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“We bring our personalities to the covers”: Hungarian Duo Translates Popular Hungarian Songs into English

Fanni Kaszás 2018.09.13.

Have you ever wondered how your favorite Hungarian pop songs would sound translated into English? Well, a young Hungarian crew living in England translates some of the most popular tracks to English and reproduces them in their own style. The team consists of musician Fred Novak, the creative mind behind the project, and writer-translator, Luca Tréfás.

The idea came to Fred while he was studying music at Birmingham University and wished to show some Hungarian songs to a friend, but his friend was unable to understand a word:

I tried to find English versions of at least the lyrics because it’s important. Without lyrics, the whole soul of the song is lost, but nothing came up on the internet. So I thought, I should do this. I should translate the tunes and record them in English. That’s my thing. It’s a good project. I asked Luca if she could translate it, then I teamed up with Izzy, who went to the same course at Birmingham University, and we recorded my favorite song at home. He also helped a lot with reading and trying out the lyrics. That’s how it all started.

The first piece of their joint project was a cover of Fred’s favorite Hungarian song, Bájoló by Suhancos. The poem is originally written by Miklós Radnóti, one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century. Luca translated the poem four years ago, and although she said she would now use other words here or there, it’s still one of her favorites:

I asked Luca to describe their creative process:

I’ve always loved to write poems and I’ve also been translating from Hungarian to English and vice versa since the age of 15. I started with easier pop songs then moved to poems. When Fred asked me to do Bájoló by Radnóti, I just fell into it. We usually choose the song together, typically things we really like and think foreigners would be interested in, without knowing the lyrics. We also have to take into account the meaning of the song, because when I translate it, so many things are changing. I can’t translate it word for word. You know, it’s the same, but somehow a bit different. That’s the magic of the whole process; we bring our personalities to the covers.

A bit later Fred was given an assignment at the university to record a Hungarian folk song. He knew Punnany Massif’s Másfél Hete (One and a Half Weeks) and searched for the original gypsy folk song it was based on. Eventually, it morphed into his final project at the university and now consists of four pieces, including Quimby hit Most Múlik Pontosan (I let it pass me by) and LGT’s Elfelejtett szó (Unremembered sound).

Success came when the famous Hungarian band, Punnany Massif discovered the English version of their second piece, the cover of One and a Half Weeks, on YouTube and shared it to their Facebook page. They have also came up with the idea of a cover song contest last summer, and Fred and Izzy re-recorded their English version and submitted it. They won the contest and were able to film their own music video, which debuted last week, as a result: