Perhaps more than any other country in mainland Europe – and certainly in eastern Europe – Hungary proved a fertile breeding ground for great beat music. Here, in the second of a two-part special on Hungarian female singers of the 1960s, Matthew Meek delves deeper into what made Budapest the most swinging of the eastern bloc cities.
In part one, we looked at the careers of Hungary’s three main female singers: Zsuzsa Koncz, Sarolta Zalatnay and Kati Kovács. Here, we reveal another six girl greats from the Magyar pop scene.
Klementina Magay was already a well-known face on television when she debuted as a solo singer in the inaugural Pol-Beat festival in 1967 at the age of 17.
From being a member of the Children’s Choir, she progressed to groups that enabled her to garner greater exposure. Eventually, she ventured out as a solo singer, working with groups such as Metro, Omega, Pannonia and Scampolo.
Klementina had one of the strongest repertoires of any of Hungary’s female singers of the 1960s – and a powerful voice that lent itself to the beat-iest of recordings.
Her first single, issued in 1967, featured two excellent efforts, Elmúlt már az elsõ szerelem and Nem én döntöm el a háborúk idejét. Both were jangly mid-tempo beat numbers with the group Metro providing backing duties.
A string of quality songs followed, including her biggest success, Nevető almák. One of her finest moments came later, in 1970: Fuss, menekülj was a true symphonic explosion.
Born in the nation’s capital, Budapest, in 1945 as Margit Ambrus, Kyri was one of Hungary’s earliest and most prolific pop performers.
She was discovered in 1961 at the age of 16, and quickly proved capable of quenching the nation’s thirst for Anglo-American influenced pop. Her image, meanwhile, was based squarely on that of Italian pint-sized star Rita Pavone, with whom she shared an impish look.
Her first records capitalised on the twist style. However, the release of Minden olyan más in early 1965 heralded a move into a beat-ier, more sophisticated sound. Festival success came later that year with Hiszem, ha akarom, which won the jurors’ special prize at the eastern bloc equivalent of the Eurovision song contest, Intervision.
For the rest of the decade, her run of singles were palatable for the most part but, overall, a little patchy for our tastes.
A couple of stompers released at the end of the 1960s redeem Kyri, however. The first is the groovy Betyárcsárda, with its frantic chorus, which was her entry to the 1968 Slágerkupa TV contest. The 1969 single Ez a szerelem was a brash affair with plenty of fuzz to spice things up. (The flipside, Júdás vagy, is also highly recommended.)
The new decade saw Kyri embark upon a career in journalism before enjoying a modest comeback in 1983 with the release of an album.
Born in 1941, Zsuzsa Mátray trained under the guidance of composer Julia Majláth from the age of 19. Her first single was released five years later, in 1965. Entitled Látod ez a szerelem, it proved a big hit and allowed her to release a slew of singles into the early 1970s.
With her wild dance moves on stage, Zsuzsa also earned a reputation as one of Hungary’s sassier performers.
Our first pick from her career is her entry to the 1967 Táncdalfesztivál, Hol van az az idő, where she was backed by the group Atlantis. With its distinct Slavic-influenced beat sound, it is one of Zsuzsa’s best-remembered songs despite not winning the contest.
The excellent Könyörögni nem fogok followed the next year, with the hard-hitting sound of Liversing complementing a tough vocal performance from Zsuzsa. For us, it is her finest moment.
One of Hungary’s most glamorous and active pop stars of the 1970s, Beáta Karda has earned her page in the pages of Magyar pop. However, her story as a performer began in the 1960s.
She was born in the north-west city of Győr in 1950, and hailed from a family of musicians. A multi-talented student, she studied singing, piano, ballet and even aerobatics.
At the age of 17, she competed in the 1967 Táncdalfesztivál with Csuda jó fej, a decent attempt at the beat sound with some snappy guitar work provided the group Express. Sadly for Beáta, the song didn’t make it through the first round of the competition.
The following year saw a split single with Gabi Fenyvesi, released with the title Lakatot a szádra. This tango-inspired number was nowhere near as exciting as her first record, however.
She made up for it in 1969 with her second attempt at the Táncdalfesztivál. Her song, Mindig tanul az ember, was a bolder effort that showed off her now-mature voice.
Information on Éva Nagy is a little scant, although Ez az utolsó randevúnk, her entry to the 1968 Táncdalfesztivál, is generally considered a freakbeat masterpiece. Éva’s cutting vocal and the punishing beat provided by the group Liversing have made it a fan favourite.
It was penned by the talented writer István S. Nagy, with help from Vadas Tamás. Unfortunately, Éva’s later couple of releases don’t live up to the first energetic burst – but what a moment it was.
If one singer deserved the opportunity to record more, Mária Wittek is the one. Despite cutting just a handful of singles, she was one of Hungary’s hardest-working performers and had some of the finest beat credentials of any female singer.
Born in Budapest in 1947, Mária studied piano from the age six, before joining the Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir School of Music to study full time. Her father was a conductor and composer and encouraged the young Mária.
From 1964 Mária joined beat group Omega, and their relationship lasted until 1968, when she was unable to join them on tour in England. She became the favoured vocalist of many groups who were impressed by her vocal ability. Indeed, she performed with several and was known to dash from one gig to another on the same night.
Mária also entered the Táncdalfesztivál twice. The first time was at the inaugural 1966 show, with the song Hova szalad a nyár. However, it is her second attempt, a year later, that resulted in her finest recording. In collaboration with the group Dogs, she cut the brilliant Keresek egy fiút. From its opening salvo of distorted guitar, it remains one of the heaviest beat songs by a female performer.
One of Hungary’s more mature pop singers, Mária Toldy, was born in the nation’s capital in 1938. Her music career began in 1961, but her first big success came after she landed joint first place at the 1966 Táncdalfesztivál with Más ez a szerelem.
Not content with just one win, she finished joint first with Sarolta Zalatnay again the following year with Rövid az élet. Both her entries were fairly traditional efforts.
In fact, much of her output reflected an older style, apart from one foray into beat proper with the song Nem szeretlek. This 1968 release showed that she could compete confidently with her younger rivals.
The 1970s saw her branch out into teaching music, a profession that has continued until the present day. She was awarded the country’s highest honour, the Hungarian Order of Merit, in 2008.
Teri Harangozó was one of the country’s most popular female singers after the ‘big three’. A lighter-weight performer, she had a repertoire that took from more traditional schlager than the beat style.
Discovered during the 1965 TV series of Ki mit tud?, Teri found success with entries into the 1967 and 1968 Táncdalfesztiváls. She placed joint second in both with Sose fájjon a fejed and Szeretném bejárni a földet.
Her biggest hit and best remembered song was 1968’s Mindenkinek van egy álma.
All three are ultimately pretty forgettable but a saving grace came in 1968 in the form of a collaboration with Omega. Entitled Hétköznapi szerelem, it was Teri’s best attempt at the beat sound with its fast pace and more aggressive vocal – well, as much as she could muster!
Much like Kyri Ambrus, Gabi Fenyvesi was a pocket-sized belter in the vein of Rita Pavone with a voice that vastly outweighed her tiny frame.
Born as Gabriella Farkas, her first recording was an entry into the 1967 Táncdalfesztivál with the song Ádám, hol vagy? It finished joint third with none other than Kyri Ambrus and was the biggest hit of Gabi’s short career in music.
Her follow-up release, 1968’s Ha csak egy fokkal szebb az ördögnél, was on another scale entirely. Written by Atilla Dobos and featuring a scorching beat, fuzzed-up guitar and a wild vocal performance, it remains one of the freakiest singles recorded in Hungary. The song itself was a playful take on the Hungarian expression ‘A férfi egy fokkal legyen szebb az ördögnél’, or ‘A man should only be a little more handsome than the devil’.
Many singles followed before the decade was over. The best of which, we reckon, is 1969’s Felírom korommal, with its frenetic sound and excellent guitar work.
In the early 1970s Gabi quit the music business and is said to have left Hungary for a life abroad.
That concludes our look at Hungary’s female beat scene of the 1960s. If you would like a further peek behind pop’s iron curtain, check out our other special reports:
Our pick of the pops
Elmúlt már az elsõ szerelem
Nem én döntöm el a háborúk idejét 1967
Kyri Ambrus Minden olyan más
Csuda jó fej
Mindig tanul az ember
Kyri Ambrus Betyárcsárda
Ez a szerelem
Hol van az az idő
Könyörögni nem fogok
Ez az utolsó randevúnk
Keresek egy fiút
Ha csak egy fokkal szebb az ördögnél