This entry originally appeared in The Celtic Music Magazine . I have Marc Gunn’s permission to re post it here. I think this is an interesting essay about how Celtic music found a home in the Czech Republic. I remember the first time I went online(after discovering the Internet), I met a couple of friends from over there. They are from a band called WMV Trio. After 2000, life took over and we all drifted apart. But memories are precious and I still recall the great times we had sharing music, poetry and everyday things.
Robots, bagpipes and Celtic music
by Jeremy King
Here’s a little quiz for you. What do the following have in common? Skoda cars, robots, pistols, and Vaclav Havel. Got it? They’re all Czech. Really? Mr.Havel and Skoda cars, sure, but robots and pistols? Both are Czech words which have been completely assimilated into the English language. Now, if I were to add to this list of things Czech ‘bagpipes’ and ‘Celtic music’ you might start to question my state of mind. Too much strong Czech beer, perhaps. Nope, not at all. Bagpipes have been used in the Czech lands since time immemorial and Celtic music, well, the pipes and Celtic music are inseparable aren’t they? Find more about Czech bagpipes here And, unlike those Czech words which have been assimilated into the English language, Celtic music hasn’t been assimilated into Czech culture; it’s always been here.
Central Europe has long been known to have nurtured the Celtic tribes which later migrated across the rest of Europe, taking their bagpipes with them, to end up in the Atlantic coastal areas of Spain, France, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and then finally, much, much later, in emigrant ships to America and Australia. Of course the music and culture and the bagpipes of the Celts changed, adapted and diversified as the tribes spread out on their millennia-long journey, taking on influences from the tribes and lands that they passed through and inhabited. So here we come back to the idea of assimilation. It’s always been a two-way thing, this cultural exchange between peoples living in close proximity. It’s something us humans do well. It’s a way of showing off, but it’s also a way of making friends. Let’s take a modern example-just think about that song by Aerosmith and RUN DMC- ‘Walk This Way’.
You may not like it, or you may love it. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s a great example of how two vastly different styles of music (metal and hip hop) played by musicians from very different musical scenes got together and had a load of fun creating a great piece of music. I’m sure you can think of lots more examples in Celtic music. One springs straight to mind; the Afro-Celt Sound System . There’s another example of how very different musical styles meld together and create something exhilarating.
This is all quite a long way from the Czech Republic and Celtic music, though. When people listen to our music they are usually surprised to find out that we’re from the Czech Republic.
For those of you whose geography is a bit fuzzy, I should say that the country has Germany and Poland on its left and right, and below it on the map you’ll find Austria and Italy. Naturally, people quite justifiably want to know how it is that we are playing this style at all. The first thing we usually say to these inquisitive souls is that we like it, which should go without saying, really. So then they ask, but how did you get into Celtic music in the first place? And for the majority of the band it is the same answer: via Czech folk music. So here we are again. We’ve come around full circle. So what is it about Czech folk music that connects with Celtic music? Bagpipes for one thing.
But there’s more than that, of course. Czech folk music still resounds with the echoes of the music of the ancient Celtic tribes that once lived here. And some musicians aren’t content with regurgitating fossilized folk tunes. They want to move on and create something new, whilst respecting the traditions from which they have grown. Music schools in the Czech Republic have a great and well-deserved reputation. Many parents send their kids to after-school classes to learn the violin, piano, and even traditional folk dance too. My son goes twice a week to a very patient and lovely music teacher to learn the accordion- he’s going to play with us one day. And in these classes they naturally learn to play Czech folk music. Our bouzouki/banjo player Honza and guitarist Kuba both went to Folk dance and music classes – they have fond memories of attending folk festivals around Europe when they were children and where they were treated like stars. But for some, Czech folk music is just a starting point or a stepping stone to something else. Many children don’t carry on with music at all when they get older, but those who do either continue with their Czech folk music and play in wedding bands and so on, or else move on to other musical genres. And it is this last group which we’re most interested in, as a lot of these musicians seem to gravitate towards the very broad genre known as Celtic music.
Next time I’ll be looking in more detail at Celtic music and culture in the Czech Republic, from the traditional to the experimental; from bands which sing traditional Irish songs translated into Czech, to bands which have given a modern twist to traditional Czech music; bands which have gone into Celtic rock, punk and metal; I’ll also look at some Scottish and Irish dance companies based in the Czech Republic which compete in international competitions. There is a lot to discover here in one of the world’s oldest Celtic countries and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.
Oh, and here’s a Czech robot.
About Jeremy King
Jeremy King sings and plays bodhran in the award-winning Celtic band Poitín. He is also a member of the country and bluegrass band Lignit and writes songs for doom-death-heavy-speed-gothic-celtic-pagan-metal band Mortal Destiny . Jeremy lectures at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Poitin and Sliotar performed together at Zach’s Pub earlier this week. It was an amazing musical event. Here is one video taken by the flutist of ” Cheers!” Kateřina Hofmanová.