Andrea Gerak got invited to the wedding of a Hungarian Big Brother star, along with well known performers, such as Linda Király singer or Edvin Marton violonist; for this occasion Lajos Telek made an interview with her for Gemerland (a magazine in Slovakia)
– You are known as a singer living abroad but who is trying to keep the traditions and heritage of a nation alive. Who have helped you to get folk music know?
– As a little child, it was very natural for us with my girlfriends to sing folk songs while running around in the kindergarten, we were not aware of what kind of songs they were, simply liked them. Later on, in the music school, we would learn solmization and other basics of music theory through folk songs. When I was ten, a class mate of mine invited me to check out folk dance – and I got stuck there. From that on, my life was determined mainly by the years spent at Borsod Folk Dance Ensemble of Kazincbarcika and other groups. I was dancing at the Avas in Miskolc, at Bartók and for a shorter time, at Csepel, in Budapest. Because the folk dancer-folk musician society is a little bit like a big family, everybody knows everybody, the choreographers, instructors, fellow dancers, musicians, singers, dancers of other groups, music records all contributed to my learning of the dances, music, costumes and customs of a village or region.
– I was listening to your recording where the clear singing pairs with crystal clear melodies, one can’t spot the Hungarian who lives abroad.
– For me, this is totally natural that if I was born Hungarian, I will remain that in my entire life, no matter where in the world I would end up. Keeping the folklore traditions indeed helps in this – or better to say, we don’t have to keep folk songs, folk music as some treasures for the archives, but it is alive in me, alive in us who know them. And today, in the age of the cheap flight tickets and phones, and when one can watch, listen and read Hungarian practically without limits, it is not difficult to keep in touch with those in the home country and the happenings. When one wants to stay Hungarian, distance can’t be an excuse for not to.
– It’s a pity that we didn’t meet in Debrecen, I read excellent reviews on you in different music media, but I hope we’ll do.
– From this year on, I am going home more often, more or less regularly, in about every three months, so I also hope we will have a chance to meet in person.
– When can we expect a new album, and didn’t you think about having such performers on your album as Ghymes, Katalin Szvorák, Márta Sebestyén, Muzsikás, Zsarátnok, etc?
– I am considering not only one album; one of them is a nice CD version of the digital album Árva Az A Madár (Lonely Is The Bird), the other one is an acapella solo album, with a few other folk songs on it, not only Hungarian ones (note: This Way, Sweetheart! is already released in the meantime). It would be a real honor for me to work with such great names, and there are more on my wish list. The album I have made with Barozda, a Transylvanian band living here in Sweden as well is sold out, we don’t have a definite plan to re-publish it. Also, it would be too early to speak about another album idea I have.
– I have read that you managed to get well from a cancer and are on stage again, therefore my question: would you perform for children with cancer?
– This is true, it was not a long time ago. I get involved in benefits relatively often, so I would sing for children with cancer with pleasure, too. And if there is a need for it, I would talk with them and the parents about what helped me to conquer this disease.
– What would you like to achieve in music, in your private life and in life, in general?
– This three areas are pretty much interwoven for me, but I can try to separate them. In music: when I was a little girl, my mother always used to say: “Son, if you have a little mind, you will choose a profession by which you can travel the whole world.” I still like this today as a private goal, and there are a lot of places where I would love to go and perform. Now not only so that I can see all those beautiful scenes, but also so that after Márta Sebestyén and a few other excellent Hungarian singers, the world will know a little bit more about the treasures of our nation which is basically just a handful of people. Beyond singing Hungarian and other folk songs in a traditional way, it is also exciting for me to see how can I play around with them a little bit, dress them up in new ways, with the help of my musician friends. In life, I also play on an international field: I would like to share my experiences with as many people as possible, info which they might need to live healthier and happier, physically and mentally as well. Obviously, to do that, I have to be myself in such a shape that I can give tips to others honestly and with certainty. And as a mother, I would love to see that my son will choose a profession where he will be really happy.
– Every singer is happy when their performances are rewarded by thundering applause…
– That’s right… As for many other artists, the greatest experience for me is to stand in front of the audience and I can be completely myself through the songs. And it doesn’t make any difference how big are the figures: I am trying to give my best to the smallest audience just as well as on a big stage. Beside applause, when they thank me for the nice moments, is also warming for my heart. I am getting feedback in many forms: guestbook entries, a few words on a website, emails, a friendly hug, a smile, a grateful glance… For me, the real happiness in singing is when I can give them something that will move them emotionally, or when it inspires other artists. Singing, humming just for myself, simply when I feel like it, gives me nice moments, too. Not to mention the joy when I have a chance to sing with others!
-How is it to be a Hungarian abroad?
– *It’s a mixed feeling. I can see the similarities and the differences, and often it makes me sad – then I am glad that I don’t need to be part of the rat race or in petty fights. Other times I am glad to see that Hungarians do certain things much better than others – those times I am trying to benefit from what I have learned at home and share it with my environment. Years ago, in one or two developed, envied Western Europe countries, it happened that people made me feel: I should go back home, but I haven’t experienced this for a while. Here in Sweden people are quite okay with this subject, as a Hungarian, I am one of the many immigrants living together. My husband is always saying proudly where is his wife from. I think each Hungarian who is in any contact with non-Hungarians, inside or outside of the borders, is personally responsible for what foreigners think of us as a country or nation.
– One of the Hungarian “Martians” who have immigrated to the United States, wrote in his autobiography: “I have lived many decades here, but the home land is still the home land, I never looked at myself as an American. Don’t you miss the smell of Hungarian euphoria?
– I can completely understand him. I will never consider myself Swedish, or American for that matter, should I end up there later. It is one thing where one lives, what are the practical rules, laws and such one is bound to, but another thing is that I take my cultural heritage with myself everywhere. This is a part of my identity. Even the biggest tree can’t stay alive without its roots… There is a lot of things I miss from home: my family, countless of friends, with whom I can keep contact much easier now, thanks to the internet, the buzzing cultural life. “Smell of euforia” includes things like Hungarians can get enthusiastic much easier for things they find good – let it be a business model, a life improvement activity or a product – than Scandinavian people. There are a lot of things I can’t find here which are very easy to get in Hungary. And of course, I miss some of my favorite food: mákosguba, gesztenyepüré, sztrapacska…
– What would you say to Hungarians in Upper Hungary (=parts of Slovakia with Hungarian inhabitants), when can we see you performing here and what would be your message to our readers?
– I will go to Upper Hungary with great pleasure: a beautiful area, I would love to see more of it than what I have seen so far, and I have dancer friends there. A few concerts are in the making, I can’t give details yet, but I will gladly go where they want me for some events: I will be in Borsod for a while, and it is not a big deal to jump over to the other side of the border from there.
To my friends I haven’t seen for long, I say it will be very nice to meet again, I was thinking of them a lot, through the years. And I am curious to meet new friends.
And for your readers I would like to say to do their best, individually and in communities as well, so that when they walk in the world and people find out where are they from, they would go: “Aaah, Gömör? That must be a good place, I would like to go there!”
*Andrea’s note: this interview was taken a while ago, today I would answer this question a bit differently.