(Exclusive interview by Dr Shahid Qureshi):-
Katalin Burns is a famous singer from Budapest, Hungary. Her specialty is Hungarian folk music and she is also singing South Asian Indian-Pakistani folk songs. She attended folk music programs in Pakistan recently on the invitation of Hungarian embassy in Islamabad. Budapest is famous for arts, music and culture in Europe. Katalin is also a journalist and a writer with great imagination. She is a mother of 12 years old daughter.
We requested her for a short interview which she kindly accepted.
- Please tell us about your life, childhood and family?
I was born in Budapest, Hungary, and I grew up there. When I was at nursery, my teachers recommended to my parents that they find a music primary for me, as I was singing all the time. So much so, that I was irritating everybody! My parents and sister made it possible for me that I could listen to a lot of pop and classical music at home. Folk music become my passion much later.
- How was your schooling, education?
I was a student in a special music class where we had singing, choir music, flute, and I also chose to learn to play the violin. I was a student of violin for 5 years. I also picked up the guitar for a while, but it just didn’t seem to be my real instrument. I felt too nervous to be a solo vocalist for a very long time, but eventually I gathered the courage to get on the stage. I spent my high school years in a class that specialised in English, and my other language was German. Then I went to university and graduated in English and Hungarian. Right now I am a student of music management.
- Please tell us about marriage, homes, kids and family life?
I don’t discuss family issues, sorry, these are too private But I always say that I am not single.
- How you spend your time, and your hobbies?
I don’t really have hobbies – I’m really serious about my passions. Okay, maybe cooking and baking could be mentioned here as my past time activities. I think I’m quite good at pleasing family and friends this way. I also read a lot – fiction, mostly. For a while I was also a writer, and my so far only novel was published in 2009. Sometimes I feel like writing again… I could say a lot about my travels! Oh, and I really love going for long walks, listening to music or lectures in the meantime.
- When you decided to become a singer?
I decided to become a singer quite late in life, in my twenties. Earlier I played flute in a friend’s band, and afterwards I asked this friend to play lute/guitar for me when I sang. I wanted to record and perform at festivals, and we invited a double bass/percussion player to join us. We also played music for traditional Hungarian folk dance events. This is how it started.
- What difficulties you faced in becoming singer and how did you overcome those difficulties?
I had a calling to become a folk singer, and that is a cultural mission. Unlike mainstream pop music, it has a smaller audience, very different venues. Plus, my attraction for the Asian sound/Asian vocals made it a bit more difficult for Hungarian organisers to find opportunities for me. What I am doing in my country is a first, I am a pathfinder, and I have to constantly keep working on its promotion. I also like to mingle my music with jazz, and I’m sure in the future that will open more doors for me. The music management course I am taking part in is helping me immensely in doing this.
- Please tell us about your success stories? Do you have any Asian connection?
It was a landmark in my life when I first came to Islamabad to perform with Pakistani musicians. We were fusing Hungarian and Pakistani (Hindustani Classical and Sufi) music. I believe it was a superb event. I remember sitting on the stage and my voice, my style just completely changed for the challenge to respond to the musicians’ tunes, their improvisation… It was a real dialogue between two cultures. Later, in 2013, I performed in Islamabad again, and when I sang a Sindhi song, some people got up to dance. This happened quite recently as well, at the Lahooti Melo.
- What advice you will give to young and new comers in music?
Everybody has their own path, so it takes a lot of confidence and ‘cheek’ to proceed. It’s great to have teachers, mentors and advisors, but one must learn how much to listen to them. A playwright once said to me that when people praise you, you should doubt every word. But when they say you are bad, you shouldn’t give that credit either. This just sounded too bitter to me, but it has some truth in it. Believing in oneself is a must, but humility is the other key.
- What are future plans, how you see yourself in next 5 years?
I’m planning to visit more international festivals, and a plan to record some Sufi music in Pakistan is just about to materialise. I wish to perform both as a soloist and with my world music band the Kati Burns Ntett. I’m also taking a trip to India soon to learn Bengali folk music.