It is hard to describe Pavla Milcova's style of music. She sings in both English and Czech, often using the rhythms of traditional Celtic music with a melody that may be inspired by traditional Slovak or Moravian folk music. Michelle Dobrovolna went to one of her concerts in a small pub in Prague's centre to talk with Pavla about her music, and the current trends in folk music.
I am sitting with Pavla Milcova in between sets at Prague's Balbinova Hospudka. So Pavla, how would you describe your music?
"My music is my heart and my way to my soul and I hope I can cheer people up."
The crowd here is low key. It seems like a quieter kind of set. How would you describe your fan base, the people who come to see your shows?
"As you can see I think more women come probably because they are nearer to their souls."
Your music definitely has a Celtic feel to it. Where does that come from?
"Well, I studied in Glasgow, but in fact I had an interest in Scottish music even before because I used to have a Scottish lecturer at the philosophy faculty here in Prague."
So you studied philosophy and not music. How did you develop your voice?
"I think I have a talent, and I always loved music and languages. First, I decided foreign languages, because it was under the Communists when I started. Then I developed my talent for music."
Do you feel it is easier to write in English or in Czech for you?
"It depends. When I started, because I studied in England or in Scotland, at the beginning I was writing songs in English, and because I am here, I am writing songs in Czech, and sometimes, if I have the feeling for an English song, I can make it. In fact, of course, for singing it is better. I've never thought, you know, this is better or this is easier for me to do. What I have felt, that's what I have done."
Do you feel that your audience responds to English and Czech the same, that it makes no difference?
"Alas, I think they don't understand quite English songs, or maybe students, not the older generation, but they can get the feeling and of course, I always say something. They can relax during an English song. That's very important for them, I think, you know, during the concert. Just relax and listen to nice language and nice musical phrases."
Do you ever write in English to make your music more accessible to people in other countries?
"I've never thought about it. I should maybe. Yeah, it's good to be international for giving the message, if I have some, then I can go abroad and give the message as well, so it's good, of course."
In one song, your lyrics go as follows: "My country, I am to hold it, I am to keep it." What does that mean to you and how do you incorporate that into your life?
"It has two meanings. One is erotic because if you make love with a man and he has long hair, you have to hold it. That's one way you can understand it. But the second is that love is responsibility. It's not just a feeling. It's about an inner land. That means that you are responsible for the people or the things you love."
Are there some Czech musicians who have inspired you creatively?
"I like opera singers. In fact, I am looking for inspiration abroad, I would say."
Do you incorporate any kind of Czech traditions into your music?
"I sing a few Moravian folk songs and I don't know, maybe just one Czech, but most of my folk songs, or the folk songs I sing are Slovak songs because their melodies are nearer to me than Czech folk music. The guitarist, Petr Binder, is Slovak, but he lives here in Prague."
I think Prague is very well known for its night clubs, its jazz clubs. I have never heard of its folk music scene, or world music scene. Is it really popular in Prague?
"I really don't know because I can meet only the people I meet on my concert and I really can't judge. But I would say that the best place to see folk music is, for instance, here in the Balbinova Cafe. So I can recommend this place for listening to folk or folklore music."
When you play a traditional folk song, would you say it evokes nostalgia with the audience, or how would you say people respond to that?
"People like it, of course. People like it. I must say that there is a new wave of folk music, but of course, it's rewriting folk music or getting to roots. It's very, how to say, modern now. I'm not doing it because it's modern, but I like it."
So is this some kind of new trend, that people are taking old folk songs and rewriting them?
"In fact, they don't rewrite them, but they put them in a new coat, so the arrangement is wider, and you have drums in it. I think it's world music, you know, they call it, so it's all over the world. It's a tendency, it's very popular, because these days music is very commercial."
How is it living as a singer/songwriter in Prague?
"It's not easy, but it's lovely. I like it very much. I don't know really what more should I do."
Is it hard to promote yourself?
"You have to have a strong manager who would push you, but it's not my style of life, you know. I think that things will come that must be good."
I was speaking with Pavla Milcova at the Balbinova Poeticka Hospudka.
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