Hungarian guitarist Csaba Toth Bagi talks about the Blues-Jazz and the meeting point with Balkan music

"I found that blues and jazz has a lot in common with traditional Balkan music as well and actually this is my point what we’re trying to express with our Balkan Union band."

Csaba Toth Bagi: Balkan Express

Guitarist and singer Csaba Toth Bagi has been a fixture of the Hungarian music scene since his teenage years, well known for his powerful voice and his soulful and technically brilliant guitar playing. His rootsy blues and jazz style is greatly influenced by his Balkan upbringing, his Hungarian musical education and his years touring internationally with renowned guitarist Al Di Meola. He was raised in Serbia in a family of musicians who later settled in southern Hungary in 1993 during the Yugoslavian war. His father started him on the piano at the age of 6, and by age 12 he had found his voice writing and recording on the guitar. At the age of 16, Csaba recorded his first blues album “Crazy Clock” (1997), featuring Tibor Tatrai, the most respected Hungarian blues guitarist. The album won great acclaim from European critics, who described him as “the Hungarian Gary Moore”.

The album was soon followed by four more releases: “A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix” (1999), “Kell, Hogy Hazudj” (2000), “Another Blues World” (2003) and “Nelkuled (Without You)” (2006), a melodic collection of vocal compositions influenced by traditional Hungarian style with a pop delivery. Csaba has been touring and performing throughout Eastern Europe with his bands which often include traditional Gypsy instrumentalists. In 2004, his trio CsaboWabo was chosen to represent Hungary at the Jazz in the Park European Union Exhibition and Festival in Thailand. Additionally he worked with Ennio Morricone as musical director and guitar player at the National Theatre and Open Air Theatre of Szeged, Hungary.

Csaba finished his latest project of original compositions combining traditional Balkan melodies and rhythms into a jazz structure. The project has excited the attention of US jazz musicians Al Di Meola, Dave Weckl, Ernie Adams and Butch Thomas; Cuban percussionist Gumbi Ortiz; Italian accordionist Fausto Beccalossi and F.Y.R.O.M keyboard player Vasil Hadzimanov, who have all added their own personal style to this unique fusion recording.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I started playing guitar because of hearing the album version of “As the years go passing by” from Gary Moore. His sound amazed me and decided that whatever it takes I want to be able to produce that sound and express emotions on the guitar like he did. That motivated and inspired me to learn more and more and develop my sounds on the guitar. I believe sound is something that we born with and stays similar all through the years. I believe that great guitarist have their own recognizable sound no matter what amp or guitar they are using. It comes from the heart and describes you the most.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

There were many interesting ones and I’m sure there’s much more to come! Everything is interesting when we’re talking about music. When you sit down and concentrate on the music totally that’s interesting enough to mention but for me probably the most interesting part of playing music is to play with musicians and create something called music together. Definitely the best moments were to meet and play with such great musicians as Trilok Gurtu, Mike Stern, Al Di Meola, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Steve Lukather and many more.

"I started playing guitar because of hearing the album version of “As the years go passing by” from Gary Moore. His sound amazed me and decided that whatever it takes I want to be able to produce that sound and express emotions on the guitar like he did."

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

I believe music has a lot to do with different cultures from all over the world. Jazz and blues music comes from a very deep culture, expressing it’s people’s feelings just like many other traditional music genres and they have a lot in common. I thought about it a lot that as a Hungarian growing up in Yugoslavia why was I so into blues when it’s the music of another culture but later I found that blues and jazz has a lot in common with traditional Balkan music as well and actually this is my point what we’re trying to express with our Balkan Union band.

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

Being on tour with Csaba Toth Bagi Balkan Union and having Mike Stern and Trilok Gurtu are probably the most memorable shows we did but we’ll have some more this year in Ukraine; France; Romania; Hungary and Poland. Looking forward to those!

What’s the best jam you ever played in? Are there any memories you’d like to share with us?

Probably the most interesting jam of my life so far was to play “Crosstown Traffic” from Jimi Hendrix with Al Di Meola on drums! That was something to remember!

"Everything is interesting when we’re talking about music. When you sit down and concentrate on the music totally that’s interesting enough to mention but for me probably the most interesting part of playing music is to play with musicians and create something called music together." (Photo: Csaba with Al Di Meola in NYC)

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

Meeting and listening to Gonzalo Rubalcaba is definitely the most inspiring experience I’ve ever had. Mostly everything we talked about is an advice for a lifetime. 

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

I miss real bands like Led Zeppelin; Queen; that had the chance to spend a lot of time together as a band creating music that’s something new and cool. These days it’s more like one person does the song writing and if they are lucky the band has the chance to rehearse it a bit before they record or perform it. That’s a pity. In this running world seems like there’s no time for real compositions and serious albums like before.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues and Jazz from States to Europe and special to Balkan?

As I said before in my opinion it’s all traditional music that has a lot in common with Balkan music and other European traditional music too.

"I miss real bands like Led Zeppelin; Queen; that had the chance to spend a lot of time together as a band creating music that’s something new and cool."

Make an account of the case of local jazz & blues scene and what does the blues & jazz mean to you?

There’s a lot of great blues and jazz guitar players and bands as well. Tibor Tatrai is one of my favorite blues guitarists of all time. He was always a great inspiration! As for jazz guitarists from my area Kornel Kurina is for sure one to mention. We often jam together.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from music circuits?

Woow! Well… Listening to music on commercial radios definitely makes me laugh. 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Probably I would wish that people have more time for music in the every day life. That would be a great achievement.

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

For sure it would be the Woodstock era! Would love to meet Jimi Hednrix there.

Csaba Toth Bagi - official website

 

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