Welcome to this new MP3 music blog. It’s dedicated to funky pop and jazz music from former Czechoslovakia, focusing mainly on the late 1960s and the 1970s.
At that time there were not many Czech or Slovak performers who were playing primarily soul or even funk music, and only a few of them who did have ever made it to record and release it. So don’t expect no animalism of a James Brown or any freak-outs à la George Clinton. Nonetheless quite a lot of rock, pop and jazz artists have included funk and soul influenced songs on their singles or albums at one time or another, be it their own compositions or cover versions of international hits. In the past 20 years I have collected enough Czech and Slovak vinyl records and a few CDs to feed this blog with a weekly dose of funk for at least one year, although my collection is by no means complete. Not all of those recordings are “über-rare”, many have been reissued on CDs in the past 15 years. And if you are a vinylist and plan to travel to Prague, you also have a good chance to find some of the items at reasonable prices in one of the Prague’s second hand record shops; I might publish a list of good stores in a future post.
To understand the whole musical situation in Czechoslovakia of the 1970s, you need to remember that soon after the invasion of the Warshaw Pact armies in August 1968 the times became very tough for rock oriented musicians. After 1970 they were not allowed to sing in English anymore and the groups had to give up their English names. They were not allowed to wear long hair or fancy clothes or behave too extravagantly. All concert venues were seated and often controlled by the police. Each and every musician and group has been forced to perform at annual musical and political “exams” in front of communist commissions who then gave them a permission to perform in public – or sometimes they did not. The internationally best known victims were of course the psychedelic Plastic People Of The Universe who refused to participate on those humiliating exams and went strictly underground. Eventually in the mid 1970s they were jailed for political reasons which inspired intellectual dissidents around Václav Havel (later Czech president in the 1990s) to form the Charta 77 organization as a protest against the communist regime. So, while rock music was booming in the free world, many Czechoslovak entertainers and musicians switched to harmless mainstream pop in order to stay on the safe side of the business. Others have changed their occupation and quitted playing music altogether, professionally at least. And many jazz and rock musicians have chosen – some were even forced – to emigrate after 1968: Miroslav Vitouš, Jan Hammer (yes, the one of Miami Vice fame), George (Jiří) Mráz, Ivan Král (who joined the Patti Smith Group), Jaroslav Šedivý, Jiří Kozel, later also Jan Kubík, Laco Déczi, Petr Klapka, Jana Kratochvílová (aka Jane Pope), Pavel Trnavský, Jiří Hrubeš, Oskar Petr, Plastic People’s Vratislav Brabenec and Pavel Zajíček, Vlasta Třešňák or even pop/C&W singer Waldemar Matuška just to drop a couple of more or less known names.
Absurdly – as the communist ideology is absurd anyway – one of the widely tolerated musical genres was disco, although there’s probably no other genre that is in fact more “capitalistic” than that. Possibly it was considered ideologically “safe” due to the lack of any serious verbal message and its “feel-good” nature. Disco got adopted quite quickly in Czechoslovakia, the first records started to pop up around 1976. Many major international disco hits were also re-recorded with Czech or Slovak lyrics within a year or two after its original release. Today, when I’m observing the Czech and Slovak 1970s “disco scene” from the safe distance of thirty years, some of the output actually still sounds quite fresh. At least, for the first time since 1968 they again caught up musically with the rest of the (free) world.
Rock groups on the other hand often ended up playing mostly instrumental jazz rock or large art rock compositions. Not all of it was bad but for today’s listeners it might sound rather uninspired. At that time though, in the late 1970s, it made sense because the communist control commissions demanded “composed programmes” with a strict dramaturgy to allow rock groups to play in public at all.
Classically educated jazz musicians often had their daily jobs in various orchestras or in bands accompanying pop singers. Some of them enjoyed quite a lot of freedom and were allowed to study in the USA: Martin Kratochvíl, Emil Viklický and others. They managed to record many great jazz albums. Unfortunately, those records were often released in an insufficient edition and were very hard to obtain anyway. Many of them were only available to members of the “Gramofonový klub”. Some of them are still sought-after collector items because they haven’t been reissued on CDs yet.
In the early 1980s punk and new wave have infected the young generation (myself included: I was born in 1967 and lived in Czechoslovakia until 1981) and the whole Czechoslovak music scene began to wake up. And while the mid 1980s were again a tough period for many musicians as the communist regime once again tried hard to keep the independent pop music under its control, by the end of the decade there was just no stopping anymore. In 1988 even the original Plastic People musicians were allowed to perform in public again, albeit under their new name Půlnoc (Midnight). In November 1989 the communist regime finally collapsed. From then on the Czechs and Slovaks have joined the worldwide music industry with all its heights and lows. And despite all the negative effects that followed, compared to the scary communist era that’s actually a Good Thing…
Personal note: English is not my native language, so please excuse that my vocabulary is somewhat limited or that some phrases that might sound rather strange to you. But I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure it all out. :)
Being a vinyl collector in the first place, most songs are recorded from good old wax. I for one love the sound of vinyl. However, due to the age of some of the records, the sound quality may vary despite powerful noise filters in modern digital audio editing software; some of my treasures have been literally pulled out of a stinking pile of old rubbish… Additionally, songs which are available on CDs that you can buy online (as far as I might be able to find out) will be “crippled” to an approx. 2 minutes edit, in order to encourage you to support the artists and composers by buying their records.
Regarding the blog design, I’m not going to cripple the Czech grammar by omitting Central European characters with diacritics, like žščřďťňůý. Please make sure that you are using a modern Unicode-aware web browser and that you have installed some sort of a font with CE characters on your computer. Users of Mac OS X with Safari don’t need to worry at all, others are left on their own, however…
(Also, please note that the page layout will change in the near future to match and integrate into my regular site design. But at the time of publishing this post I’m still using one of the default Blogger layouts.)
Disclaimer: Each MP3 file will be available for a limited time only, generally not longer than for two weeks. The files are presented as a “specimen” to encourage readers to buy the artist’s albums. If you are an owner of the publishing rights to a particular song and you don’t want to see it here on this site for the short period of public download at all, please contact me (česky, deutsch or English) and I will remove the download link immediately.