Anyone familiar with the Czech electronic and dance music scene will have come across the work of Jitka Charvátová, also known as Ji, the charismatic and talented former singer for cutting edge groups like Skyline and the late Milan Hlavsa’s 1990s band Fiction. Now Jitka has reset her career with a recently released but already highly-lauded new solo album called Feed My Lion, featuring 8-bit, electro pop and elements of hip hop.
The singer produced much of the album herself on her Apple laptops, before she connected with producer/musician Armin Effenberger of Cartonnage fame, who came in on the successful collaborative project. The final release – including the first single Real Life - has already drawn rave reviews, and will no doubt make many fans of electronic music very happy.
“Before, when I sang for Fiction or for Skyline, I was entering projects that were already well-defined and were already up and running. I only had to add my own contribution, my own element: I wasn’t ‘inventing worlds’. Of course, both bands were very different in style. Skyline was more about energy and party and dance, while Fiction was more about the message and the lyrics. With Fiction we put out three albums, and I was with Skyline for six years, so putting out my own album was something different.”
The first thing Ji did when she decided she would strike out in a new direction was to lock herself away with Gandalf the White – not the Lord of the Rings character - but her favorite laptop.
“I locked myself in my small studio for a year, using my Mac that I had nicknamed Gandalf the White. I also have a smaller one called Gandalf the Grey and they were my buddies. I could rely on them to bring my ideas to life. I knew how to use Logic software from working 12 years in radio, and even if I knew only 5 percent of everything that the programme had to offer, it made much more sense for me than composing for the guitar or piano. The Macs helped me give form to my ideas and allowed me to put together most of the album as a demo, adding bits and sounds as I liked.”
As chance would have it, a friend in the music business who had introduced Ji to the great Milan Hlavsa (formerly of the underground band The Plastic People of the Universe) in the 1990s, now introduced her to Armin Effenberger, the man behind Cartonnage. He brought all kinds of different ideas to the project and Ji says it wasn’t hard to collaborate.
“It was really fun and exciting, and I gave him a lot of room, a lot of space to add things and we both had a really good time. Like me, Armin is very much an open person, and together it was like being on a rocket ship travelling into space. This CD is the result!”
Space – “physical”, implied and imagined - is one important element or motif returned to repeatedly on the album, both during ‘poppier’ sequences but most often during atmospheric moments. It’s no surprise: Ji is a well-known fan of science fiction, including Arthur C. Clarke (such as 2001: A Space Odyssey) and stories by Ray Bradbury. For her, creating music is not far from weaving fantastical worlds with their own rules and characteristics and balance, and it’s a metaphor which she isn’t afraid to use. One that is echoed even in the some of the graphics on the album cover – the cold computer game Space Invaders –also reflected in 8-bit in the music:
“Armin loves 8-bit sounds but it took me a while to get used to them – they remind me of the 1980s and the primitiveness of the sound irritated me at first. But it is provocative and makes you think, and that’s what I like about it. As for science fiction, for me it is similar to making electronic music: worlds invented by someone become intuitively real: you can really believe that they exist somewhere. It can be written, painted, composed and that kind of fantastical world can be beautiful.”
Somewhat more down to earth in its simple or straight-forward approach, more than one Czech critic has noted, is the single off the album, Real Life, already getting plenty of play on commercial stations. Of all the material she demoed, that song underwent the greatest changes. Ji once again:
“Real life is a very simple song that we chose for the radio... it’s the simplest both in terms of the music and lyrics. It is the one song that was transformed the most. Each sound we added, it was like building something out of Lego. We would add this and that sound and then Armin would work on it overnight and I’d come in the next day and say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
“The final version was the simplest but the funny thing is, is that there was an initial problem with these sort of ‘stops’ and ‘starts’ we introduce at moments in the song, something we were really excited about. On the radio, they worried it didn’t flow enough, but we were uncompromising. The point of things is always in the details.”
Real Life and other songs on the album have already drawn interest from other artists on the dance and electronic music scene for potential re-mixes, Jitka Charvátová says that is a development she’s very happy about. As for the album as a whole? For anyone interested in electronic music, there is plenty to explore, including a new version of the song Tiger, drawing on Jitka’s initial experience with Fiction. To no small degree the song – which, like the earlier version makes use of text by the poet William Blake, is a tribute to Milan Hlavsa
If you’d like more information about Ji and want to listen to more
samples, be sure to visit her website: jitkacharvatova.com
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