Kati Kovács is a true legend of the Hungarian music scene. She’s been on the Hungarian music scene for 52 years now, and is considered one of the most successful Hungarian artists of all time. She won numerous festivals all around the world, released 27 albums in Hungary and Germany. This year, she is going to be one of the four members of the jury in A Dal.
My colleague from ESC Hungary, Róbert Szalma, spoke to Kati about her career, and about her role in A Dal. You can read the English version of his interview with Kati here:
Róbert Szalma: I tried to prepare myself for this interview, but I don’t think I succeeded. Is it at all possible to prepare for Kati Kovács?
Kati Kovács: (laugh) well, I don’t think so! Too many things happened, and are happening even today. I usually say that an interview is like a confession. The question is how much can the “spiritual father” get out of me. The truth however is, that not even I could prepare myself for interviewing me.
R: You participated in many festivals, won many prestigious awards. I thought of mentioning a few of them, but let’s see how well do you remember of the starts?
K: Not long ago, the Hungarian television repeated an old programme, and this took me back in time and I remembered how scared all of us who performed there were. No one prepared us for it, and we didn’t know what it will bring us. We were amateurs in an unknown surrounding. One of the guests of the programme, who was also a jury member, said a very interesting thing – they didn’t want to get stars, and they didn’t want to push the participants to be stars. Not even I thought back then that I want to be a star, I only wanted to sing. The producers didn’t think about how to help, support, or develop the careers, or the fate of each and every of the singers. From this point of view, it is a lot easier for young people these days.
R: If they didn’t think of planning and supporting the future of the singers, then how did they know how to continue? There was no Internet, not even phones that much.
K: Well yes. This was completely let to fortuity. In my case, it happened like this: in the show “Ki mit tud?” (Who knows what?), the composer János Gyulai Gaál said that he wants to work with ‘that’ singer – me. He didn’t even know that I won. He wrote the song “Nem leszek a játékszered”, and asked me to sing it. On the first Tancdalfesztivál (music festival) back in 1966, I took part with this song, and I won it. That’s where Ferenc Kardos, a movie producer, saw me, and wanted me to star in his movie. It was fait that brought all of this together for me.
R: How did you get the attention?
K: I don’t think I did anything. When I sang “Nem leszek a játékszered”, I only said that was the only way I can sing it. The sound engineer said it’s not a problem, because it is good that way, and different than the rest. And that’s what matters. If a song, a performer, is different to the others, it will stand out and call for attention, and it will be noticed. This is a message, and possibly an example to all those singers who want to be present on the scene for a long time.
R: How did people get to know you outside of Hungary?
K: The first invite was in Austria, and I did a lot for that. I think that they were following the programme of the Hungarian Television. One of the most interesting things of this performance was that it was my first performance that was aired in colour! After this, they invited me together with Pál Szécsi, to sing a few songs together in a studio in Vienna. Thanks to the Austrian record label I got an invitation from Germany. This is how I took part in many international music festivals. At that time, in Germany, England, even Ireland, we Hungarians were considered as a rarity.
R: How did you manage to get to festivals in Bulgaria, and even Cuba?
K: They wanted to expand their cultural connections, and the music is always a good thing. Hearing one good song will always make a man happy. Am I right? My performances in Cuba and Bulgaria were one month after another. So, one success brought the other one.
R: Was there a festival that was very memorable for you?
K: I remember all of them but I think that the Yamaha music festival was a bit different to the others. In this wonderful country, they were preparing a recording with me, in Japanese. I think that this represented my own values and recognition. They wrote down how to pronounce the words, I learnt it and sang it. I have to say that the organizers did a truly amazing job. They took us in a mini bus everywhere in Brasov, and that’s where I ate crab stew for the first time. Before that, I didn’t even know that such a meal exists. And in Bulgaria, dancers were dancing on ember. They spoilt us everywhere, and in return, we only had to sing very well.
R: Seeing as you have taken part in so many festivals, here comes the question – did you watch Eurovision?
K: Of course, Eurovision! I took part in a Castlebar Song Contest in Ireland in 1974, where Noel Kelehan was the conductor, who was there in Eurovision 1971. I won the contest with the song “Nálad lenni újra jó lenne”, it was amazing. I knew about Eurovision, and always felt bad that they haven’t sent me to take part. But of course, it wasn’t pssible back then, because we weren’t members of the EBU.
R: When they invited you to be a jury in A Dal, how much did you think about it?
K: I wasn’t thinking about it! I immediately said No, no! After a few days, or even weeks when they contacted me again, and I said once again that I wouldn’t like to be a jury member, it’s not my world, and I can’t be a critic. I would have taken part in voting for all the other countries in May. They ended up convincing me that it’s my place to be in this show. I take this task very seriously, and unfortunately I don’t take all the things going with it that easily, but I hope that the audience won’t be unhappy with me there, and that I will finish my job well.
R: When you were listening to all the songs, did they let you select any songs in the top 30 that you really liked and requested it to be in the show?
K: There were songs that we listened to three times because I wanted it. I have to say that the top 30 list came together with the opinions of a lot of us. It’s true however that there was a song which really got to me, and it’s in the top 30. Everyone took this job very seriously, and we will have to face both the contestants and the audience. This is why the audience has the task to select who will represent us in Copenhagen. People who are very confident of themselves are not always aware of their own mistakes, and this is why there has to be a jury as well, but at the same time this is a team work with the audience. I believe that a new star, and a new hit will be born.
R: If you were a contestant this year in A Dal, what would you do in order to win?
K: I believe that many people are looking for an answer to this question. My goal was always to get recognized, and that the audience wants to listen to my song over and over again. But this is not easy to achieve. The artist has to be loveable, stage production good, and the song to have a story. The lyricists and the composers of my songs always knew me personally as well. They knew what my life was about, and this is why my songs are so full of feelings, and I always said that I came from somewhere where I want to go again, but the fate has drawn a new way for me. Everyone loves the old songs, like “Régi ház körül”, because everyone wants to go back where they started. However, my song “Úgy szeretném meghálálni” is about the family. The composers knew that I’m an optimist, and this is why they wrote my song “Rock and roller”, because I love to travel, drive a car, and go from one country to another. It’s not my world to play in the theatres, and to go back to the same place each and every day. The only goal is to meet the audience, to entertain them, and give something to them.
R: What advice would you give to the one who shall win A Dal?
K: The contestants have to know that they will have to face the jury and the audience. I don’t know if they will need an advice, but one is sure – they have to be themselves, and they must not forget this, and even on the international stage they will have to stand and sing the same way they would do that here at home.