Monday, November 5, 2007

who needs english? - čechomor

the latest superstars to be featured in the appallingly irregular who needs english? series are čechomor, or, as they used to be known, českomoravská hudební společnost. say that three times fast, or once correctly. at least golem and peatbog faeries make some concessions to courting the english speakers in this world; čechomor are czech, and goddamn proud of it (try making head or tails of their website if you don't speak czech). facing with insurmountable language barriers, i have employed all of my cunning, memory, and google skills to write the best who needs english? about a band that clearly doesn't.

českomoravská hudební společnost (the czech-moravian recording company) formed in 1988, as a place for traditional czech musicians to gather and work together. the czech folk scene is a strong one, and frantačerný, frontman of the company, had no trouble organizing four other like-minded musicians into a band. čechomor is responsible one of the most dramatic sound shifts of any band i can think of, maturing from straight folk (1991's dověcnosti) to a pronounced world-fusion sound (2005's co sa stalo nove).

i was introduced to čechomor in 2002, when i studied in prague for several months and lived with a czech family. my czech brother immersed me in the local music scene, and, before long, i was listening to čechomor and other, far less popular czech bands. in 2001, čechomor released proměny, their most successful and well-received album that quickly went platinum. proměny was a breakthrough album for the band, in ways beyond the commercial. composer jaz coleman, best known for his work in killing joke, an enormously influential english industrial band, joined forces with čechomor for proměny, having switched his focus to classical music. proměny won three golden angels (the czech music award) the year it was released, netting "album of the year," "band of the year," and "song of the year." small wonder they are the most popular czech band in the world (and personal favorite of ex-president/revolutionary vaclav havel). the album features of mix of new and old songs, all orchestrated by coleman, with čechomor backed by the czech philharmonic orchestra. this unprecedented collaboration launched a new wave of interest in the band, including mine. i quickly went out and picked up all the čechomor albums i could find, and discovered a talented and engaging group (and learned to sing a little czech myself).

though their name has changed, čechomor maintains an overwhelming commitment to traditional czech music; co sa stalo nove, their most recent album, is the only one that contains original songs, all others being reworked traditional ones. songs occasionally repeat themselves in čechomor's catalog, especially favorites like "mezi horami" or "proměny," though čechomor does take pains to rework each rendition. i never got the chance to see čechomor perform, though, judging from čechomor live, the band is excellent in a live setting. čechomor has six albums, and they all have at least fifteen songs apiece (most many more), so i'm gonna pass on a list of their "best" songs, primarily because there are simply too many "best" ones. i've put up four mp3s below, from three albums, and i have no idea where you would be able to buy these outside of the czech republic. if you're a czech speaker, and can navigate better than i, there is a link to buy their albums here.

čechomor - "hop he" from mezi horami
"pivnickova" from čechomor
"dobre ti je janku (happy janek)" and "vetricek (the breeze) (radiomix)" from proměny

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