Mario Bihari is a successful singer, musician and composer in the Czech Republic. He has one significant difference from most artists: Since the age of eight, he has been blind.
Born in 1977 in a Roma family in Slovakia, Bihari always dreamed of being a performer. “I woke up in the morning with thoughts of the stage,” he says. “However, I had no guarantees.’’
With the encouragement of his parents, he started his music career playing the piano at the age of seven. When he was 10, he picked up the accordion.
After Bihari completely lost his vision, he was sent to a boarding school for blind people in Levoka, very far from his home, parents and four sisters. “It is very tough for a child at that age to move somewhere that far, completely alone,” he says. “But at that time, it was the only option I had.”
In Levoka, Bihari kept taking piano and accordion lessons and began to enjoy participating in sports. In 1992 he became the European champion in the category of blind people under 16 years old, running the 60-meter race in a record time of 7,9 seconds. Now Bihari plays Czech goalball. (Goalball is a type of indoor football designed for blind athletes, played with a ball with bells inside, so players can hear where the ball is.)
After finishing high school Bihari moved to Prague to continue his musical education at the Jan Deyl Conservatory, which has a department for visually impaired people. There he continued playing guitar and accordion, and also studied composition and singing.
While at the conservatory, Bihari met the famous Czech singer Zuzana Navarová, who invited him to join her band. As soon as he finished his studies, Bihari became a musician in her band KOA.
The first concert took place in Homutov, where Bihari couldn’t believe his dreams were coming true.
After Navarová’s tragic death in 2004, he took over her duties, becoming the main composer for KOA. When the band broke up a few years later, Bihari started playing solo with his new band, Bachtale Apsa. The name translates as “Tears of Joy,” reflecting the diversity of moods and emotion that Roma music awakens in listeners. The band plays in the traditional Roma style, with songs constructed on Bihari’s strong, beautiful voice and his virtuoso piano and accordion playing, accompanied by guitar, bass and drums.
Bihari has also done a number of recordings – to date, a total of nine CDs with KOA and Bachtale Apsa.
From the second project called “Hudba v Obraze” (Music in Images) – photograped by Mario Bihari. Mario is a well known blind Roma musician originally from Slovakia living since he finished his studies in Prague, Czech Republic. Beside being a very talented multi-instrumentalist working as a professional musician he is also experimenting with photography as a another way to express himself.
Along with music, Bihari was always interested in a different kind of art – photography.
After meeting the professional photographer Bjorn Steinz in 1998, he decided to take a part in a project. The idea was to compare two pictures of the same thing, one taken by a sighted person and the other by a blind person.
“It was more like an experiment,” Bihari says. “Even though I could somehow imagine the shot, I could’t be 100 percent sure about the outcome.”
During a walk, Bjorn described the the surroundings and Bihari chose what to shoot. He touched an object, trying to imagine how it would look in a photo, and finally made a picture.
In 2004, with the help of Steinz, Bihari created a more ambitious photo project.
Looking at Bihari’s photos, it is hard to believe that they were made by a blind person. They have great composition, surprising perspective and profound ideas that fascinate the viewer.
With the support of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his works have been exhibited in many cities such as Oslo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Los Angeles.
Now playing solo with Bachtale Apsa and with other bands as a guest musician, Bihari continues to grow as an artist.
“I haven’t shown anything yet,” he says. “I am still improving myself and growing professionally. I am very lucky with the people around me, they are helping me a lot.”
With the support of his wife and daughter, Bihari is preparing to release a new solo album next year and continue making photography.
Cover Photo by Bjorn Steins
By Valeriya Vakutina