Interview with Hungarian rock n' roll artist Szibilla, a talented painter, poetess, musician and journalist

"Music connects the people, like stars on the sky are connected by the universe."

Szibilla: Rock n' Roll Oracles

Szibilla was born Bakó Margit Szibilla in Szeged, Hungary is a painter, freelance music journalist, guitarist and composer. Szibilla just started working on her first solo album, which will be released in 2014. She is a graduated writer, working as music and cultural writer, painter and sit-in jam session musician. She first got press as poet in her teenage years and later won sholarship as high-school student and travelled all around Europe and Africa with her family. She currently continues her Visual culture, study of Religion & Philosophy studies at the university and writes her songs and jam on.

She was a student of the sculptor, Lőrinc Popovics, the Hungarian painter, Ferenc Szalay and Hungarian textile artist, Judit Szabó. Bakó writes for a Hungarian, nationwide rock magazine, RockinforM. Besides being an active painter, and a music journalist, she writes English lyrics, and fronts Katona trio, a blues band with blues guitarist, Tamás Katona Sr., and appears in other formations too. Drawings and poems of Szibilla will release soon at her upcoming book Chameleon's Suitcase. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues & rock culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Thank you for asking Michael! I guess it’s pretty different experience to everyone. As a kid, I grew up listening to good blues and rock music. Dad played guitar, and owned a lot of records. He was always been an ultimate Renaissance Man. He is a wonderful carver and carpenter, but he had lot of different jobs. He didn’t push me to listen to music. He just let me listen. I still play those records frequently. And Mom is wonderful. I always looked up to her smart, kind and very artistic personality. They both introduced me to music at age 3, maybe without even any intention. They let me sing in a choir, take piano lessons, to learn Spanish guitar, and so on. Later on, they didn’t have problems with hearing their little girl trying to figure out Clapton songs on the guitar. Mom sent me to art school, so I learned painting and art, while we visited many countries with them. They really made a big influence on me growing an artistic intuition. Later they let me go to concerts, start writing, and publishing at age 15, and so. All they asked for was: study hard, because good results will make you find your rewards, and happiness in life. When I wasn’t ready for university at age 19, they let me move to another city, get a job, jam with people. Later I did continue university, but then they were happy seeing the pictures I took while travelling through country sides. And you know what? Blues started to stick into my car’s player for years. While travelling with windows down in the summer, I used to sing out so loud! It was an intuitional love for the Blues. It wasn’t accidental at all. I recall going to a friend’s party. He was a music shop owner, guitarist. I looked at a bass on the wall, and asked, if I could take off the instrument. While holding the guitar, it felt like… wow! I started playing on it, humming songs by Willie Dixon and Albert King. It felt like heaven. A few months later: the first concert, with a borrowed bass. I was terribly afraid of music. Not what people would think, but if I’m allowed to do such sacred thing. Listening to records at home was a meditation. My opened heart was a magnet to be friends with lot of musicians, artists. I started working for Rockinform Magazine some years ago. Blues and rock shows you how to let feelings flow. Find an own way putting stories into a song… Blues or rock are also a way of life too, not a pose. Music connects the people, like stars on the sky are connected by the universe.     

How do you describe Szibilla sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Well, right now I’m just recording an album now. I would like to release it in 2014. Own tunes and own lyrics…rock, blues, and a bit of funky! You know, I keep learning, like anyone else. I recall hearing a great bass player saying at one of his bass clinics something like “there are unlimited opportunities” on bass guitar. You never really stop learning. Isn’t it true to life and music both? Besides that, I would like to stay true to what I believe in, and it’s that you should write your own lyrics and music. I always liked the works of musicians, like Willie Dixon, Albert King, Glenn Hughes, Billy Sheehan, Marco Mendoza, Robben Ford, Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert Collins or Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and so on. The list is long... I listen to all kinds of music that hits your heart like, BANG! When it comes to bass, I like Jazz Bass and Precision bass, but I believe it’s all in your hands and heart. Tools are only working in hands willing to play, and willing to be humble with music itself. But the whole thing doesn’t worth anything, if your message doesn’t come through. I got a strong belief and inner vision, and of course a lot hope. Right now, I’m also putting all my old and new writings together, and planning to release a book early next year, called Chameleon’s Suitcase (A Kaméleon bőröndje). It’s going to be a book with hundreds of drawings, illustrations I made for poems, and other writings. A very colorful book, I promise. (smiles)

Why did you think that the Blues & Rock music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The truth, and the stories are catchy. You just feel the depth in it. Just look at the sparkle you can see in Buddy Guy’s eyes while he’s performing one of his signature tunes. It’s what thousands of people buy tickets for. I have a belief in the depth of human soul, and in the depth in music. If you check out the history of blues, you come to a point when you feel: you relate. I live in a small European country, which has a lot history, wisdom, value, and had seen much trouble, so I can relate to pain, or happiness in Blues lyrics. The Blues had, and still has a musical evolution, like any other genre. Not to mention how much the genres mix nowadays. Little Jimmy King sang about this in Blues Been Good To Me. I think Blues can’t get lost in space. Willie Dixon said, "The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits. It’s better keeping the roots alive, because it means better fruits from now on. The blues are the roots of all American music. As long as American music survives, so will the blues.".

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?   

The best jam? I’m still a student of the blues, and guess it lasts a lifetime! I’m just one tiny star in the galaxy. I got to jam with some amazing musicians though. Some memories I would like to keep for myself, but let me give a shout out for my brothers, or great teachers of blues & rock, like Mimmo Mollica, Tamás Petró, István Király, and my amazingly talented brother, Borny, aka Bornysblues. I’m working on a record now, asking different people to add their passion to my ideas. Two talented friends help me a lot making this vision come true: Tilen Sapač, and also Velcsev Dejanov Kosta. Talented folks! And to answer your question, the most memorable gig was at Voxstock Festival, in Serbia, in 2007 in front of about 2000 people, where I got invited to stage. Also recently, playing with a band called Adrenalin.  I hope for continue with them. Talented, true rockers.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

You can almost never get bad advice from veterans of rock or blues! They seen it all, they know it all. Both Glenn Hughes and Billy Sheehan gave great advices, and it was a really positive experience to meet, and talk with them. They are exceptional. I can’t forget talking with Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten either. Probably asking them a few musical questions meant more than a signature on my bass strap, because personal experience is totally different from reading something in a book. I’m not against books. Furthermore, Wooten’s The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music is probably the most inspiring book ever written about music. Once I ran into Victor Bailey at a café in my home town. True story. He played there the night before. He was waiting in line, like me, and didn’t found his money, so I told him, “Hey, Hi Man! I love your music. Let me pay for your coffee too!” So up until he and his band hit the road, I got to ask him a lot about music. More great meetings n’ talks? If you have a chance, don’t miss meeting, and talking with the wonderful bassist and singer, Nathaniel Peterson and Lorenzo Patrix Duenas! They got amazing thoughts about life and music! From the jazzy blues circles, meeting with Rhoda Scott, running into Robben Ford before one of his guitar clinics, or interviewing the amazing Duke Robillard was also a blast! But I’ve meet Living Colour too. Loved them! Feeling blessed I could learn from them. Not to mention Eric Martin or Mike Portnoy, or talking with Jordan Rudess… I always took my dreams, and music writer job seriously. Treating people nice, and being polite been a major aspect. What do you want in return, if you’re rude to people anyway? My boyfriend always says that ‘Szibilla, ever since I know you, coincidence has been staying far away from you.’ I learned a lot from György Szappanos, great bass player in Boom Boom (powerful blues-rock band in Hungary). Can’t miss the many support by a two concert organizer friends, both Peter and Bogdan. I know them through musicians I worked with, or learned from. They always were supportive, telling great advices. Then there’s Little G. Weevil, a great blues man. He gave me good advices at a very early age, and said ‘Just go, don’t fear, just sing your song!’. God Bless his soul! Huh, while looking back, there have really been a lot of people I randomly crossed path with. It’s only been a few years, but a long road. Understanding why music is important to people. Understanding why it’s important to do it right. Okay, okay! Before you got tired of all the stories, the best advice comes probably from great bluesman Bob Margolin. He played at the legendary Mojo Club, in Serbia. He told me to watch out, because there could be people, who would love to see me fall, while working on making some dreams come true. He said, be careful with those, who would want to use your beauty in, and outside. I consider this seriously, up until today. He was so right.  While working I have seen many women getting stupid, just because someone is famous. Of course as a musician, I got some love confession by men and women. (laughs) Anyway! Yeah, don’t let people get you down, don’t let them suck out the beauty of your soul. 

 

I live in a small European country, which has a lot history, wisdom, value, and had seen much trouble, so I can relate to pain, or happiness in Blues lyrics."

Are there any memories from backstage assistance and roadie works which you’d like to share with us?

Probably saving the life of a Jimi Hendrix Strat, moments before a soundman stepped on it. It was lying on a rack, with an opened case. Another memorable moment was shaking hands with Cyril Neville, or seeing Johnny Winter walking onstage to perform. Also… making interview with Joe Satriani or good Texan, Jimmie Vaughan.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I would not think there was a ‘once upon a time’, big and lovely community of Stone Age people, loving the same music! You can always find exceptions. And the function of music also changed a lot. Back then, it had a lot of sacred function, a lot more strict rules where to use which kind of music, for whichever reason. There have always been groups of people loving something different, on another side of the world. I think it’s an utopist idea that on one fine day in the future everyone will understand why it’s great to enjoy good, quality music. Back at age 3, I cried out to my Mom to put on some Beatles, Queen or any other rock records. Was it good or bad? It’s just my story, and I don’t judge anyone who didn’t had the same experiences. We are not gods to judge people. Maybe someone listen to dub step for years, and later become a student at a classical music school. Good music is relative. Each genre has the likes of a group of people. And there were always people going with the flow, or there were others, who were making a new wave in music. It depends on you, if you want to create something new, or you stay with your heritage, even as a music listener, or as a musician. Is it better to be another classical musician, or is it better to be a ‘fast flame’, another rock star? Who to judge… What’s the biggest fear about the future of music? Music is fearless. I wonder if the people making it will still care about emotional content and message instead of manipulation in the future, or if they care now. I know great blues musicians, and true rockers never forget to put depth into their melodies and lyrics. But for example I just heard a great rap song about Native American history yesterday.  There are exceptions… always. 

What does to be a woman in a “Man Man World” as James Brown says? Which makes you smile?

Hope I got your question right Michael. Do you mean if it makes me smile listening to that song? Well, it’s a heavy song, a very deep one! Probably the genius, but yet underrated Donny Hathaway’s song, “I Love You More than You’ll Ever Know” makes me stop for a moment, like Brown’s Man’s World. Both songs touch you really beautifully. But both songs make me remember what a good woman means to a good man. No matter, if it’s a world ruled by men, there’s always been women in behind. As Brown says, after a man made, or bought everything he could, there’s nothing left but bitterness, if you are lonely. Let’s face it, humans are sociable. Growing up in a loving family, I get it why Mr. Brown points out, that a man’s world is nothing without the right woman. And what it’s like living in a men’s world to me? I don’t stress about it. I don’t fear. It’s impossible to be loved by everyone. Also it’s a big challenge for a woman today to find a good man too. By the way… Just look at Gandhi. He is adored by many, but some still hate him up until today. There are people who hate you, for how you wear your clothes, hair, or what shape is your ear, nose, or teeth, not to mention ethnicity. That’s what bullies are about. I think you should rise above, never fear to fail. Failing is not death. Death is giving up. Rise again to overcome difficulties that are in your destiny.

What is the relationship between music, poetry and visual art in your life and artwork?

Gas! Hey… All these cars run with the same gas, called creative energy, or let’s just call it creative sense. In art high school, the director asked us on our first school day, “Do you kids know what an Ellipse is?” Of course all of us nodded. Before entering this school, we had to go through strict auditions. We almost started drawing one ellipse, but he continued, “Through the years you are going to spend here, you’ll learn little ellipses. You will learn everything about them. And believe it or not, you will see, after you graduated, that all the little ellipses are going to form a big circle in your head.” There were quite a few students giggling, behind their drawing boards. The director looked enchanted while talking about it. Like if he would float in another dimension. But actually he was so right. Artistic knowledge and sense connects in your mind. Of course, learning never ends. And of course each of these fields of artwork, mentioned above, takes a lot of time “offline” from the world… to create. And you never know if people will get it, or go on, …like when someone is walking on a street, only seeing themselves mirrored in the shop windows. You never know who is hit by your art or music. I draw since age 3. It’s an opportunity to show people how you see the world. It’s an opportunity to give birth to new dimensions.

Which incident of blues and rock history you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting with you?

It must be something in connection with Willie Dixon’s Chess days, or James Jamerson’s Motown days. They all seem so far from us, don’t they? They look like a mythical person. I would love to sneak in invisibly, and then later paint those moments! Maybe I will make a painting of an imagined situation soon. 

(Artwork: Willie Dixon by Szibilla) 

Make an account of the case of the blues rock in Hungary. What mistakes would you wish to correct?

Troubles are hard to correct. To make differences… It takes a man to understand, and also to have the will to act. And it also takes patience to see if your work fails, or wins. A lot times, changes take effect only years, or decades. I think the cover band thing does really bad to creativity. It’s all okay to cover, just after a few years of learning from others songs, and school of music, you got to have the balls to be yourself. I’m going through this also. Also you can look at it in another way, like if it’s an awkward attempt stealing others intellectual products, or heritage. Not one old bluesman had to sue big rock stars, using their stuff without permission. When you cover, you seek desperately for acceptance, and love by people. But you can achieve this with your own music too. People you cover did this. But of course it’s a radical viewpoint. Covering could be a respectful way to make a true tribute to someone you adore. I think the situation is not hopeless, just right now many of us can’t see what’s going. We don’t, or can’t see the end of it. Of course everyone blames money. I think this is just part of the problems, but not the biggest problem. Wish I could be a super intellectual alien to find a solution (laughs). No kidding! But big knowledge requires a responsible & emphatic holder.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

If I would be a kick ass pirate woman, like Anne Bonny, or Mary Read, I would go back to Tortuga in the 17th century, and ask around, where can I get to Blackbeard’s ship, even for a day.  If not Tortuga, then Atlantis! I would love to see that place, but certainly not on the day when it sank into the water. By the way, I also love Greek mythology, always loved reading them. Huh, many places I would go, even for a day…

What would you say to BB King?

Thank you for your music BB! Long live BB King and the blues!

"The Blues had, and still has a musical evolution, like any other genre. Not to mention how much the genres mix nowadays." (Artwork: Frank Zappa by Szibilla) 

What would you like to ask Frank Zappa?

Frank Zappa was quite a character! I would have a LOT of questions to him, but it’s great you can listen to his music anytime. I love rebelling, unique people. He was not pushing it, he was a real artist. Those types of people make the World see things differently. Most people get offended, but it’s a good kind of offend! Actually, I was just a few years old when Zappa died, and I didn’t get to see him live, or ask him questions, but for a lot of questions you can find answers to in his music. I would certainly ask him if he think so. Also I adore that Frank Zappa liked to shout out stuff in his lyrics, and liked to joke or… yeah, offend a bit. It's great when you don’t forget to smile. He always delivered his message artfully. You could get offended, or not. While on the other hand, it’s great that he took his musical challenges and message serious. I would ask if he likes what’s going on with the music today. I would ask if he would like to finish all his lots of musical ideas he left unfinished. But I would rather listen to Steve Lukather talking with, and asking Zappa. He is one of my big favorites from musicians today, and I know they’ve meet.

How you would spend a day with Cumaean Sibyl?

Oh, the most famous of all ten Sibyls… Wow. Well Michael, I would certainly ask, if I could take a look at the Sibylline books! It’s not only bare curiosity, but also I would love to ask her about how it was being a prophetess back in the ancient times. No one can tell. There are only myths about the Sibyls, which are creative reconstructions in the dark. My great-grandmother was also a Szibilla (it’s the Hungarian form of the name), but she never told me about why she got this name, while I know, that our family history goes back to the 16th century. Our family never really believed in fortune telling, since many-many generations, while it’s possible some ancestors knew how to tell the future. If you live in this part of Europe, you experience, that families are very mixed ethnically, and/or religiously. Of course there are legends that we inherited from our ancestors, that Grandma like to tell me, but I never really paid attention to them until growing up. I’m ashamed laughing at tales of knights. I thought they were proofs of my artistic grandma’s creative mind. Anyway, maybe Cumaean Sibyl’s whole figure is one of the Roman myths and nothing more, but I always loved her character. I would turn on some psychedelic music to her, (after bringing a player with batteries) and ask if she likes it. Probably she would kick my ass out of her place! Also I would take a walk by the sea, and ask her about Jesus. She wrote about him, as they say. I would have so much to ask her. Probably I would get kicked out anyway. (laughs)

Szibilla - official website

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