would like to carry it around with me wherever I go. I love the small coffee shops and their atmosphere. I love the country because it is mysterious. In addition, I see that there is no such problem that Hungarians can't solve. There is a unique a spiritual twist in this country. Despite the fact that people do violate each other morally and every other respect, this is not an aggressive nation, it is not a Balkan country. Hungarians are more cautious, more modest, and avoiding facing problems, which of course not necessarily always good. Hungarians have enormous patience and tolerance, and that is what the politicians are taking advantage of. Here, people do not go out to the street all the time, there are only small troubles, that is because Hungary is not a barbarian nation.
(index.hu - Photos: Bődey János - translated by hungarianambiance.com)