Printed 16.10.2019 02:39
19-12-2004 David Vaughan
Today we remember an extraordinary Czech musician, Zuzana Navarova, who died last week of cancer at the tragically early age of 45. Her band Nerez became hugely popular in the 1980s. This was a time of growing popularity of singer song-writers, but Zuzana Navarova was different. Music critic Petr Doruzka remembers:
"She was leading a band with a very interesting set-up. She was not just a singer-songwriter with a guitar. She also had very varied sources of influence, like Latin American music, Cuban music. She spent some time in Cuba, she studied Spanish. She took everything very seriously.
"She had a great voice. When you listened to her, you were completely absorbed. Unfortunately there are not so many singers here in this country. So I think she really had international class."
Zuzana Navarova born in 1959 in Eastern Bohemia, and from her childhood had very distinct musical tastes, as she herself later remembered: "I've always been interested in what they now call ethnic music," she said in one interview. "When I was young they called it folklore and no-one was interested, but I was a bit strange and enjoyed it."
She started in her teens, playing the guitar and singing at folk festivals and in competitions, but her real success began in the early eighties, with her band Nerez. And people began to realize the huge appeal of what she was doing, and that she wasn't simply "a bit strange". She managed to make the leap from folk to more popular forms, but without sacrificing any of her integrity. And to the end she never showed any interest in the kind of success attached to pop stars. Petr Doruzka again:
"If you look at her after three decades of work she continued to prefer to perform in the Malostranska beseda, which is a small place. There was not any kind of career tactic. Her priority was music."
Zuzana Navarova's interest in Latin rhythms took her to Cuba, which she visited several times in the 80s. Her band Nerez even performed there. Zuzana studied Spanish at the Charles University in Prague and her husband, Luis de Tejeda is also Cuban. So it's not surprising that her relationship to the music of Latin America went far below the surface.
In the early 90s she left Nerez and began a solo career. On her first solo album Caribe in 1992 she sang Latin American songs with the Caribe Jazz Quintet. And a couple of years later she began her immensely successful cooperation with the Colombian guitarist, song-writer Ivan Gutierrez. Two albums resulted, "Tres" and "Zeleny album" (the Green Album).
Although for many people Zuzana Navarova is associated mainly with Latin rhythms, her music embraced many genres. In the last few years she has worked with the band Koa, four musicians who represent very diverse musical cultures: a Peruvian drummer, a Turkish guitarist, a Czech double bass player and the amazing blind Romany accordion player Mario Bihari from Slovakia. And the musical heritage of the musicians is reflected in the music itself. On their 2003 album Jak Santidevi, she thinks nothing of shifting from songs in Czech to Spanish, Romany, or even Arabic.
Another aspect of Zuzana Navarova's career was her tireless work to support young or unknown musicians. She even set up a foundation called "Life for Artists" with the aim of promoting struggling musicians at the beginning of their career, especially if they got into difficulties. Over the years she proved to be a talent-spotter with an incredible gift. For example one of the most successful solo artists in the Czech Republic today, the idiosyncratic accordion player, singer and song-writer Raduza - whom we've also featured on this programme - owes her career to Navarova. The two were good friends, and Raduza was at her bedside during her last illness.
It was also Navarova who discovered the legendary Romany singer Vera Bila, who now has a huge worldwide following. Here Petr Doruzka remembers their first concert together in one of Prague's great venues, the Lucerna Ballroom.
"At the time nobody knew anything about Gypsy music, and then she took her to the Lucerna, which was a big achievement, because it's a big hall. I think both of them were probably a little bit nervous how this large audience, which doesn't have any experience with Gypsy music would react, and I remember I interviewed Zuzana about how was it, how did it feel, and she told me, 'Well, I had tears in my eyes.'"
Zuzana Navarova died in the early morning of the 7th December, after a long battle with cancer. She had always played down her illness, and for people outside her closest circle of friends her death came as a shock. Had she lived we can be sure that she would have continued to make a huge contribution to Czech music. But at least we have the recordings that she left behind and memories of her concerts, where she appeared more often than not in jeans and a t-shirt, but captivated audiences from beginning to end. Petr Doruzka:
"She really had a talent of putting words together in a very unusual way and expressing what would be difficult to put to words for another person. She was catching ideas which are flying around."
Magic Carpet is Radio Prague's monthly music magazine that looks at music from Czech, Moravian and Silesian towns and villages. The programme covers a wide selection of genres, from traditional folk to the exotic and experimental.
It is presented by Petr Doruzka, one of the Czech Republic's foremost music journalists.
For copyright reasons we are unable to archive the programmes in audio, but here at least are a few words about some of the recordings featured recently in the programme.
5.12.2004: Terne Chave, Gypsy roots with a future
7.11.2004: The mean fiddlers from Moravia
10.10.2004: Anybody who travelled east before the fall of the Iron Curtain remembers the Trabant. A funny little car with a motorcycle engine manufactured in Eastern Germany. The word Trabant was used in many jokes. In a slightly transformed form, it serves as a name for a band. Yes, Traband, with a D, is a band with a strong sense of humour, and contrary to the Trabant car, they have a lot of energy to spare - and also some remarkable musical ideas. Recently Traband finished a new album, which is ready for release. On their past albums Traband have always used a unifying theme behind their songs, so I asked the leader, singer and composer Jarda Svoboda, what is the concept of their new CD? "It's called Hyje, which means 'Go horses!'. The songs are full of knights, horsemen of Apocalypse, riders and golden chariots." Despite the fact that Traband has existed for 10 years, they are not a band who can fill a stadium, and I am also sure this is not their ambition. Yet they are quite successful abroad - they often play in France and recently they returned from the first tour of Japan. Even though Traband put a great deal of energy into their lyrics, you do not have to speak Czech to enjoy their music.
12.09.2004: The Eastern part of the Czech Republic, close to the Slovak border, happens to be very fertile source of traditional music. Up in the north, the wooded highlands once were sheltering thieves and outlaws. To make this region safer, four centuries ago the land was offered to farmers and shepherds who also functioned as a border patrol. Most of the settlers came from the East, even from Romania. This newly populated region was given the name Wallachia, after the historical name for the Romanian kingdom. Today, their descendants speak Czech, but the region is known for its distinguished wooden architecture, sheep herding and also music. The Wallachian ensemble Docuku could be seen as a regional all star band. The set-up features a violin player, who's also leader of one of the best local cymbalom bands, Solan. The drummer used to play with a well-known Czech rock band Mnaga & Zdorp for 10 years. And one of the key members of Docuku is a gifted young woman, who sings and plays mandolin: Lucie Redlova, the daughter of veteran foksinger Vlasta Redl. Their first album was released this summer, featuring contemporary arrangements of folk songs.
15.08.2004: In the era of major companies and global pop it takes a lot of courage to be independent. The fretless bass guitar player Sina and her partner, guitarist Daniel Salontay, formed Slnko Records in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In the beginning, they burned the CDs on their home computer, packaged them and sent by mail - but with growing success of their company this became harder more difficult. With their band, Dlhe Diely, they were one of the brightest surprises of last years Colours of Ostrava festival. Magic Carpet features both Dlhe Diely and Sina's solo albums.
18.07.2004: The history of the Prague band Jablkon reaches deep into the past. In 1977 they started as an acoustic trio with two guitars and percussion and their music was in stark contrast to every existing fashion.Jablkon blended instruments with voices in very unorthodox way. The musicians invented a wide spectrum of howls, wails, screams, grunts and other deeply human sounds, and used just the right amount of this vocal seasoning to build a pattern, a momntum of a non-verbal message, or just a joke. Their music was like a well crafted building with a wild back yard; in the large scale architecture you can feel delicate melodies and musical forms of a sophisticated European origin.As years went by, the classical elements of their music became more apparent in 90's, when the band played with the classical violinist Jaroslav Sveceny, and made a rare appearance with a symphonic orchestra. Last year, the band celebrated the first 25 years of it's existence. On a memorable concert in the Prague Archa theatre, Jablkon performed with the Moravian Symphony orchestra and other guest players. Magic Carpet features the live CD from this concert.
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