Prague’s historically working-class Žižkov district is perhaps best known today for its abundance of pubs (even by Czech standards) and colossal TV Tower – once voted the world’s second ugliest building. Lesser-known is the rich cultural history of what some natives proclaim the “Independent Republic of Žižkov”. Two of its proudest sons, Jaroslav and Miroslav Čvančara, have just published a sweeping illustrated book about the Prague 3 district, literally filling in the historical picture.
Czech violinist and folk music singer Jitka Šuranská passed away this week at the age of 41. The three-time Anděl Award winner trained as a classical violinist, but she also became a star on the folk and world music scene, recording a series of albums with traditional folk music. She was hailed by her colleagues for pushing the genre in new creative directions.
One of the highlights of this year’s Jihlava festival of documentary films was the Czech premiere of Kings of Šumava, which combines real interviews with animation to tell the gripping story of Josef Hasil. A native of the mountain range, Hasil was a border guard turned cross-border agent whose derring-do in smuggling defectors across the Iron Curtain led Czechoslovakia’s secret police to list him as the “king of Šumava” in their files.
Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the Ministry of Culture will designate seven sites as ‘national cultural monuments’. All of them are tied to the Czech nation’s struggle to secure freedom or rid itself of Nazi or Soviet oppression. Among them is the Czech Radio building in Prague, a focal point of resistance both in 1968 and at the close of WWII.
The Romany singer Ida Kelarová and her Chavorenge Children’s Choir together with musicians from the Czech Philharmonic will perform a concert at the Phoenix Concert Hall in Croydon, southern England on Thursday evening. The program will feature the international Romany anthem Gelem, Gelem, and the choir’s best known song Hey Romale!
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.
This week marks 60 years since the foundation of the legendary Semafor theatre in Prague, established by the song-writing duo Jiří Suchý and Jiří Šlitr. The theatre, which saw its heyday in the 1960s, produced some of the biggest Czech pop hits ever and helped to launch the careers of many Czech singers and actors, including Waldemar Matuška, Eva Pilarová and Karel Gott.
Hana Hegerová, who is sometimes nicknamed the Czechoslovakia’s Edith Piaf, celebrated her 88th birthday this month. Known for her ability to dramatically interpret lyrics, the Bratislava born singer and actress dominated the Czechoslovak chanson scene for many decades and received critical acclaim from abroad.
The 23rd edition of the annual Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival gets underway on Thursday evening. Over the course of the next five days, the festival will showcase a total of 277 films, including a section dedicated to the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. I spoke to Marek Hovorka, the festival’s director, and asked to tell me more about the opening film, a tribute to the great Czech cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera:
Ondřej Sekora is perhaps best-known as the author of the beloved cartoon character Ferda Mravenec or Ferdy the Ant. But Sekora was more than just an illustrator and comics author. He was also a journalist, an amateur entomologist, and one of the first propagators of rugby in Czechoslovakia. The Moravian Museum in Brno will mark 120 years since Ondřej Sekora’s birth with an exhibition and a new monography.