Magic Carpet Archive
Every season half a dozen new Czech bands "rediscover" the heritage of Moravian folk music - so what makes the latest addition, Camael, so special? First, it's combination of three fresh and natural female voices, who are also members of Triny ensemble, known for their adaptations of Gypsy songs. In Camael they are accompanied by players (strings, woodwind) from top classical ensembles, who provide imagination and spontaneity and never sink to boring academism.
A selection of music recorded in Prague and Brno by foreign language artists. The Colombian songwriter Ivan Gutierrez played for many years with one of the most beloved Czech singers, Zuzana Navarova, and recently he made his first debut album, Madera; the Mongolian singer Urna performed in Prague with Pavel Fajt and his Gathering of Drummers; the Chinese singer Feng Jun Song recorded with Ingwe; the Czech Celtic band Irish Dew features a kora player from Senegal.
Links for Ivan Gutierrez: http://www.radio.cz/es/articulo/73213
Link for Urna: www.urna.de
Link for Feng Jun Song: http://www.fengjunsong.cz
Zuzana Homolova works in Bratislava as an art teacher, and for many decades she was considered to be the most important singer of Slovak ballads. Like related genres from other parts of Europe, these songs were traditionally sung during the long winter nights by old and wise women without any accompaniment - but Zuzana Homolova breaks this rule on every CD she makes. In the past she has made albums with the jazz flutist Jiri Stivin and folksinger Vlasta Redl. Her most recent one, "I Won't Let Your Soul Pass Away", was produced by the Bratislava guitarist Daniel Salontay.
The most scenic region of pre-war Czechoslovakia was in the far east of the country, an area known at that time as Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Today it is part of Ukraine, but many Czech people love to go there as tourists or even to research and collect local folk songs. Czaldy Waldy Quartet is one of the new Czech bands who enjoy playing music from this very special part of Europe.
Njorek, an innovative Czech trio, plays folk songs adapted for a very unusual combination of string instruments: cello, guitar and zither. Compared to other local bands playing traditional material, Njorek plays in a very natural way thanks to the talent and finesse of cello player Olin Nejezchleba, who is alsso a gifted singer. Nejezchleba, a long-time member of the seminal Czech groups Marsyas and ETC..., seems to have achieved musical maturity in this small but focused band.
Sisters Michaela and Petra Vanu are founding members of the band Benedikta. Both their parents are rooted outside Czech Republic: their mother came here from a part of Western Ukraine which was a part of prewar Czechoslovakia, while their father is from Slovenia. This rich cultural heritage makes it very easy for them to draw inspiration from the folk traditions of neighbouring countries and blend them with modern musical styles. Their new album's title consists of two words from two different languages: while the first one, Punky, is well understood all over the world, the second part, Dumky, can be roughly translated as melancholy, or alternatively a kind of sad music that can be quite adventurous.
For Prague audiences, the autumn season started with a rare performance: one of the Czech Republic?s most beloved singers and musicians Iva Bittova launched her new album Elida and gave two concerts in the Archa Theatre with Bang on a Can, a renowned band from New York City. The album's title was inspired by the poet Vera Chase, who used to live in Prague. In one of her texts she writes about a woman taking a bath and washing herself with Elida soap; Iva Bittova found this story very erotic and inspiring. The album offers a rich spectrum of songs and instrumental pieces drawing both from the gentle folk melodies and contemporary experimental music.
The French word boudoir specifies a woman's dressing room. So if a band calls themselves "An old lady's boudoir," what kind of a message do you expect? Obviously they combine irony and humour, and plenty of originality. "We are not modern. We are not virtuosi," you can read on their website. 3 of the 5 members of the band are female, all of them sing, and they play violin, guitars, drums and bass. Yet the most original essence of their music is in their songs and especially in their attitude. Their latest album, "Talking About The Wolf", includes several texts by well known Czech poets put to music. "But we can never catch the wolf, who is disappearing in distance," they explain. Many of their songs feel like dreams put to music. If they had lived 80 years earlier, they would certainly have been called "surrealists", but today they are described as "alternative punkrock".
Czech and Moravian: these two adjectives define the two distinct regions of what is today called the Czech Republic. Moravia, situated in the eastern part, is well known for its beautiful folk songs, vineyards and wine cellars. For a band playing traditional music it was very natural to call themselves the "Czech and Moravian Musical Society". During the past decade they shortened this rather uncomfortable name to Czechomor, and this June they released their new album: "What Happened Next". As a producer, Czechomor hired Ben Mandelson from London, one of the busiest and most respected world music professionals. "I already had a clue about Czech music from before: at home I have albums of the composer Leos Janacek," says Mandelson. Czechomor also invited two foreign guest artists: the Japanese flute and taiko drums player Joji Hirota, and the Irish traditional singer Iarla O'Lionaird. Karel Holas, Czechomor's violin player, explains: "We love Irish music, and also we wanted to record a song in English, but in the end Iarla decided he will sing in Irish Gaelic."
Raduza, accompanying herself on accordion, is a very surprising artist. Her music can not be placed in any single category, like urban folk, punkrock or cabaret songs, but without any doubt she is inspired by all of them. Her new album "V hore", Inside a Mountain, finds her at a crossroads: Raduza uses more instrumental variety, sometimes replacing her accordion with guitar. Her songs are deeply rooted in her native language, but at the same time their energy transcends all barriers. A young woman with accordion and a very emotional voice - what a contrast to the mainstream artists that were dominating Czech music industry for the past decades! No wonder everybody was surprised when she won several Czech Academy awards - but even now she prefers to play small clubs where she can establish personal bond with her audience.
"One of the best Latin records I've heard so far this year comes from Marta Topferova who was born in the Czech Republic, but has learned the traditions she draws from, and come up with her own original interpretation. Plus she's got an extraordinary voice, and surrounds herself with truly excellent musicians," says Bill Bragin, programme director of the renowned Joe's Pub in NYC. You can judge her abilities as a singer, arranger and composer for yourself from her latest album, La Marea (The Tide). Her spring tour includes dates in Germany, France, UK, Spain. On Saturday 28 May she plays in the Stara pekarna club in Brno, on Monday 30 May in the Atrium in Prague.
On a spring night in early April two female singers of magnificent appearance gave a remarkable concert in the Lucerna ballroom in Prague: Cesaria Evora from the Cape Verde Islands, and the Queen of the Czech Gypsy singers Vera Bila. Last time they performed on a stage together was in 1997 at the Printemps de Bourges in France. Bila was also busy this spring recording her new album after a 4-year interval. Titled "C'est comme ca" (that's how it is), it is "a balance of the current outline of the band," as explained by Vera Bila's manager Jiri Smetana. One of the secrets revealed on the album is that the men in black shirts in her band are not only competent musicians, but convincing lead singers as well.
Fifteen years of freedom have opened Prague to parallel cultures and to cultural exchange. Foreign artists living in Prague are discovering Czech culture and at the same time contributing their own ideas and qualities. The Chinese singer Feng-Yün Song originally came to Prague 20 years ago, to study Czech language, and recently she completed her third album, recorded with Czech musicians.
2005 seems to be a crucial year for Iva Bittova, one of the best known Czech musicians internationally. On 29 April, she plays in Carnegie Hall in NYC, and has enough work planned for the next two years: an adaptation of the famous Mozart opera called "Don Juan in Prague", where she plays Donna Elvira, and her own chamber opera, which she plans to start writing in 2007 in New York City. Her most recent project, a CD of Moravian Folk Poetry, reflects her lifelong affection for the folk music from Moravia. The album is based on transcriptions by the Czech composer Leos Janacek. When I asked her about it, she explained: "For me, folk music was always a source of inspiration, an oasis of purity and honesty. I do not think I could write better lyrics than those you find in folk poetry."
See also The History of Music.
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