Borka Balogh is living in Amsterdam, but her heart is full of Hungarian folk rhythms. Her songs are intimately adorable. Here comes her first ever EP. Premiere.
How complex. How tricky. Even within one song. Despite all that, she’s another young Hungarian female singer-songwriter who comes back from abroad to conquer her ‘native’ audience. Why should they move to somewhere else to write music like that?
These were my first thoughts when I listened Borka Balogh‘s first ever EP, ‘Traces Of You’. Her debut material is quite a promising one. Especially if you know that it’s her first fruit. Even if you feel that she might have worked a bit more on the set-up, her songs take your hand and bring you to a place where you can discover special feelings. The tracks seem to be easy, but it’s just the surface. Borka’s songs work on your feelings, deeply. And I guess it’s the most important if we talk about a singer-songwriter.
You don’t even know if it’s a concept-EP or not. But it doesn’t matter. You can feel so many sentiment and style from the Hungarian folk rhythms to indie/synth-pop. There’s a flow like on a river and you can enjoy the ‘hare and hounds’ between the vibes.
Single, ‘Trust Me’ is definitely the strongest point of the EP, no doubt. It’s all fair and square. You can check it out even on ‘Endless mode’ 😀
And meanwhile, we seriously need to reflect upon the reasons why we import our female singer-songwriters? Is this really a mystery? If you start this album and listen to the songs, it’s worth to keep reading this interview because we have properly discussed it with Borka (among other topics). We’ll also reveal what all this has to do with Tinder and the femme fatale of dutch R’n’B, Selah Sue.
When and why did you move to the Netherlands?
I moved to Amsterdam in March 2017, when I got a job offer as a music content editor. I’ve always had plans about moving and studying abroad, so this was really the last sign that I have to take a big step. I’ve been working in this position ever since, and I’m currently going through the university application process, I’m planning to start my studies this September.
When did you decide to start creating music and become a singer-songwriter? Before or after you moved to Amsterdam?
Actually, I’ve been making music ever since I was a kid. It probably started when I was 8-9 years old when I got my first music education in classical guitar and folk singing, however, I never dreamed of becoming a performer. A couple years ago my guitar teacher (Judit Regősné Jászai) deceased and I was traumatized to such extents that I didn’t even touch my instrument until 2016 when I finally started writing my own songs. So in a way, my world has turned upside down within the last 2 years.
We know this genre is not about all-time optimism but expressing hidden, intimate feelings. That’s why these kinda songs become more melancholic. I’m wondering, how ‘Traces Of You’ reflects your personality, your personal feelings?
To one hundred percent. Music is primarily not a sort of relaxation for me, it’s maybe even a little more than self-expression. Every song that I write tell incredibly intimate events in my life, and that’s probably because I process everything that happens to me or to people around me via songwriting. Anyone who happens to read my lyrics probably has the feeling of reading my diary: I’m focusing on more sensitive subjects than instant happiness and love (although there’s just enough of that too). For example, the thought of suicide and mental problems were topics of my lyrics many times and I’m not afraid to put it on paper and then record it because I feel like a lot of people can relate to these themes, still in popular music it is sort of like a taboo to touch such depths. Perhaps this is what makes singer-songwriters special in this world: the goal is not necessarily to sing catchy tunes, but the message between the lines.
If we are looking deep inside, can we talk about a concept material or you’re just collecting different vibes? What was the editing process of the EP?
I didn’t pick the songs too much, I wrote all the songs on the album over a period of three months, it was kind of an explosion: I began to write Disappearance Of Our Spotless Love on an October afternoon and by the time I noticed, three months later we finished Traces Of You (Outro) recordings. I didn’t leave any songs off the album and I’m glad that I didn’t because eventually, it became a complete story-like songbug. This reflects my personality as well, especially when there are several events at the same time that I usually need to process them. Over the last half a year, I have reached depths and I have gone through a rough development of my personality: this album is the outcome of all.
You can feel, notice a lot of different ambiences in your songs, which one is coming from your „Hungarian heritage” or connect you to the Netherlands?
I’ve always been impossible to be satisfied when it came to music genres, and this is pretty hearable in my songs: after listening to Traces Of You, it’s hard to define whether I’m an indie-pop performer or a new-wave folk songwriter. My greatest influences were Hungarian folk songs, British folk of the 60s, and the indie/chamber pop music which was popular at the end of the ’90s and is now living its renaissance. I already had these influences with me for a long time but only in the Netherlands did I learn how much freedom music can bring and that I don’t have to be limited to one genre. So I brought my musical direction from Budapest, but I gained the confidence and the creative freedom in Amsterdam.
How did you find your partner musicians who helped to record and perform your EP?
It’s a funny story and I still can’t believe it actually happened the way it did. At some point, I realized that in order to put together an album I urgently needed a band. Instead of going around the pop conservatories here, I registered on the most successful dating application of the 21st century – Tinder 😀 –, and in my bio, I said that I was looking for a drummer and bass player. This is how I found Dany (drums) and Yaresh (bass). Remy (guitar) and Linde (keys, violin) joined us later: the latter lady joined me through Yaresh because they are studying at the same conservatory and Remy started out as a session guitarist for one of our gigs, but at the very first rehearsal he really matched us, so we decided to continue with him on board. The cherry on top is that these guys are not only good musicians, but incredibly open to my music.
How can a young foreign performer prevail in the Netherlands? Are there any pros and cons that you are a Hungarian, not a Dutch? Or it doesn’t even matter now?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, here I have a thousand times more opportunities than at home in Hungary. In 2016, I won a contest organized by Petőfi Rádió, where my single Let It Be The Last Song was played for a couple months. I reached the peak with this and unfortunately it wasn’t necessarily the kind of peak I would have liked to reach, as I repeatedly received negative feedback about me not singing in Hungarian and that my songs aren’t „poppy and happy” enough. Because of the genres I represent, I prefer English and French as a musical language, and over the years I also realized that I can’t be truly myself in music that I didn’t compose or in music that I simply can’t relate to. Here in the Netherlands however, emerging indie and rock performers are now living their golden age. Of course, life isn’t easier here either, so you need to work just as hard in order to be going places. But there are plenty of programs and festivals that give opportunities to emerging bands and performers: the Rabo Open Winter Stage where we first performed with my band is a perfect example for this. The fact that I’m Hungarian is not an obstacle, in fact, it might even be a bonus point, as the Dutch music world is absolutely open to foreign performers, and I bring my own country’s roots into my music, which isn’t necessarily well-known in the Netherlands.
It’s interesting to see that so many Hungarian young female singer-songwriters start their career abroad, and they come back to touring and then they may shuttle back and forth – like I am Soyuz. It’s because this genre has much deeper roots in Western Europe than in Hungary? Have you thought about this? What’s your opinion?
Yes, besides I Am Soyuz, there’s also Alice Phoebe Lou, who is from South Africa and made a career in Berlin by busking. The singer-songwriter culture mainly comes from England and America, so the main performance language is English. In those Western countries which are very open to other cultures, there are plenty of genres and languages which cannot find stable grounds in countries that are less supportive of English as a spoken language. Some great examples such as AURORA, Ane Brun or Agnes Obel all come from Scandinavian countries, where singing in English is an accepted and common thing to do. I guess for me singing in English was never a question because I grew up bilingually: for me, this language sounds just as beautiful as reading Hungarian poems.
You have a minitour on the 15th and the 16th of February in Budapest. What’s next? What’s your touring schedule? What are your possibilities and prospects? Where can you perform in the forthcoming future?
The February tour started out with an invitation to the BalconyTV sessions in Austria, and since it’s just around the corner of Hungary, I immediately asked myself: why not stop for a couple shows in Budapest? Apart from the two concerts and the BalconyTV sessions mentioned above we have a (not yet public) project to record, which we’ll share on some music platforms in March. After the tour we will be playing in the Netherlands: for example, on March 15 we have a gig in Amsterdam at Volta, and in May we will be playing in Utrecht at TivoliVredenburg after Selah Sue’s acoustic concert. Other plans concern the BalconyTV Galway, as well as one or two Belgian and French opportunities. It’s also possible that in mid-April / May I will return to Hungary again, but it is still under organization, so I can’t say too much about that. What is certain, however, is that I will return to the streets of Amsterdam very soon, because I really miss busking and I wouldn’t be here doing what I love without starting there. The upcoming months I would like to reach as many countries as possible and as many people as possible as I received very positive feedback on my music from the organizers of Dotan’s 7Layers Festival, and in order to get to perform there, I need more stage experience.