Music. Art. Culture. Writing.
Christina Jákó is a jazz singer from Budapest, Hungary who has built her career in music for nearly a quarter century. She sings to make people happy, drawing on a mix of cultures, influences, languages, and musical styles. Primarily a jazz singer inspired by Billie Holiday and Bill Evans, she also sings opera, pop, funk, blues, world music and Latin songs with an inclination toward boleros. We caught up by email and explored her musical style and the emotional power that comes with singing and connecting with an audience.
The early days: “My grandpa, György Jákó, was an opera singer so I grew up listening to classical music and singing with him. At age six I could sing all the famous arias in Italian. But I became a singer by accident. I studied law at the university. After my studies I wanted to go to work abroad so I applied for a job in a casino based in Cyprus. Unfortunately, the vacancy had already filled up when I arrived to the interview but the owner of the agency felt sorry for me and asked me if I could sing because they had a singer job. Somehow I said yes and I arranged my first show within two weeks. And although I’ve actually tried to stop many times, I haven’t been able to and have kept going for 23 years.”
From pop to jazz to bossa nova: “I started with pop music and I met my current pianist József Virágh in 1998. He proposed I try jazz. He is a great pianist and a fantastic musician but a cruel reviewer…working with him I always had to do my best. I like listening to jazz (and blues) music, those great musicians of the ‘golden era.’ My favorite pianist ever is Bill Evans and favorite singer is Billie Holiday. Now, jazz/smooth jazz is my ‘main’ style but I also sing blues, adore singing Latin songs (especially boleros) and I sing pop, funky music, world music, and opera, too. József is experienced in every field of music and he has a great sense of style so we will perform, for example, a jazz evergreen in a funky style or a Brasilian bossa nova in a swing style…It’s a great game and we also can show the different sides of one song. Anyway, the audience enjoys this.”
On the jazz scene in Budapest: “Although we have lot of great jazz musicians I think ‘classical’ jazz is not a very popular genre of music in Hungary. Yes, maybe American jazz is considered to be in decline but America is the ‘mother’ of jazz and it will be forever. Generations have grown up there listening to it even if they don’t want to…it’s part of the everyday life and was the basis of many other genres of American music. Jazz is yours and you lend it to us sometimes.”
Connecting with the audience: “Usually I say that I’m more entertainer than singer. I have many years of experience, a repertory of 250-300 songs, speak five languages and sing in 12. When I’m on the stage I look around, see the faces, listen to their languages, try to find out what they really want from the music. Then I make up my show. I sing and talk to them because people need personal care. Singing is always a celebration for me and I want to make them celebrate with me. So every show is a favourite show whether at a small club or in a big theatre.
“But singing to children is something very special. Singing with a little girl in your arms while the other girls and boys are sitting around you on the stage…they leave me speechless with their love and inner beauty. And singing to mentally handicapped people…this is what I can’t speak about without tears in my eyes. These moments make me sure that after all I decided well 23 years ago.”
On singing torch songs: “Feeling blue is as important as feeling happy….happiness always starts with sadness. But somehow people are afraid of sadness, they are afraid to experience it. When I sing ‘torch songs’ about unrequited or lost love I just want to make them understand that these feelings are absolutely normal, and they are part of life so we need to talk about them. A singer’s target is to lift people’s souls so at the end I try to give them a feeling that life is beautiful, funny, and valuable.”