Alibi V.17 No.29 • July 17-23, 2008 

CD Release

Who is Zoltán Székely?

The self-proclaimed mad Hungarian opens up ... a little

Zoltán Székely
Zoltán Székely

You may have seen him walking down Central, head down, guitar on his back, handlebar mustache and long, blackened fingernails. He's not much of a talker, though he's liable to take off his shirt on stage, revealing a thick mat of curly black chest hair. Swirling around in the local Mythos of Zoltán is the fact that he was banned from the Golden West for getting naked. "I've been known to showcase my hairy body parts and such at other shows," he says.

Born in the westernmost part of Romania, known as Transylvania, Székely is a citizen of four countries. He lived in Canada and Hungary before coming to the states 10 years ago. "I moved here at 16 with my mom and my sister," he says. "My mom was a nurse, and this was one of the few states where she didn't need an American nursing license."

Thus began Székely's life in New Mexico, a strange place for someone with ambitions to work full-time as a musician. "I am making a living, not just trying," Székely says. "I don't have a car, and I live in very cheap places. I've donated plasma for money. I've had my brain scanned for me at the Mind Institute."

The idea that he could make music to make money was planted in his head by a man Székely calls Reggie, the Texan. "He told me about all these shows he did for $500 and whatnot. So I said, Well I think I'd rather do that than get a job." Székely taught himself a four-hour repertoire of classical music, then showed up at restaurants to find out who would pay him to play. With his band Zoltán Orkestar, Székely performs at weddings, bars and restaurants. The players call it "gypsy-samba," because a previous percussionist added a Brazilian sound that persists.

Though similar genres are popular right now with American bands like A Hawk and A Hacksaw, DeVotchKa and Beirut, Székely's influences are the nomadic Roma bands he watched growing up in Hungary. "Romania and Hungary have the largest gypsy populations in the world." He absorbed the culture, he says. "Living amongst gypsies, you're immersed in that music and the whole Eastern European tradition as well." Romania and Hungary have a large population of excellent musicians, he adds, all of whom are at a level that is rarely seen other places. "But I'm obviously biased," he says.

Zoltán isn't the only Székely in the Orkestar. "We met her three months ago. She was interested in trying out for our band," he says. After further prodding, he mentions that he married the auditioning singer, Glynda, eight weeks ago.

Bandmate John Keith (accordion) fills in the rest, explaining, "He just called me up one morning and said, 'John, we need a witness.’ They were getting married around the block."

Székely interjects. "People were surprised. And that's about it."

Keith, with his light Tennessean accent, laughs. "Zoltán, as you can tell, he's a light-spoken fellow. We were all just astonished that he could be that aggressive." Glynda, they say, is a great vocalist and a lot of fun. Being in a band with his new wife, Székely says, is "the most wonderful thing in the world."

The Zoltán Orkestar will release its live-recorded, self-titled CD with Le Chat Lunatique at Burt's Tiki Lounge on Friday, July 18.