If you were asked the question, ‘what do you think Ghana and Hungary has in common?’, you probably wouldn’t think to answer ‘music’ immediately. Well, the truth is that there is a connection between the two countries, manifesting itself in the person of SENA, one of my favorite female MCs out there. The Ghanaian-Hungarian MC is at home in a variety of different genres of music ranging from hip-hop, spoken word, reggae, to broken beat, and has worked with names like DJ Vadim (Talk to Me), Dzihan and Kamien, Gimmeshot Crew, Dizko Stu, Marcel, Colorblind Allstars (Ordinary Culture Bind), Papastomp, Ras Mac Bean. I first saw SENA perform while vacationing back in the old country at this venue called Kultiplex (used to be the old Blue Box movie theatre back in the days). I was taking a visiting friend out to check out the Budapest nightlife, and as we were sitting in the Kultiplex courtyard, we noticed the interesting looking characters coming in and out of the theatre room almost hidden inside the place. As we found out, it was the weekly open-mike session of the Gimmeshot crew, where rotating local MCs could jump on the mike and shine for 20-30 minutes. Truth be told, good hip-hop is not not what I associated the old country, so I was completely taken by SENA’s soulful, Lauryn Hill-esque rhyming style. I eventually tracked down her album, entitled First One, and eventually SENA herself.
L: You have roots in Ghana and in Hungary, right? I heard you grew up in Ghana…when did you move to Hungary?
S: Yes I have roots in both Ghana and Hungary, my father being Ghanaian and my mother being Hungarian. I was born and raised in Ghana and moved to Hungary in 2001 to study in university. I turned 18 the day after arriving in Hungary.
L: What is your first musical memory? Have you started singing as a child or planned to become a musician?
S: My first musical memory? Probably singing Hungarian folk songs with my mother and grandmother. I suppose there has always been music surrounding me, even as a child, in my fathers family my grandmother sang beautifully as did my mother’s mother, there was always traditional drumming and dancing, as well as the radio and my parents eclectic music collection. My dad’s blues and funk, my mom’s classical and world music, my brother with reggae, my sister with hip hop and dancehall.
Since the days of kindergarten, I was involved in something to do with the stage, be it poetry recital, dancing, acting or singing. I always enjoyed being on stage. But I don’t think I planned on becoming a musician, per say. I just enjoyed playing.
L: How did your roots shape your musical development? Could you tell me about the underground music scene in Ghana and in Hungary?
S: I would have to write a whole dissertation on how my roots shaped my musicality or what the underground scene looks like, but I will try in a few odd ended sentences.
I came into contact with Ghanaian underground somewhere around 1998/1999. I met a Ghanaian rap artist called Reggie Rockstone, and though at the time I did not partake in any serious music making, I was introduced to local rap and hip-hop and a few artists who were at the time making what is the Ghana music scene today. That is to say mostly hip hop beats, and rap in Ghanaian local languages. Needless to say at the time this was not at all common and had just started to cause some serious heat waves due to all the reasons we know hip-hop has always been a bit controversial. It wasn’t common in Ghana at the time and this very much appealed to my teenage ears and eyes. Right now as I’d go back to Ghana with some musical experience and as a mc and performer myself, I came into contact with much more than even back then. There are countless groups, producers, mc’s, poets and performers who are making their mark in small but very significant ways as compared to the mainstream activity there. People who organize their own gigs and albums and whatnot in order to get publicity and who work with limited resources, diligently putting together new sounds and new combinations of words with brand new meanings that tell tales of a new era in Ghanaian music. I think the best is yet to come and its hot I tell ya.
As for Hungary, I was lucky enough to drop in on the underground when it had sprung up already and was just starting to pool a whole generation of avid listeners and learners. I jumped right in with one of the best hip-hop crews, the Gimmeshot crew, who at the time ran a weekly hip-hop/dancehall night alongside love alliance sound system. This turned out to be the hottest night to be out in town and the baddest party to be in. There, we had open mic sessions and serious clubbing up until last year.(the clubs kept changing but the music kept flowing. Apart from dj sets, there is also a lot of movement with regards to live music. Lots of talented musicians live and work here, among them the bands Kamu and Skeg, which for me were and are the underground of underground bands, mixing all forms of music, improvising and just allowing instruments to speak for themselves a new language which I don’t think any of us understood but all loved for it was always so fresh. That for me defines underground anyway, fresh, never hear nor understood, but done nonetheless.
L: I noticed that African hip-hop is very outspoken about political and social issues. Is their a difference between these two scenes in terms of emphasis about what issues will end up in the lyrics, for instance?
S: Well, hip-hop in general, especially underground hip-hop always tends to be more daring and outspoken, whatever the theme or issue is. In Africa, where people are very much in tune to their social standing, I guess it is only to be expected that they voice their opinions and their feelings about these things, I’m not sure whether they have more cause because of more social unrest or political instability (Ghana for instance is a rather peaceful country) but they definitely feel very deeply and are probably more emotional in general and that’s why it seems their topics are centered around politics and social issues. But even in Hungary, I hear a lot of underground rap and other music that address these same issues, but often with more humor and with more casings around the words, if you know what I mean. We talk about the same things, in different ways.
L: Are you involved with the music scene in both countries?
S: Well as of beginning of this year I made some advances toward the Ghanaian music scene, I started making music here in Hungary and didn’t really have much time, or inside knowledge to hit the Ghana scene before. I finally met up with some very talented producers, djs and mcs in Ghana and did some performing and recording there; I’m planning on making much more though. I always wanted to have my hands in some proper Ghana underground and now it is finally happening. I mean I haven’t really done much but the wheels are finally in motion.
And for Hungary as I mentioned earlier I have the honor and the pleasure to be a part of the underground scene amid much support from almost everybody here. Five years under my belt and some good shows, parties and gigs for the good people of Hungary ;)
[photo: Gimmeshot Crew]
L: I first saw you during one of the Gimmeshot open-mike sessions at the Kultiplex in Budapest. How did you start mc-ing in Budapest?
S: I started mc-ing with the Gimmeshot crew at the G spot club in Budapest. (By chance really.) I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening and how to blend in or stand out, or what to say or how to say it…haha. I had already been writing words together that suspiciously sounded like songs, but I had never held on to a microphone in that way before. I had to get a bit drunk actually, I was quite scared. But I had some good friends around and my sister too who more or less pushed me toward the mic and I suppose I did something right because it hasn’t stopped since. This was a year or so before the crew split from love alliance and moved over to Kultiplex.
L: I see that you've worked with a number of badass producers and musicians, such as Vadim, Dzihan Kamien, Ras Mac Bean, Dizko Stu...how did you guys connect? Do you have future collaborative projects?
S: I guess I am just lucky or something, I never really go looking for people to work with, we kind of find each other one way or another, our paths cross and take a liking to each other’s work, style, character? I dunno. Considering my lack of knowledge and experience, I regard most musicians and producers I work with as teachers, and if you have a good teacher, you’re bound to learn one or two things in the end. Dizko Stu alias Peter Sabak met me outside Kultiplex one day and asked if I would be interested in hearing his band Kamu at one of their rehearsals, I said yes, and we’ve been working together ever since. (Kamu broke up but we continue with a duo project: Forward Ever),
Dj Vadim I met when we played with Gimmeshot before one of his gigs in a local spot and we ended up making tunes on the tables and benches with bottles, glasses, hands, feet, ears and eyes till the dawn. He later invited me to record in his London flat where the track TALK TO ME was born among others.
Dj Spider of Colourblind Allstars I met in a small pub where we played with Skeg, and sitting at the neighbouring barstool he asked if I would like to do some recording to some of his music and I ended up in Lyon playing a few gigs with his band.
Dzihan and Kamien of Couch records had previously worked with Dj Mango (Gimmeshot) and they needed an mc for their Euro tour. Another male mc (Flame) was supposed to go but he didn’t have his visas sorted so I ended up jumping in for him.
Ras Mac Bean I only just met briefly at the Sziget festival this summer where he played with the Irie Ites crew from France. We had played there earlier at the Afro-Latin stage and they asked if I would jump in for a short featuring. I did. I am yet to record with him in October this year and am looking forward to it.
I could add some more names especially in order not to piss anyone off, but as I said in the beginning, these things happen almost by mistake, we have a good time and sometimes it continues and new collaborations are born, sometimes not.
L: You seem to be very busy these days...I see you are heading out to a Europe tour...
S: Right now I have my hands and feet in a few projects the newest of which is Forward Ever. I sing in the Band Irie Maffia (an 11 man reggae band from Hungary), also in the Barabas Lorinc Ecclectrik Jazz Band, as well as mc-ing to the sets of Djs in Hungary, Ozone, Cadik, Mango,……. And basically anyone willing to take a chance, hahahaha.
Of course I have plans, I want to do some more live shows in Ghana with the likes of Reggie Rockstone, Chorkor Heights and Evil Twin and many more. I want to put out another album in Hungary and in Ghana. I guess these plans will take time to materialize and the way all things around and within me constantly change, it might take along time, but I just take each day as it comes, and sometimes put in extra effort to make one thing really happen. One at a time or two at a time…hehehehe.
Yeah the Europe tour is dubbed "Budapest underground" and the line-up includes some of the wickedest djs and mcs. (Djs Dr. Dermot, Ozone, Future, Polskie, Mcs Busa, Columbo, freestyle trumpeter Barabas Lorinc and others). It should be fun and interesting to see people’s reaction to our style.
L: Some of your tracks deeply personal, while some are very political...do you write your own songs? What issues are the most important to you?
S: I am very stubborn and mostly sing only tracks that I have written myself. I write about a lot of things. Sometimes even I don’t know what the hell I’m trying to say but I say it nonetheless. Most of my lyrics are personal because I write them, and I can only write about things that have to do with my life or something affecting my life. I not sure what is most important to me, I don’t have a scale to weigh the depth of the topics. At the time am writing one particular thing, it is the most important. I guess I just write to get it off my chest, to ease my load.
L: What are your deepest inspirations?
S: My deepest inspirations? Oh wow, the thought that there is tomorrow, the feeling that I am loved and that I love back, the fact that everyone has hardships and so mine are almost insignificant but real. The fact that it has all been thought or done before but never by me.
L: If you had a choice of performing anywhere in the world, where would you take your music?
S: If I had a choice I would go everywhere, one by one. And I’m not sure if it is I who takes my music anywhere, so far it seems to be moving with a life of its own. Even if I don’t reach where my music reaches, if it gets there, the job has been done.