This week one of the Czech Republic's most respected singer-songwriters, Jaromir Nohavica, released his first album in almost three and a half years. Entitled "Babylon", the new Nohavica album features a wide variety of styles, including several trademark acoustic songs, such as the second track "Marenka", which is dedicated to the late Karel Kryl, perhaps the greatest single influence on Nohavica's music.
Fifty years old last June, Jaromir Nohavica - Jarek to his friends - was born in the Moravian city of Ostrava. He came from a musical family, though in his early years he shied away from the stage and was content to write songs for other people, above all Marie Rottrova, for whom he wrote the hit "Lasko, vonis destem" in 1981. It was another seven years before he released his debut album as a singer, "Darmodej".
Jaromir Nohavica has a very likable, gentle voice. His lyrics often refer to love, though not always the happiest kind. That said, his songs are not without humour: for instance, in the track "Zeny", or "Women", he sings "if you find me dead tomorrow, cover me with Cicciolina", referring to the Italian porn-star turned politician.
As well as playing acoustic guitar, Nohavica plays a type of accordion called a heligonka. The particular heligonka he plays is almost 100 years old, and has been handed down through generations of the Nohavica family. Jaromir Nohavica received it in the early 1990s, and has been playing it in concert and on his albums ever since.
One song on the new LP, "Ostravo", is dedicated to Nohavica's home town of Ostrava, which he calls a "city among cities". He also refers to the coal-mining centre as a "black star". The region's mining tradition may explain why he appears on the cover of "Babylon" with his face blacked-up, like a miner after a long day down the pit. Another song on the album, "Milionar", is sung in strong Ostrava slang.
A charismatic performer, Nohavica sells out every concert he plays without having to put up a single poster. He also guards his privacy and keeps interviews to a minimum.
Jaromir Nohavica found a new audience in 2002 when he appeared in the film
"Rok dabla", or "Year of the Devil", which is fictional but is based on real life musicians: Nohavica, his friend and occasional accompanist Karel Plihal and the group Cechomor. Even though the film refers to Nohavica's erstwhile drinking problems, he said his fans would know even less about him after seeing the film.
As well as having a strong following in his native Czech Republic, Jaromir Nohavica is also popular in Slovakia and Poland, and plays live in both countries regularly. The new album - his ninth - is coming out in Poland with a Polish lyric booklet, and with the title spelled "Babilon". What's more, the excellent website www.nohavica.cz is in Czech and Polish, though not unfortunately in English.
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