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The future looks bright for Budapest-based diva Antonia Vai

Photo : Antonia Vai Facebook
The future looks bright for Budapest-based diva Antonia Vai

From little-known Budapest bands to some of the most successful Hungarian musicians of all time, many diverse pop-music talents appear onstage at the Palace of Arts for this month’s annual “Hey, June!” concert series. Some of the biggest names this year include Hungary’s experimental electronica experts of Žagar and the offbeat hip-hop ensemble Irie Maffia – but one of the most eagerly anticipated shows is the performance of Swedish-Hungarian soul singer Antonia Vai, joined by an esteemed crew of special guests. We caught up with Antonia to ask for a preview of her June 16th concert.

The special features of the annual “Hey, June!” festival at Budapest’s Palace of Arts are the lineup’s diversity and the venue itself: participating bands are encouraged to present avant-garde audio artistry complemented by innovative visual elements, which resound especially well in Hungary’s state-of-the-art concert hall. For example, for last week’s kickoff concert the lyrical songs of Odett were performed with classical instrumentation and a children’s choir, while the singer enlisted Magyar film director Pater Sparrow to create extraordinary visual effects. Furthermore, the 12 members of Irie Maffia join the singers of Akkezdet Phiai and Punnany Massif to create a swarming supergroup.  

However, the festival will not only feature Hungary’s household-name acts – the concert series introduces up-and-coming talents who are regarded as underground (for now), like Budapest-based Swedish-Hungarian soul diva Antonia Vai, who is preparing some special treats for her concert, both in the instrumentation and the guest performers – in an exclusive interview with We Love Budapest, Antonia shares some insight about about the show and her inspirations.

We Love Budapest: How will your performance in the Palace of Arts be different from a simple club gig?

Antonia Vai: It will be different in almost every sense; this concert will be a new level for us. There are a lot of things I have been dreaming about, but was unable to realize – until now. There will be string musicians, a harpist, and my dearest singer friends from Sweden will fly here to sing with me, as well! And I did not even mention the other guests: the wonderful Sena Dagadu, Saiid, M3nsa, and Levi from the Bohemian Betyars. I am going to play songs that were never even performed live, since they only work in a specific environment. I would not play my more intimate, stripped-down songs at a loud, intoxicated club concert, but at the Palace of Arts it is easier to focus, because the audience will hear me even if I only whisper.

WLB: What was the greatest challenge when compiling the concert program?

Antonia Vai: Each of my songs was inspired by events in my life. I like to think of concerts as films. The songs are scenes, and a concert is a film. It was also difficult to draw up the set list because I have so many songs, with an almost infinite number of possibilities. It took a lot of time, but the film eventually came together in my head. All parts are in place.  

WLB: What do you think are the main differences between the Scandinavian and Hungarian music scenes, how different is our attitude to music?

Antonia Vai: I feel that local musicians tend to experiment more. Swedish musicians are very self-conscious and timid, which affects their music as well. I always felt that they are afraid to loosen up, and that establishing an image of themselves is more important to them than expressing or communicating something through their music. Don’t get me wrong – Sweden is full of talented musicians, but often I cannot find them credible. Ever since I live here, I met a lot of musicians who do not fit into any particular category, and who play music because it is their passion.

Photo: MüPa Facebook
WLB: Several of your songs are very personal. Which one is the hardest to play live?

Antonia Vai: “Helium Heart” is very close to me. I wrote it in Budapest, and it is a very naked song, raw and sincere – not only in the lyrics, but in its whole structure. In the Palace of Arts, a harpist will accompany the song, just like I always imagined it. I am really looking forward to it.

WLB: There will be a lot of guest musicians at your concert, but if you could invite one more person – anyone – who would that be?

Antonia Vai: I would resurrect Frida Kahlo, hang a giant folding screen on the stage, and have her paint while we perform.

Highlights of “Hey, June!” 2015:

Antonia Vai (June 16)

The songs of Antonia Vai revolve around folk-pop, jazz, world music, and poetry. Well-known songs will be performed in a new setting, and Antonia will play several new tracks; moreover, her new song with Saiid, “Remember How”, will debut at this concert, as well.

Žagar – Motion Picture Laboratory (June 21)

Žagar will step on the stage with tracks heard in feature films and television series. They rework most of the songs with the help of the Pro Musica Choir, while the soundtrack concert is accompanied by an evocative screening of classic and postmodern masterpieces of film history.   

Irie Maffia (June 25)

In addition to the current 12 members of Irie Maffia, 13 brass players will also take the stage. One of the country’s largest organs will also play an important role in the performance, as Mátyás Premecz – Hungary’s most popular non-classical organist – will play songs of Irie Maffia in the spirit of the venue. As guests, the formation of Akkezdet Phiai and the three frontmen of Punnany Massif will perform as well, playing a Punnany song and a fresh composition belonging to all musicians onstage.