Five Czech tunes you must hear before you die

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If music be the food of love, play on!

Those are the words of Shakespeare. Who wasn’t Czech. As far as we know.

I digress. Again.

You want to get to know Czech culture better but haven’t yet mastered those seven cases well enough to tackle Klíma in the original. Why not try taking an aural journey through Czechland’s rich musical heritage instead? From opera to pop, Czech composers and songwriters have come up with some top tunes over the centuries. Sample five of them below and ensure that you do not go to the grave completely ignorant of Czech musical achievements.

1. Overture to The Bartered Bride, Bedrich Smetana

I’m no opera buff but I have become a big fan of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. I’ve even started singing bits in the shower – much to the amusement of Czechman.

I think most of us have some secret theme music that they imagine would kick off the big budget Hollywood film of their lives. The overture of The Bartered Bride is the tune I’d make them play as the credit rolled. It’s my secret happy ending music. It makes me want to fling my arms out and pirorette in a circle. I don’t actually do that too often: I may damage something or fall over and end up back in hospital.

2. Modliba pro Martu, Marta Kubišová

A minor Anglo-Czech domestic dispute

“You’re not writing about Marta Kubišová are you?”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t know anything about her! If you’re going to talk about Modliba pro Martu you have to explain that it became a sort of unoffical national protest song after the Russians overran Prague in 1968.”

“I was thinking of saying she’s a sort of Czech Dusty Springfield. Only without the beehive.”

3. Tepláky, Nightwork

Shakespeare, opera, the Soviet invasion…

This is all getting a bit serious. Time to lighten the tone.

This song by Nightwork pays tribute to what is arguably the favourite Czech item of clothing: tepláky (aka jogging bottoms or if you’re American, sweatpants). If you don’t whip off your work clothes as soon as you get in the door then immediately change into your comfy teplaky then slob out in front of the TV with your sliced cheese and rohliky, I regret to inform you that you are yet to become truly Czech.

You don’t need to understand the lyrics to find the video funny but the chorus always makes me titter. Tepláková souprava/kule dej si doprava: Jogging bottoms on, move your balls to the right.

4. Lítací, Lenka Dusilova

I can’t pretend I really know what this song is about. Running it through Google Translate hasn’t helped much either. Still, as it seems the most repeated lyric is ‘najnajnajnajnaaaaaa’ which I’m guessing is something like ‘ladidadidaaaaaa’ in English, at least I shouldn’t have too many problems joining in.

I listened to Mezi světy, the album this tune is taken from, while I was in hospital. It reminded me of what Jarvis Cocker said when he went to visit his old school recently: that pop music is no longer so central to our lives. Instead, it’s turned into something inoffensive and soothing you have on in the background like a scented candle. Still, when you’re lying in intensive care, soothing and inoffensive is what you need. Lenka hit the spot for me then for which I’m grateful.

5. Mám jizvu na rtu, Jaromír Nohavica

According to the Czech Musical Dictionary of Persons and Personalities, Jaromír Nohavica is “exceptionally talented, marked by his intelligence, erudition, sensitivity, and industriousness.” He’s also a bit of a controversial figure: it seems that he may have been an informer during Communism despite being critical of the regime in his music.

Whatever the truth of the matter, he is still responsible for penning and performing lots of songs I like, including this one.

Tell me all about your favourite Czech tunes – modern or classical, funny or serious – in the comments section. And next time I may even get around to that erudite and serious post on Communism. Or not.

29 Comments

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29 Responses to Five Czech tunes you must hear before you die

  1. Ondřej

    I don’t really enjoy Czech music, but the soundtrack to Rebelové features some really great songs from the past several decades. Speaking of movies, Blue Effect’s tune from Pelíšky is great as well.

  2. Katie

    Lucie: Ohen (Czech prog rock/stadium rock. Their ‘Best of’ is a good start) ; Tleskac: Bata (Bata likes getting drunk seems to be the main point opf this song. Czech Ska. They are suprisingly good at ska) I also quite like the Pelisky soundtrack, which has good, old Karel Gott on there.

  3. MRAK

    Well, if I may also compile not-really-consistent list of five moreless random songs:

    First, I guess the most famous czech classical piece:
    Song for the moon: http://youtu.be/MwuNqcKUxto
    Than Buty, this song reminds me of summer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OsSbx-of70
    There was a time when this song was everywhere, I even remeber listening to this song playing from a loud-speaker on a ski-tow :]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh_o5CyucKM
    This is one of my favorite, it is just brilliant:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Oq04M4bJ5Q&ob=av3n
    And well, I shouldn’t forget a Slovak interperets because slovak music is also part of czech culture and vice versa
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRpuZ8cHTaw&feature=related

    • girlinczechland

      Ooh I like this one: it’s got that winning quiet-loud-quiet format and Zuzana has a lovely voice. Thanks for sharing!
      GIC

  4. 1. Musím jít do divadla na Prodanou nevěstu, ještě jsem ji neviděla! Ale rozhodně doporučuji Dvořákovu Rusalku, ta je úžasná! Hlavně partie na harfu jsou kouzelné.
    2. Kubišová má dobrý hlas – její písničky jsou tedy většinou cizí, přezpívané do češtiny, ale v jejím podání se dobře poslouchají. 🙂 (Tato písnička se zdá originál česká – Nepiš dál)
    3. Tahle písnička mi připomněla jinou, která byla kdysi opravdu hit – Džíny od Lucky Vondráčkové. Totiž, hit – mezi týnejdžry, samozřejmě, ale tím jsem v té době taky byla 🙂 – takže trochu sentimentu… – a tribut dalšímu oblíbenému českému kusu oblečení 😉
    4. Tahle písnička Dusilové s Čechomorem je určitě jedna z nejpopulárnějších: Proměny. Člověk by už asi mohl říct „klasika“.
    5. Ačkoliv mám Nohavicu taky ráda, musím říct, že tuhle písničku jsem zatím nějak nezaznamenala – nebo jí nevěnovala moc pozornosti. Pěkná! Poslední, kterou jsem si oblíbila (vedle takových těch klasik, jako jsou Zatímco se koupeš, Přítel aj.), je To nechte být.
    PLUS:
    6. Myslím, že skvělé jsou také české muzikálové filmy, např. Noc na Karlštejně – můj oblíbený filmový muzikál. Tedy, v první řadě miluju Matušku, ale on v tomhle filmu není jediný, kdo vyniká, super jsou i Kopecký, Kolářová, Hanzlík a další. (Nejlepší písničky z filmu) Nebo Šíleně smutná princezna – další filmová pohádka nabitá humorem a skvělými písničkami. (Tahle mě vždycky nabije energií – Jedním tahem)
    7. Zkompilovala jsem kdysi playlist některých oblíbených českých písniček na YouTube – rozhodně není vyčerpávající, ale může to být takový průřez – nebo úvod 😉

  5. mireczech

    Interesting pick; I must admit, have been living abroad for some time now, I am not even familiar with Nightwork and Lenka Dusilová, may even catch up thanks to your post. As for my personal favourites, Nohavica is my weak spot; when I started to listen to music on my own in early eighties, it was to his bootleg tapes. Other than that, specifically Czech, I would recommend Semafor theatre songs—those by Suchý and Šlitr (very gifted gentleman who passed away too young). Plus songs by another duo or trio—Werich, Voskovec and Ježek (before the WW2).

    Allow me one note on Nohavica. His controversy does not come from being and informer while performing anti-regime songs. There are not even allegations about him being and informer on long-term basis (like many were). There is however nearly certain fact he reported to State (i.e. political) Police, the infamous StB once, but very specifically it concerned a fellow song writer, poet and singer Karel Kryl (oh BTW, many of Kryl’s songs are real masterpieces), who trusted him. And Nohavica’s problem in face of the public is he never really faced this and never took strong position on what has happened. I am personally convinced it did happen as alleged, and it to some (great) extent compromises his personal integrity in my eyes, but I was not an adult back then and I did not have to make decisions like he did, so who am I to judge him. Like many Czechs, I play along with Nohavica not thinking about it too much and considering only his musical and for me personally poetic talent. I find him one of the most tallented masters of Czech language (no wonder he’s CZ scrabble champion).

  6. Silvia

    Now I want to add all my favourite songs!!!! Promise this is my last post – for tonight ;-)))
    czech this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JMxZwn3uEg&feature=BFa&list=FLmxdeAmUrECeSgAhGIgvomA

    Richard Muller is Slovakian but singing also in czech, songs by Hapka&Horacek, definitely worth listening!!!

  7. Martina Borovanska via Facebook

    I like: 😀 ” If you don’t whip off your work clothes as soon as you get in the door then immediately change into your comfy teplaky then slob out in front of the TV with your sliced cheese and rohliky, I regret to inform you that you are yet to become truly Czech.”

  8. Jana

    Don´t forget czech song popular world-wide during World War II – “Škoda lásky” (Beer barrel polka).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF1xP5aSKVs

    Another well-known czech song (march) is “Entry of the Gladiators” by Julius Fučík. It´s the most popular theme tunes for circus clowns.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_B0CyOAO8y0

  9. Sarka

    So many favourite Czech tunes. This will be long, sorry:
    Czech
    current:
    1. “Čechomor”=folc+classical music (Lenka Dusilová was their guest singer for a while)…..A) Proměny(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH_9r1i8A6A); B) Mezi horami (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5POe8gT6XI); C) Dobře ti je, Janku (Jaz Coleman’s favourite) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUunUAZju_k).
    2. “Kryštof”…..A) Rubikon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ8dF1TXGJw); B) Lolita (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVRHbCZ74dk); C) Obchodník s deštěm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxsvE_9-Iiw&feature=fvwrel); D) Svědomí (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPOqhc2-jHQ).
    3. “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa”…..A) For that moment (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiKy9UWdYpI); B) Never (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vyLLshdfJM&feature=related).
    4. “Mandrage”…..A) Šrouby a matice (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhBg53eMN7g).
    5. “Jarek Nohavica”….A) Zatímco se koupeš (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJMp3yPtzEE&list=PLB87CCA442F8F89E3&index=3); B) Kometa (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdGqaweeP20); C) Když mě brali za vojáka (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-mintvBH8M).
    6. “Verona” mainstream…..A) Ztracená bloudím (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdObE-XmqDE&list=FLWnqMeQHbcSFKyE6F1TbaHg&index=18&feature=plpp_video)
    7. “Mig 21” (type of fans and the way they make fun of themselves and music similar to Nightwork)……A) Malotraktorem (funny videoclip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XiVx5m7mcQ&ob=av2e); B) Tančím (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT-A1z8DkDo)
    8. “Tataboys” (similar to Mig 21 but a bit more intellectual) A) Virtuální duet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yiasPwGwqw&feature=related)

    + I strongly recommend soundtracks from films “Samotáři” and “Rok ďábla”

    past:
    1. from “Starci na chmelu”……A) Milenci v texaskách (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAeEqj01bfY&feature=fvwrel; different lyrics, cool videoclip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=606uEbPZrHg&feature=related) ; B) Bossa Nova (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqHnDCi9Ptk&feature=related or more modern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uweF0VXaAwg).
    2. “Lucie”…..A) Pohyby (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOMNvFMdVK8); B) Černí andělé (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUqxIF8kKgA&feature=related); C) Sen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhBg53eMN7g).
    3. “Vladimír Mišík”……A) Variace na renesanční téma (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJC0QEDZkXQ&feature=related)
    4. “Mňága a žďorp”…..A) Nejlíp jim bylo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oPESZixGmc).
    5. “Wanastovy Vjecy”…..A) Slečna Anna je za vodou (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOOJqyjV_84&feature=relmfu); B) Kouzlo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7n07pZPn4I); C) Nahá (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRrlyHGzHYA).
    6. “Blue Effect”….A) Sluneční hrob (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckNMjjxNWGk).
    7. “Václav Neckář”…..A) Tu kytaru (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0O_OtbphuA).
    8. “Jiří Korn”…..A) Windsurfing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyEXYm5oNwI).
    9. “Jiří Schellinger”….A) Holubí dům (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZaImFgRnlM); B) René, já a Rudolf (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7MPW1uHgCc);
    10. “Petr Novák”…..A) Náhrobní kámen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT_XlT71EgU); B) Povídej (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cR6Gb7sWIo).
    11. from “Šakalí léta”…..A) Na kolena (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVY_-lUXLUs&feature=related).

    classical music:
    1. Dvořák….A) Symphony No 9 -4th movement (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmrimdOhvKY&feature=related); B) Humoreska (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5Fx4LnK6fo&list=FLWnqMeQHbcSFKyE6F1TbaHg&index=22&feature=plpp_video).
    2. Smetana….A) Má vlast – Vltava (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exz6zD056zk&feature=related).

    Slovak:
    current:
    1. “Peha”…..A) Spomal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idUirrHZ6cE); B) Sĺnečná balada (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzOM02GUs70).
    2. “Nocadeň”….A) Buď hviezda (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gonMo2owMnQ); B) Miska s mliekom (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVveJs5Ui8o).
    3. “Kristína”…..A) Horehronie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0CaeDo-wEY); B) V sieti (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhW3ng6GZu0&feature=related); B) Pri oltári (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wi8xo4y7PE).

    past:
    1. “MC Eric a Barbara”…..A) Ked príde láska (such a huge hit when I was a kid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7Nr2jiQCN8&feature=related)
    2. “Pavol Habera”…..Reklama na ticho (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suRq0ats8EI)
    3. “Richard Müller”…..A) Po schodoch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnaV7xBB58c); B) Nahý (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRQoPZR9A98&feature=related); C) Štěstí je krásná věc (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Syp2wP58xo&feature=related); D) Nebude to také ĺahké (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAPtqyhydDs&feature=related).

    Very long, sorry.

  10. Markéta

    Oh! You really need to hear this one!! :))

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0zuBzr1Zjw

  11. Martin

    This post has provoked me to write my first comment on this great blog!

    I like songs with an interesting lyrics, nobody mentioned:

    from singer-songwriters:
    Radůza – Vše je jedním or Dědek s cibulí
    one and only Václav Koubek – Hospoda (live!), Avé

    alternative:
    Psí vojáci – Žiletky (second version)
    ROPA – Inťošky, Sokrates

    or some hip hop:
    PRAGO UNION + Hněddé Smyčce – Procházka

  12. And what about: Kryštof – Lolita, Mandrage – Šrouby a matice, Tomáš Klus – Pánubohu do oken, .. and most importantly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhBg53eMN7g ?:)

  13. Katka

    Oh my goodness, there are too many czech favorites to list. However, I’ll try a few:
    Vladimír Mišík – Stříhali dohola malého chlapečka
    Nohavica – Mikymauz
    Of course everyone loves Jozin z Bazin as listed above 🙂
    Kabát – Dávám ti jeden den
    Kabát – Pohoda
    Blue Effect – Ej padá padá rosenka
    Cechomor – Promeny
    Jiří Schelinger – Šípková růženka
    Aleš Brichta – Barák na vodstř
    Jožo Ráž – Voda, čo ma drží nad vodou
    and my ALL TIME FAVORITE – Lucie Bílá & Petr Hapka – Dívám se, dívám

    Check them out, I hope you like them. 🙂
    Oh, and I agree with “mireczech” on Nohavica. I actually read the released documents on the event – translated in English by another online czech aquaintance. Nohavica was questioned by the State on Kryl and gave information such as what his apartment looked like, items Kryl had aquired, etc.
    As an American, it’s hard to understand how that is such a big deal, but according to all my Czech friends, it was pretty bad to cooperate even that much. It was considered a huge betrayal to a friend. To sum it up, you are either for them (communism) or against them, there is no in between or small cooperation. :-/

    • girlinczechland

      Hello everyone,

      Thanks a million for all the links to top Czech tunes you’ve added here. I’m very slowly working my way through them – hopefully I’ll manage to listen to them all and let you know which ones float my proverbial boat before I die (no joke…)

      GIC

  14. Pavel

    Short look and communist past – end of 70´ in Prague and folk singer Oldřich Janota. if you are curious what the hell is “do boty” and “po botě” don´t ask me.
    But as good art always – it´s working inside.

  15. Hi, i just find your lovely blog – nice one. And i have some music sugestion for you.

    definitevly Oldřich Janota, who are mentioned before.

    Dáša Voňková Adnrtova – women from czech undergroud
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRbQRU8Uav8

    Priessnitz – former village punk, now well played indies – with sudetian roots (if you have seen Alois Nebel movie – so author of visual is frontman of Priesstinz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCnj0YTul3E&feature=channel&list=UL

    Iva Bittova – probably most interesting woman singer and autor in central europe. Actually she is much more abroad, than in Czech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jil3lfo398k&feature=plcp

    Some actuall almost punk, but they can play music and have great lyric. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUSbi-TQwxc

    Dan Bárta jazz singer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_uvJkiPUts&feature=related

    Traband – have no words for accurate description
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsx2_xlTW4s

    and some indes lady
    Karolína Kamberská
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb-BaMmmExc

    Zuzana Lapčíková
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnxm40oqat0

    Martina Trchova
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxuGbwG_biI

    and slovakian singer – Szidi Tobias http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfqlQJYmn6o&feature=channel&list=UL

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Zuzka,

      Thanks for sharing your music tips – I still haven’t worked my way through some of the previous suggestions I must confess but as part of my continuing efforts to integrate into Czech society I’ll make sure I do so soon… Well, there’s more chance of that happening than me learning to downhill ski (which Czechman claims is essential if I really want to fit in here – more of that another time no doubt…)

      GIC

      • Petra

        Downhill ski??? What? I am a Czech woman and I will never ever downhill ski. Not even ski. Never. By the way, if you want to hear the most beautiful tune any Czech man has ever composed, try Antonin Dvorak – Symphony From The New World, 2nd movement. Largo. I am sure you already know the main melody. Everone does. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYl4Xb4cDQ8
        Thank you for your blog, it is just wonderful! Looking forward to another posts. Petra

  16. Dvořák. Everyone knows Rusalka (except me) and the New World Symphony (me included); I love the Mass in D major. A bit more obscure, perhaps, but absolutely fantastic. Credo is my favourite part.

    And I’d recommend Spirituál Kvintet. Who mostly sing foreign (gospel) songs, but they also have some albums of old European (Czech and otherwise) songs, and may have started all the other groups that sing “medieval” and folk songs (some of the songs they sung were later sung by Čechomor), and they have some original songs as well (“Zloděj času” is excellent). Jiří Tichota, one of its founding members, is an expert on music history or some such.

    Speaking of medieval, one of my favourite albums is an LP Vánoční písně z doby husitské by Musica Bohemica. But that’s really obscure.

  17. choroba

    Also might be of interest:
    Už jsme doma

  18. honza

    Largo from Dvořák’s 9th symphony (the famous Going home tune).
    Anything by Karel Plíhal. His play with the language is beyond anything.
    Skočná from the Bartered Bride (Smetana)
    Má vlast (My Country) – 6 symphonic poems by Smetana, there is hardly anything more Czech than this (particularly part 2 – Vltava).
    And tons more…

  19. Becky

    I live in New York State. I just listened to Jaromír Nohavica, Přítel for the first time in years. I heard it when I was in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1991-1992. I’ve always absolutely loved this song (and others of his). I can so vividly remember the hot day in Slovakia in August 1991 when a friend (with whom I have lost touch) played this for me. We were in our early twenties. I didn’t understand one word in the song, not even “Sam.” But this song meant so much to me. I listened to it 10,000 times. I understood. It reminded me my close friend who had committed suicide. It just makes me cry. And I still only understand about a third of the lyrics. I don’t know whether Nohavica intended this or not at all, I feel he has this incredible maitri. I can’t get enough of it.

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