slovak goat cheese
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Svatopluk Karásek - "Zpivam, Pane mec v ruce mam". I stumbled upon this CD in the corner of a Prague CD store.

It has a black and white cover, an awkward snapshot of a man with dated hair, a goattee, and a battered acoustic guitar. Various long-hair kids lounge around him. And above the photo, in a damaged typewriter font:


When I got it back to the hostel and slipped it into my walkman, I swooned with delight. Not only was the music good, it was exactly what the cover had suggested. It's a CD of - yes, - blues and spirituals, sung by a nasal-voiced man with his plain guitar, sometimes joined by a chorus of pals, sometimes not. Recorded between 1979 and 1990, these tracks feel like field recordings from a movie, a staged portrayal of Prague's revolutionary hippies. It's all too perfect, from the mispronunciations to the dazed-and-confused call-and-response, from the whine to the ache.

In the 1970s, Svata (Svatopluk) Karásek was a Protestant minister living in Prague. The Communist government prohibited his work as a pastor, so Svata did what any strong-feeling human being would do: he turned his sermons into songs. He and several other musicians were imprisoned in 1976, but good things came of this --

A diverse group of supporters, including playwrights, writers, professors and other Czech intellectuals, had attended the trial and gathered outside in the hallway. Among the supporters was avant-garde playwright (and later President) Vaclav Havel... Havel left the trial feeling disgusted with the world and resolved to make a difference.

In the months that followed, these sympathizers gathered in solidarity with the hippies and rallied around the [imprisoned musicians]. They dared to establish a human rights organization and released a statement of principles on January 1, 1977, naming their organization after the charter, Charter 77. Havel said that the [musicians] were defending "life's intrinsic desire to express itself freely, in its own authentic and sovereign way"... Charter 77 evolved into a world-famous human rights petition that eventually landed Havel in jail, and was a precursor to the national revolution that occurred 12 years later. [link]

After his release, Karásek fled to Switzerland, but he returned to the Czech Republic in the 1990s, becoming a member of Parliament. Today, he's the Czech Republic's Human Rights Commissioner.

And the music?

Listening to these recordings, a man in a room with some spirituals to sing, I hear Dylan and I hear early Devendra Banhart and yeah I hear early blues acts like Mississippi John Hurt (minus the guitar skills) and Mississippi Sheiks. Singing in English, Karásek sounds cracked, almost funny, but still so honest; I imagine Moses with his stutter, a man on his knees whose words will obviously not be enough. God's so big he makes words immaterial. Your blues are too deep to be rescued by correct English pronunciation.

"Zpivam, Pane mec v ruce mam." "I am singing with the sword in my hand." Hear how serious Karásek sounds. Hear how it's like he's in a different place from the other singers, from his hand strumming the guitar. He's sitting beside himself. He's doing what he can to say what he can't. People sing along, for a bit, but eventually they go quiet. And they just whistle. They whistle along. Like the wind between stalks of wheat.



Zivé Kvety - "Nikto Ti Nepovie Pravdu". The hottest garage-pop band in Bratislava. Yes, Slovakia. I wandered into a little shop and a kind little man showed me the things the city was into. Lakeside folktronica! Men with acoustic guitars! And this, Zivé Kvety, "quite punk," he said, but of course it's not at all. From the school of Richmond Fontaine, the Stones or Sloan, here are fun-time Slovakians who yell juicy choruses and slam drums and let the guitars run in red shorts up and down the street. The website's got all the tabs! The CD's got a cover of "Brown Sugar" ("Zhnité kvety")! "Hey hey hey!" (spelled, in the liner notes, "Hej, hej, hej"), "Ale je nám mej aké sme zlatí!" Oh yeah, that's gonna be my summertime cheer. (No idea what it means.)

There's just enough pizzicatto, handclaps, a girl with a road-dusty voice, chords mashed out like they're the recipe to party.

Okay, this is Said the Gramophone, so I better throw in some typical weirdness. If this song were having a conversation with itself:

SONG: Hey! Are you going to the movie?
Song: Movie? Look what I'm doing!
SONG: You're jumping up and down on the grass!
Song: I'm jumping up and down on the grass!
SONG: Yes! That looks fun!
Song: Join me! Look, I'm baking cookies too!
SONG: My electric guitar is a baseball bat that only hits home-runs!
Song: Thank god we're no longer controlled by the Communists!

[way more mp3s / buy for $14]

Posted by Sean at July 29, 2005 3:00 AM

Sean is Sean.

Posted by Anonymous at July 29, 2005 3:11 AM

I hope that's a good thing, O Mysterious One.

Posted by Sean at July 29, 2005 4:31 AM

Funny, I posted a faux interview this morning too, and said it was in the style of Dan.

Good tunes. The Kar´sek is an especially wonderful find. I love taking chances on things like that and finding some gem.

Posted by tuwa at July 29, 2005 10:22 AM

pretty sure that 'zive nikto' is 'dead flowers' and not 'brown sugar'. of course i have no idea what they're saying. anyway, amazing find!

Posted by bossBlog at July 29, 2005 2:19 PM

and by 'zive nikto' i mean 'zhnité kvety'.

Posted by bossBlog at July 29, 2005 2:22 PM

Always a good thing sean.

Posted by Anonymous at July 29, 2005 3:32 PM

"Okay, this is Said the Gramophone, so I better throw in some typical weirdness."

As if the music and story behind it in the post wasn't weird enough?

Posted by Jerimee at July 29, 2005 7:25 PM

Svatopluk has both a great story and song! Now to figure out if I can actually buy the cd.

Posted by jay at July 29, 2005 7:40 PM

profound + hilarious = perfect!

Posted by moominpappa at July 29, 2005 10:24 PM

Interesting to hear about the lesser known dissident musicians of CZ, tho I'd note that the band usually associated with Charter 77 is the Plastic People of the Universe, the Zappa-Velvet Underground-influenced dissidenten and close Havel associates who remain kinda the marching band of Czech bohemia today (most recently playing a not-their-best set at Victoriaville this past May) - well worth hearing too. As long as we're on the subject, I also recommended Uz Jsme Doma, who are the Ex-Czech-ers.

Posted by zoilus at August 1, 2005 2:59 AM

Thanks for that, zoilus. I'm pretty lazy on Gramophone and I in fact edited out a bit on the Plastic People because I didn't have the stamina to properly articulate their history. Thank god I'm not a real journalist!

Psi Vojacs is another great, later (pre- and post- Fall) Czech band, more Birthday Party than Frank Zappa.

Posted by Sean at August 1, 2005 4:14 AM

Hi: Can anyone tell me a place on the internet where I can order current Slovakian music from Bratislava. Specifically, I'd like to find some CDs by PS (or P.S.). I heard them in Bratislava a few weeks ago, but now that I'm home (US) I can't find any way to order their CDs. Thanks for any help, Bruce (

Posted by Bruce at December 2, 2005 12:03 PM

hey, i am from slovakia - ZIVE KVETY R the best. thanx, lubor.

Posted by lubor at November 1, 2006 8:00 AM

U can order a lot of Sk music on:

Posted by lubor at November 1, 2006 11:11 AM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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