Martha & Tena & Vulkán – Život je jen náhoda
from SP “Martha-Tena”, 1969, Panton 040250; also on 7″/33 rpm mini-LP compilation “První pantoniáda”, 1970, Panton 080201 and on CD “Ať se múzy poperou”, 2005, Supraphon
produced by Aleš Sigmund
original SP sleeve, 7″ mini-LP compilation sleeve
This entry would almost qualify for the Half Czech-In section as well. The singing sisters Martha and Tena Elefteriadu (1946/1948) were born in former Yugoslavia and their parents were actually Greek political refugees. Nevertheless, since the early 1950s they grew up and went to school around Brno, so aside from their mother tongue they are absolutely fluent in Czech, too. In 1966 they began to work with guitarist and composer Aleš Sigmund (1944) and his Vulkán. The first version of Vulkán was actually Petr Ulrych‘s group, the talented Elefteriadu sisters were added as background singers for the second edition. In the beginning they were still sharing the vocal parts with the Ulrych siblings. However, Hana and Petr Ulrych launched their own successful career by the end of 1967 when they joined Atlantis (not the 1970s German group, of course) which already consisted of some earlier Vulkán members.
Like many Czech beat groups between 1967 and 1969, also Vulkán were then partly inspired by soul music. Still with the Ulrychs they recorded two 45s for Supraphon and another two for the very short-lived Discant label from Brno. In 1969 Martha & Tena got a deal with Panton. Apart from Sigmund-penned songs they recorded some of their favorite soul hits like Dancing In The Street, Rescue Me or River Deep Mountain High. The exact line-up on these Panton sessions is not confirmed. But after the group’s original rhythm section emigrated to Austria and Switzerland in 1968, their successors were keyboarder Bedřich Crha, bass guitarist Cyril Kajnar and drummer Karel Antonín. In the studio they were augmented by a horn section most likely made of members of the Brno-based Gustav Brom orchestra as those were also regular guests on subsequent Martha & Tena or Ulrych’s pop albums.
Their third Panton single features a cover version of another kind: Život je jen náhoda (Life Is Just A Coincidence) is one of the most popular original Czech evergreens ever. Written by composer and – even in global context – jazz pioneer Jaroslav Ježek (1906-1942) with intelligent lyrics by the comedian duo Voskovec & Werich, the original version of the song first appeared in V&W’s and Jindřich Honzl’s classic comedy movie Peníze nebo život (Your Money Or Your Life) from 1932. “Life is just a coincidence / one time you’re up, another time you’re down / life flows like the water / and the death is like the ocean.” Sigmund added for Martha & Tena a contemporary pop-soul arrangement while the ladies’ alto voices elegantly preserved the original tune’s satirical feel. Singing a song like this in the political climate of the year after the Soviet invasion might have likely been meant as a statement.
Martha & Tena had a successful pop career in the seventies. Vulkán eventually transformed into the Aleš Sigmund Group which absorbed the members of another Brno rock legend, the Progress Organisation (alias Barnodaj alias the future Progres 2) including yet another Greek, Emanuel Sideridis on bass. Sigmund himself also often played bouzouki. The new Martha & Tena sound oscillated between folk-rock, mainstream pop and Greek-Moravian “world music”. Unfortunately, soul got lost somewhere in that transition, let alone rock; the seventies were bad for any untamed musical expression. Although you can still find a few quite attractive covers from the Beatles, Bee Gees, Mamas & Papas or CCR on their first three vinyl albums. At least, Život je jen náhoda has made it onto their recent “Best Of” CD compilation.
Sigmund began to work for Panton as a producer and editor in the 1970s, later he also recorded a couple of easy listening retro-guitar instrumental albums. In that context it’s almost hard to believe that he was supposedly one of the iniciators as well as the main force behind the Panton Mini Jazz Klub series of 7″ EPs which began in 1976 and lasted for 10 years with about 50 releases. Martha Elefteriadu on the other hand – who mostly sung the lead voice of the duo, by the way – collaborated with jazz musicians actively in the late 1970s, namely with Jazz Q and with Michael Kocáb. The results were quite funky. That means: more Elefteriadu on Funky Czech-In is about to come.