Bea’s article about her equal chances tour, appeared in Marie Claire, March 2008
I was talking with Ági Gál, my manager, about what the equal opportunities nomination was good for. Having coffee and ranting about EU paragraphs against discrimination on boring mornings, having lunch for breast cancer screening or being photographed by the media to protect poor children – this all does good to make others think about the issues but I still had the feeling something was missing. I wanted to do something. I thought, wrote, produced articles and talked to my creative friends about it, and came to the conclusion that equal opportunities is about self-consciousness and love. Opportunities are never equal, so the answers also have to be individual and tailored to the person. For this you have to learn to dream in order to create your own chances, and recognise your own strengths. In the disadvantages we can also see the challenges of a higher order – God, fate and alike.
This takes a lot of inner work but the techniques can be learnt. I only did so as an adult, and since then I’ve lived a hundred times more because I’ve cast off that inhibition of “who will say what”. I’d like to share these techniques with others simply because I like to see people live.
This was one of the main drives behind the Dream Tour. The other was my mania for kids. I’m sure the ten years I spent as a dance and singing teacher, and dance house leader for smaller and bigger disabled and healthy children was part of it as was a woman in her thirties getting broody.
Children’s homes, institutions for the disabled, youth custody centres and Gypsy communities were put on the list compiled with Ági and the Ministry of Social and Labour Affairs.
I already knew at the planning stage that this was more than just a concert series. The name for the tour came from my album Dream, Dream, My Invented World (Álom-álom, kitalálom), a tale of personal development on which “dreaming and inventing myself” already excited me. Once again I thought up creative exercises for making a vision of the future along the lines of the question “What will you be when you grow up?” and I used music to build a bridge.
Bridge building was more important than I thought. I’ve never liked the idea of growing mock angel’s wings or playing the role of a helpful martyr – I often feel it’s hypocritical. I’m the sensual type, experiencing everything, so I like to feel good, then if that radiates on, that’s fine. Here, too, I wanted to feel good, be with them, laugh together, to understand, and lovingly provoke them. But often this isn’t easy… it’s not easy to think with the mind of a blind or disabled child, or understand the anger in the words of a rap of a young guy in youth custody… So here the bridge that music builds was crucial. And to sharpen our attention. I learnt an awful lot on the tour.
The first stop was the Institute for the Blind, where I sang to blind adults and people with impaired vision, alone. At first I sang with my eyes open. Then, quite naturally, I closed my eyes and let my voice sound, listening to ripples of laughter, sighs and sniffing, which together with my singing made up the audial space. Somehow this connection, the flow of souls, was so natural. I had just come from a kaval lesson so I played my own little immature Bulgarian song Gankino horo but it was so good to play it there for them even if it was imperfect or timid. All I wished to do was for the vibrations to go across, my efforts to reach them. There was a woman, perhaps partially sighted, but she had such a light in her open always wet eyes that I always get the shivers if I think of her frightened doe fragility.
Next was the children’s home in Fót. The gig started. The buzzing died down and silence fell, in which the attention and aversion were palpable. Bagpipes, cimbalom and derbuka – this sound was unusual to their ears. After the song we blew up a big balloon of silence. Everyone blew, big and small. In this silence came the ear-pricking test. Can you prick up your ears? Yeeaaah! I don’t believe you can do so easily! The test is you close your eyes and, if you prick up your ears well, you can hear which animal is coming this way even with your eyes shut. I played with animal noises. “Cow! Fish! Pussy!” they screamed. In the following song about a horse the rhythmic clopping and whoaing started immediately and onto these came the instrumental solos.
Then we whooped a lot: “Let us in, let us in! Move over, tiny Tim! Eating porridge and gruel, that’s how I grew so tall!” The hall was filled with warmth.
Then I plonked myself down among them, close to them, and I told a story or two about what I wanted to be when I was a child. A singer, a dancer. Of course, there were obstacles but I managed. “And you, what would you like to be?”
Hands went up everywhere. A nurse, a dentist, a car mechanic, a dancer. A delightful, tiny little chap with sticking out ears cries out, “XLR8.” “And what are you doing to become XLR8?” “I run at an increeeeedible speed!” “Well, ask one of the musicians to make you an XLR8.” A little uncertainty. “Come on, Mum will help.” I said mum instinctively about the young woman sitting next to him. The strange voice of another child split the momentary silence with an incredulous tone – “Mum?”. “Miki should play!” urged another. A sprightly passage leaped from the cimbalom and a fantastic XLR8 was born in an instant, with percussionist Gabi joining in. The kids clapped loudly and whistled, really loving it. Then the good-looking Roma boy with a muscular build who said he wanted to be a dancer came and stood next to me. “Which musician do you need?” “I’d rather jump something instead.” The drum rolled…. and jump… a backward somersault from the spot! Huge applause, but already someone from behind was screaming at the top of his voice, “Engineer!” He asked double bassist Józsi to play and the industrial sound impro was away – the doodah was launched, up and running, in motion. The kids were becoming more and more involved. “And you, girls?” “Dentist! Would Balázs play?” My saxophonist got stuck into a tooth extraction improvisation straight away, and the kids split their sides laughing. So from then on the children came with us to the other side of the world. They listened with incredible refinement to music that a short time beforehand was strange; they were quiet but when we quietened down, they greeted and encouraged the musician improvising at that moment with wild thanks. Eyes were burning. Euphoria, so much energy was released that in end they were screaming at the top of their voices “Wooooooow!”, and did not want to let us go. I overheard a few words from my musicians. “And how they paid attention. They didn’t come with us mindlessly, but following the music.” We got onto the bus. The boys called their partners and told them all about the XLR8.
Next day we went to Esztergom to a youth custody centre for girls. Balázs, the saxophonist, sat next to me. “Yesterday was great. It made me think what I wanted to be when I was small – a circus artist, a showman, taking this from here, that from there and performing with it… music wasn’t so sure, but just a showman.” “Well, mate, you’ve done it!”
Bars, you can’t get in or out. The teenage girls found us a bit strange at first, but the distance started to shorten.
So, the dreams. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Deathly silence. They made adolescent fun of each other, giggling and pointing at one another but there was no reply. Then I told them about myself – how this singing thing wasn’t easy but I couldn’t be put off doing it. In response I got a few ideas: a stylist, free woman, happy person, adult, hairdresser, Roma Ltd. One of the disabled kids wanted to be Father Christmas and Miki started playing Jingle Bells on the cimbalom. They really liked it. “So shall we make a free woman or a happy person through music? What are they like?” “Well, they live their life, they’ve got friends and a family. And they’re in love.” “And who shall play?” “Gábor!”
My drummer was already crashing the cymbals like crazy (more like an anarchist than anything else) and the others joined in. Shrieks of laughter rang around the room. Now they asked for the musicians to do Roma Ltd. Józsi, the double bassist, launched into an estam (accented half-beat rhythm) Gypsy song and I joined in with oral bass, and they, too, came with us. In the end there was total euphoria here as well. More! More! Afterwards the girls came up to me and held my hand hugging me: “We didn’t know you did beatboxing so well…” (How strange that these girls who are much more Roma than I don’t know the Gypsy expression for oral bass but do know the American one.) “I like the ornaments in the songs the best – only Gypsies can do it that well. By the way, I’m a Gypsy. And, Miki, you’re a Hungarian speaking Roma, aren’t you? I’m the only one here!” “Can I look at the cimbalom? Józsi can dance, can’t he? When will you come again? Will you come on 6 December to see our break show?”
Another two concerts for blind kids at the institute. We must dream, we must dream, but how does a blind child dream? And if I say to them “just look” or sing that “I discover someone with beautiful blue eyes”, what does that mean to them? In front of me sat eighty beautiful kids blind and in wheelchairs. At the end I held their hands and a little girl said “Gosh, I didn’t think you were real. I thought you were a tape.” A little friend chipped in, “I knew you were real cos they couldn’t find a new grown-up in the tape recorder.” Here I kept quiet. I showed them the instruments.
Boys’ Youth Custody Centre, Kalocsa. 34 male adolescents. What will you be when you grow up? Child-making craftsman, painter, burglar, Mafioso, rapper. “Rapper?” Come up here and let’s hear it!” “Can it be crude?” “Yes.” It was. Some of the supervisors winced, were afraid or outraged, but I didn’t see this. I listened to the guy’s abusive ornamentations, adolescently egged on by the others. There was terrible anger towards the world in his song but at least it was rhythmical. “That was great. Next time write a rap about a meadow full of flowers – that should be a big challenge for you.” He laughed back at me. The same guy at the end of the concert came up on stage and improvised with a musical accompaniment, this time in lighter vein about cemeteries and bloody flesh. He was nervous about the microphone, the situation, and said so himself. But then it fell into place. At the end I gave him a kiss – whistles – “can we get one, too?” In one of the Gypsy style numbers a boy got up and danced, with fine, well executed movements. I joined him, then someone else came and we three danced, really enjoying ourselves. They were good at oral bass here, too. I must have been a strange figure to them, a young pretty girl in trainers, dancing excitingly and singing, then out of the blue asking “what do you want to be and what music do you listen to”. In the end they all got up and danced, whistled and wanted a kiss. They gave me orchids and candles they had made themselves as presents. Well, no matter how tough these guys are, they all need one thing – a big tender hug.
Sóshartyán and Rudabánya were put off to the end of the year. By now I was very tired, but the black button eyes of the Roma children made me joyful. They sat there in their puffy overalls like colourful little animals, looking at me with their big eyes. With them we could fly. They shouted and sang along with me right through the Dream, Dream tale. Before the concert we spoke to the mayoress about the programme for the settlement. The shanties were to be demolished and they were to be given houses. But wouldn’t it be possible, I suggested, to repair the shanties somehow. And so somehow they could remain Gypsies. At the end of the concert a round-faced, plump girl, whose face seemed more mature than her years, as if the wisdom of an old Gypsy woman were in it, came up to me. “Who were you telling the story about at the concert?” “About myself.” “I thought so straight away,” she said slapping my hand. “Why?” “I felt so. I often tell stories, too.”
I will carry on telling stories in a new place as there will be a second Dream Tour. The girls in Esztergom wrote me letters saying on paper what they wanted to be. And this is the most important thing of all – to imagine something in your head that is then created on another level, be it a one-minute musical improvisation or three sentences on paper, but this is how everything begins.