Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, an eclectic group of musicians based in the United States has recorded a special album of songs written by Czech songwriters Karel Kryl and Jaromír Nohavica. Called ‘Steel Strings and Iron Curtains – Songs that Ignited the Downfall of Communism’, it features a number of subversive tunes never before recorded in English.
Though an album, ‘Steel Strings and Iron Curtains’ is actually a special project of Plamen Press – an independent press focused on publishing and promoting Central, Eastern and Southeastern European literature, translated into English. Founder and publishing director Roman Kostovski explains the idea behind the project, which was supported in part by the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences in Washington D.C.
“Steel Strings and Iron Curtains is this project that Plamen Press has been working on for the past two years. We collected ten songs from two of the greatest singer-songwriters in the Czech Republic, Karel Kryl and Jaromír Nohavica.
“We translated their lyrics and set up a collaboration with Sun King Records in Baltimore (Maryland). With their producer Ian Jones, who helped us with the arrangement of these songs, we recorded them in the studio.
“It might sound strange that a book publisher is working on a music project, but we didn’t treat it only as a music project – we treated it as a literary one, too, because Karel Kryl and Jaromír Nohavica both have very strong, powerful lyrics that have their own literary merit.”
Kryl and Nohavica are known in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for politically minded and existential lyrics which inspired generations living behind the Iron Curtain. The album is scheduled for release on the 17th of November, just in time for the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Roman Kostovski, who has taught Czech at George Washington University, translated the lyrics and co-producer the album, which he hopes will introduce English speakers to the Czech singer-songwriters, whom Plamen Press likens to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.
“What I love about this project is that we had an eclectic group of musicians who worked on the music and arrangements, and each put their own individual signature on the recordings. The musicians were from all walks of life – we had punk rockers, alternative rock, pure folk, classically trained and musicians trained in jazz. The outcome is far beyond what I’d expected.”
Years in the making, ‘Steel Strings and Iron Curtains’ features The Yehla Collective, an international group of musicians from the Baltimore, Maryland/Washington, D.C. area that includes Czech musician Bohuslav Rychlík and Slovak guitarist Tomáš Drgoň. It is available at http://www.sunkingrecords.com.