Interview: Joci Pápai on one-man shows, singing in the shower and the value of a Romani boy from Hungary

He has a man bun already! This guy is set for greatness in Kiev!
He has a man bun already! This guy is set for greatness in Kyiv!

It is a funny thing this Eurovision. Here we were, confident Italy was going to win this whole contest and that Scandinavian countries were stuck in the recycle bin once again and that all the Spanish fans were bonkers yet again and nothing else interesting was in line for us in 2017. Enter Joci Pápai. A Romani slash Hungarian bloke with a traditional Romani slash hiphop entry we couldn’t stop listening to in a golden shirt with a dancer and a violinist. And a man bun!

We needed to speak to him immediately, of course.

– OMG, Joci. Congratulations on winning A Dal! We didn’t even dare to hope for such an amazing song for Hungary yet again! Did you expect to win or were you surprised?

– Thank you very much. I really believed in my song but I never dared to dream of being in the top 4 or winning. It was the biggest surprise ever. My loved ones encouraged me all the way, but I didn’t think it was possible for a Gipsy boy to win with such a crossover track. I am incredibly grateful for all the votes from the audience!

– So are we. You are like a one-man show out there, writing the song yourself, playing the instrument yourself, singing by yourself and even dancing. Do you usually do everything yourself or do you sometimes get help?

– I was alone for most of my career with only a few people supporting me. You’re right, Origo is entirely my vision and I wanted every little detail to be just like I imagined. But I did have help, of course. I worked with a few producers on the track (Max Tailor and Marton Szabo), and the staging could never have been like it was without Mulan, my dancer. Eternal thanks for the choreography to Gomez and for the visual to Balu. And to my label Magneoton for their support.

– I really love it when the team around me is small and tight. It’s like family.

– And that concludes the commercial break beautifully. In spite of our knowledge of Romani and Hungarian being somewhat limited (where is that Romani option on DuoLingo?), we can see that your song is about suffering. What does it mean to you? Is it personal?

– I am in that song. My whole life is in that song. All the struggles and obstacles since I was four years old and got my first guitar. Before I wrote it, I shut music out for months. I wanted peace. I didn’t want to follow any trends. I dreamed to be the trend myself. When I finally wrote Origo – it took about 25 minutes – it was all God’s doing. He wrote it through me and he was with me through the whole competition as well.

Joci3
Crap, we forgot to ask Joci why he keeps shouting for Jamala. Then again: Don’t we all?

– We love that you have a part of your song in Romani, which only happens for the third time in Eurovision history (as far as we know). Is that important to you?

– Well the chorus is Romani but it doesn’t actually have a specific meaning. The Jálomá part. It is just a way gypsies use their voice in music all the time. And the other parts are in Hungarian. I am a Hungarian-Romani guy and I think the most important thing in life is to be true to our roots. That is why I will insist on singing Origo in its original form. To show the world our beautiful and unique language and diverse culture.

– Yeah, don’t switch to English, we all know what happens to the British. You have a Romani background as well. Is it important to you as a musician? Did you grow up with the rich Romani tradition of music and dance?

– Absolutely. My father was in a band with 70 members. Which was monumental and emotional to watch and listen to when I was young. Gipsy music and culture filled our home, but we definitely consider ourselves as much Hungarian as Romani.

– Good thing they didn’t win Eurovision as it would have been a headache with all those EBU rules. On the more political note: From the little we know, Hungary hasn’t always been the best at handling questions concerning the Romani people – especially not with the current government, we presume. Do you think your win is important in a political way?

– To be able to represent my country at an international contest with my background is a definite breakthrough and historic moment for the Romani society in Hungary. It carries the message that if we work hard we can achieve our dreams and the Hungarian people will welcome us and our talent.

– OK, we are officially moved. You are close to a Conchita moment already, hon. But let’s get back to basics: Freddie did a little damage to Hungary’s rich party reputation by not showing up in Euro Club last year. Do you plan to make amends?

– I am definitely up for all the activities, shows and fun in Kyiv. My team is also a spirited bunch so I can’t wait to travel with them.

– What excellent news! Let us know how we can be of assistance! Do you also like to sing in the shower or do you prefer to rap?

– I sing all the time. It’s a part of me. In the shower, in the car, in the dressing room… Anywhere.

– That might explain your choice of instruments. How do you choose those? Are flower vases trendy in Hungary?

– Do you mean the patterns in the video? They are all part of the Hungarian folklore. They are beautiful and they are ours. I wanted to include them.

– Yeah, we meant that drum thing, but maybe we should keep that to ourselves. The lady on stage with you seems a little grumpy, though. What did you do to her?

– Haha, Mulan is an outstanding dancer and if you thought she is grumpy, she must be a great actress as well. Her part on stage is to help me reflect all that has been hard in my life. Backstage she is sweet and funny.

– Aww, how nice. Any other significant ladies or lads in your life?

– I’ve been married for 13 years and we have two wonderful children. My role as a father is the most important one in my life.

– Do not step into that glittery rain. I repeat: Stay away from the glitter.
– I know, I know honey. That is a lot of glitter. But you need to get used to that now.

– That is great. So great. By the way, who made this fabulous shirt you are wearing? Plan on wearing even more gold in Kyiv?

– Timi Szivek and Kolos Schilling created my outfit which I’m really grateful for. It’s sort of like a cavalryman’s outfit and we’d like to keep it or make something similar for Eurovision.

– We are also very grateful for that, mind you. Any other plans for Kyiv? Hanging out with fun Norwegians, maybe?

– I love diversity but haven’t traveled too much yet. So it will be incredibly exciting to meet all the contestants and audience.

– We’re sure they feel the same way. Do you like Eurovision? Any previous favourite entries?

– I cannot imagine all the things that are waiting for us at Eurovision! It will be the ride of my life. I really loved Loreen’s “Euphoria”. It was simple and unique. I hope to be simple and unique on stage in Kyiv as well.

Our verdict:

Well, a one-man show that calls his team his family, isn’t a bit afraid of being political in a country where it is highly needed and is up to all the fun and events in Kyiv? AND when naming one Eurovision song, he names a Thomas G:Son one? Did we just die and end up in Hungary heaven? Well, we’re more into believing in the here and now, to be honest, but it sure looks good. And we’ll surely join Joci’s family and cavalry. We mean, listen to this. Man bun for the win!

And do you, like us, want to know what Joci is singing about? See the English translation here.

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