Keeping it busy comes first! – interview with Sena
Could you imagine that one of the greatest underground divas of Hungary still gets nervous before a show? The Ghanaian-Hungarian singer looks quite determined, however there is still a glint of childish mischief in her eyes. She’s so colourful that she makes every day a special one for her audience and this makes her own life more exciting too. This charges her with so much energy that she barely needs any sleep.
You’re so all over the place it’s hard to keep track of all the bands you’re currently in. Can you help me out here?
It isn’t really as complicated as people might think. I get this question a lot of the time, maybe because they’re a bit scared of all these things I take part in. There are various projects where I’m a guest musician but basically there are three ongoing things: Irie Maffia, my own solo project Sena, and the W.H. Shakespeare sonnets. These are the ones that are currently up and running.
If you were to summarize what these projects mean to you in one sentence, what would you say?
Whoah, that’s a hard one. Actually only words pop into my mind, not sentences. Irie Maffia is rock, reggae, energy and party. The Sena project is soul, femininity, a lot more personal – you could say it’s kind of like a diary. Lastly, W.H. is elegance, literature and culture. I like all of them since they’re so different and cover different aspects of my life. Iria Maffia is like an explosive machine that frees all my energies. It is an inimitable feeling, however I do enjoy that I can be more delicate in my solo project and show a bit of my calmer side there. Also, W.H. got me more into fine literature and I really appreciate that. I love working with those guys, the uniqueness of the sound just mesmerizes me. It’s a project I wouldn’t pass up for anything. I guess I like all of them because of their particular flavours, how all their parts make up a whole.
Thankfully, we won’t have time to get bored with Irie Maffia in the near future. We’ll go through all the festivals and a few urban events. We’ll play at the Shakespeare Festival in Gyula for sure, and on June 22 we’ll get a chance to perform before the Globe Theatre on Margit-sziget. The Sena project will have a summer warming gig in Budapest Park with Kéknyúl, then a couple of festivals in the coming months. Irie Maffia will be the most active. June’s a little lax this time but things will really start up in July and August. There are points where all the three projects overlap, which isn’t exactly relaxing but it’s all manageable.
Is there a concert you’re especially looking forward to?
The one that’s going to be on June 4 in the Park. It’s exciting because next to the Sena project Kéknyúl will also be playing, so we’re trying to work together and sneak in some overlapping moments. Matyi Premecz is in both bands and there are lots of mutual friends so the rehearsals are coming along really smoothly. We’ll play some tunes from them and they’ll do the same too. It’s so thrilling that we’re doing something new. What’s more, we’ll have a gig with the same lineup in France where we’ll get to play before Angélique Kidjo, who is really dear to me. I’ve adored her since childhood, I can’t believe we’ll be sharing the stage.
So you could say you have your eyes set on foreign countries too?
Yes, absolutely. Lots of Trees, the album of my solo project, was released this February in France too, and we had a concert in Paris to celebrate the occasion. We invited some key players we wanted to dazzle and it worked – the VO Booking Agency fell in love with our tunes. We’ve already started working with them on our gigs abroad. We’ll perform four times in France this year, but the real organizing is about our plans for next year. We’ll be starting out from France but hopefully we’ll get to play all over Europe, like Belgium, Switzerland or whatever comes our way. Besides all of this, we got an opportunity with Irie Maffia to play at the English Boomtown festival in August. It’s so exciting to travel and show what we’ve got to new people. They don’t even know us but, based on my past experience, they are quite receptive and enjoy the music. It’s a challenge, I love it.
Do you still get nervous before your shows?
I always am. Really, all the time, before every gig. I have this faint nausea and I have to go pee every two minutes. I’m also a bit antsy and snappy or just plain jumpy. So I have all these rituals. I put on my makeup and pretend to be very calm with lots of delicate gestures – and hope that I’ll get into that state for real.
Can the Hungarian listeners expect something new?
You bet! We want to release a new record next year, so I’m already wracking my brain about it. Hopefully we can start working on it soon. This will be a specifically personal one since, if all goes well, every track will be my own composition. I spent last year practically in the garage collecting ideas. Now I’m in the process of selecting the ones that should be elaborated on. Since I’m not a trained musician I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just go with my gut and play whatever my emotions tell me. Thus, there’s no point in trying to categorize it genre-wise. It’s more of an instinct-like music making, so it has its own peculiar taste, which I love.
How long have you been writing music?
Well I began a few years ago but I mainly just sang my ideas so far. There are two songs on Lots of Trees, for example, where I first hummed all the melodies and then the guys played that. This went on till I got to know Apple’s Logic software, thanks to my husband Márton Élő – and I got totally obsessed. I spent all my time on the computer making tracks via laptop and midi keyboard. Now I’ve gotten to a point where I have to think like a producer as well. I showed the stuff to the band members and they really liked it. I’ll use the help of various people to make all the songs like how I envisioned them in my mind. I hope the album will be finished by next October. Then we’ll have to think how we can present it live.
And what about Irie Maffia?
We’ll be celebrating our tenth anniversary next year, so we want to throw a huge party in the form of a special concert series. There’s nothing concrete yet, just brainstorming non-stop. We’ll see.
You seem to be quite swamped. When do you have time for yourself and your family?
I’m really busy with lots of things but I try to manage it so that I have time for everything. I usually write my songs in the evening when my daughter Kekeli is already asleep. If she’s still up she visits me in my little home studio and entertains me. She got the hang of our way of life pretty quickly – she’s growing up in it after all. Sleeping is one thing I don’t do too often but that’s the least of my worries now. Keeping it busy comes first!