It is Szimpla mad this weekly open jam session in Budapest, Szimpla mad! Before I went to Budapest I was very worried that I would encounter the first country of the year where I would not find an open mic or open jam session. I had barely managed to find a place to play last time I went, and even when I did it was a “possibly” open mic at Becketts Irish pub. Not something to get the Hungarian paprika juices flowing. But this time, oh my God, did I ever find a jam – and a half!
There was supposedly two jams on Sunday night but I decided to settle for one, once I saw how mad, manic and amazing it became. When I arrived at the Szimpla kert, which is a kind of beer garden with a massively alternative flavor to it, I had to ask around at 8 PM where the jam was. It was written up on the web site, and we eventually found a small stage area with instruments in their cases. I was sure this was going to be a jam that might not even take off. I was so wrong.
As the evening progressed the jam became a wild Bacchanal of music, rhythms, audience participation and audience dancing and free-for-all on the stage. Szimpla is owned and operated by a couple of musicians, and it is very hippie, as is the jam. There is a fabulous music studio on an upper floor, there is a VIP room – not very hippie, but cool – there are bars and narguile pipes and video screens and a full-fledged 16mm movie projector showing old arty films on the wall… there is an open air area, winding staircases, art works on all the walls, weird shell corpses of cars to sit in. If my prose feels muddy, it is because the atmosphere at Szimpla is muddy, and wonderful. Anything goes.
The jam consisted of people sitting around on the stage mostly in a circle, and playing all sorts of instruments in unison: guitars, drums, bongos, accordions, violins, triangles, a flute, singing, hand clapping, dancing. And some vocals. And at the same time, I was allowed – and Vanessa was allowed – to do simple songs, cover songs, formal songs. It is supposed to start every Sunday at 7 PM and finish at 10 PM. It actually starts closer to 9 PM and sometimes finishes as late as 3:30 AM. (I think it went until close to 2 PM last night.)
The feeling was as vibrant and chaotic as some of the moments I have felt in Istanbul and Sao Paulo; but there was something unique about this, particularly in the way the audience participated, and how the music although jammed and unprepared, held together. But freedom and free-for-all have to be the key words. And the crowd was young and hip and hippie and alternative. And other.
But I never did get to go and check out the other Sunday night jam at the other art space, called Cökxpon Café Theater. Maybe next year. But if you are there next week for the Sziget festival, be sure to check out the Szimpla Sunday night jam. Boy did this renew my faith in Budapest after a down year….