First Time Release Outside Hungary for Cult 1973 Zalatnay Album

Music

Since it was first discovered in the West around 2007, Sarolta Zalatnay’s 1973 album “Hadd Mondjam El” (“Let Me Tell You”) has been highly sought after by collectors of “ostrock” (originally East German music, but now more Eastern Bloc) alongside sample hunters in search of new sounds. On the 50th anniversary of the original album release, Finnish label Svart Records has put out a remastered edition.

Apart from a limited-run Hungarian repress, this is the first time the album has been officially available outside this country in any form. It was remastered from digital files in Finland at Finnvox, Helsinki, the go-to studio in that country for this kind of project. For this first reissue on Svart, 500 vinyl albums and 500 CDs will be pressed.

“Hadd Mondjam El” was Zalatnay’s fourth album. In its blend of soul, funk, jazz, and psychedelic rock, it was something of a musical departure for her. But it was still built around her wonderfully throaty, soulful vocals.

Zalatnay’s voice was supposedly the result of a teenage tonsillectomy that thwarted her parents’ desire to see her become an opera singer but made her perfect for rock. She’s sometimes called the Hungarian Janis Joplin.

Born in 1947, Zalatnay was 19 when she won the hugely popular Hungarian televised talent show “Táncdalfesztivál” in 1967, performing a song called “Nem Várok Holnapig” (“I Won’t Wait Until Tomorrow”). A Hungarian music mogul with impeccable connections was in the audience that night and arranged with the authorities for Zalatnay to be transported to swinging London, and she spent a couple of years in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s.

Judging by the photos dating from this period, she received an education in pop PR. Speaking to Budapest-based journalist Peterjon Cresswell, she  claimed that Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees proposed to her, that she hung out at swinging London clubs the Marquee and Speakeasy, and had an affair with Jimi Hendrix, who squired her around London in his Rolls-Royce.

She also said that, guided by Australian impresario Robert Stigwood, she recorded English language tracks written by the brothers Gibb.

‘Too Much Fredoom’

Of the city, Zalatnay told Cresswell, “London was so beautiful then. I was just happy singing. I wanted to become famous. There was so much freedom. Too much freedom [….].”

The singer claimed that this freedom was swiftly curtailed when she was offered a part in the next James Bond movie. The Hungarian Embassy in London purportedly gave her a choice: go home immediately or stay away forever. Not wanting to abandon her mom, she went home.

By 1970, she was back in Hungary, where she released her first album, “Ha Fiú Lehetnék” (“If I Could Be a Boy”). The backing was provided by the psychedelic pop band Metro, all superb musicians.

That terrific musicianship is one reason why Hungarian music appeals so much to a Western audience.

As Matt Meek, compiler of the superb Ace Records “She Came From Hungary” collections, told me, “I’m always amazed by how good the level of musicianship and creativity was in Hungary, especially compared to other Eastern Bloc countries such as Yugoslavia or Romania. And, if you don’t understand Hungarian, you’re not distracted by the lyrics. The power of the music really hits you.”

This is certainly true of “Hadd Mondjam El.” As Meek said, “When I first heard the album, I was blown away by that sound. The quality of musicianship and the fusion of funk, hard rock and jazz make it at least the equal of anything that came out of the U.K. or U.S.”

Romantic Influencer

That “Hadd Mondjam El” sounds the way it does is almost entirely down to the influence of songwriter and bassist Károly Frenreisz, who played on Sarolta’s debut album and became her romantic partner.

Frenreisz was the co-founder of Locomotiv GT, who backed Zalatnay on her second eponymous album, “Zalatnay” along with members of Metro, and her third, “Álmodj Velem” (“Dream with Me”).

But by the time of “Hadd Mondjam El,” Frenreisz had already left Locomotiv GT and started Skorpió, a heavier proposition. Members of Skorpió back Zalatnay on the album, but from the first few seconds of the album onward, they bring the funk.

“Hadd Mondjam El” wasn’t a success in Hungary. László Kovács, Hungarian music historian and founder of the excellent Moiras Records, estimates that it sold between 20,000 and 40,000 copies. To go “gold” in the charts printed in Ifjúsági Magazin and Magyar Ifjúság, the two political youth magazines, an album needed to sell 50,000 copies.

The album’s lack of sales perhaps explains why, inside Hungary, it’s still not hard to pick up. But, since it was discovered in the West, the price of an original copy has soared. Another reason the Svart Records remaster is most welcome.

Tomi Pulkki, one of the owners of Svart, told me that album “has a character like nothing else. It’s a U.S. West Coast psych record made in Eastern Europe.”

Inside Hungary, while she continues to perform, Zalatnay is now more famous for her life than her music. She posed for Hungarian Playboy magazine, aged 54, during her third marriage to a porn baron. After appearing on Hungary’s “Big Brother,” she served three years for tax evasion. More recently, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Listening to “Hadd Mondjam El” again while writing this article, I can’t help but feel a touch of sadness. If, in a “Sliding Doors” moment, Zalatnay had stayed in London and had an international career, she might today be promoting a raw, stripped-back album made with a simpatico producer like Rick Rubin. Instead, she is being feted outside her own country for a masterpiece released half a century ago.

You can buy the digitally remastered “Hadd Mondjam El” from www.svartrecords.com. For an original Hungarian copy in reasonable condition, expect to pay around EUR 50.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 10, 2023.

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