Steel Strings and Iron Curtains is a special project of Plamen Press—two years in the making and sponsored in part by the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Washington DC. Plamen Press’s mission to bring Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European culture to an English-speaking audience has been expanded to the iconic songwriting and musical stylings of Karel Kryl and Jaromir Nohavica.
In their native Czech Republic, Kryl and Nohavica are known for powerful, politically-minded & existential lyrics that inspired generations living behind the Iron Curtain. And just in time for 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, we wanted to introduce the English-speaking community to Central Europe’s versions of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Ray LaMontagne and Elliot Smith. While Plamen Press is striving to present Kryl and Nohavica as literary artists, this project does not marginalize the significance of its music. Quite the opposite. Thanks to all the talented individuals who performed on these recordings, the beauty of Kryl and Nohavica’s songs are infused with elements of Gypsy Jazz played by guitarist Tomas Drgon and violinist Christina Kharazian. In addition, arrangements include traditional Slovakian and Moravian instruments, such as the fujara and the koncovka, masterfully played by Bob Rychlik.
All songs were translated and co-produced by Roman Kostovski of Plamen Press, and sung in English for the first time. We partnered with Sun King Records’ Producer Ian Jones, known for his production of Reggae master Claudius Linton’s album Sign Time, to produce the tracks. In addition to Ian’s talents, we were fortunate to have worked with The Yehla Collective, a truly international and talented group of musicians from the Baltimore/DC area: Anna Connolly (USA), Tomáš Drgoň (Slovakia), Ian Jones (USA), David Keplinger (USA), Christine Kharazian (Armenia), Reggie Love (USA), and Bohuslav Rychlik (Czech Republic).
Czech Singer-songwriter icon Karel Kryl was author of many protest songs in which he attacked the absurdity of the Communist regime after the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia. His first album was recorded at home and included songs such as The Angel and Morituri te Salutant. After being forced into exile his later albums were smuggled into his homeland, creating a nationwide underground following. His songs were a vital inspiration for the movement that triggered the Velvet Revolution that ended Communism in Czechoslovakia.
Jaromír Nohavica draws his craft from the likes of poet-bards Jacques Brel, Bulat Okudzava and Vladimir Vysotsky. He first emerged on the Czech folk scene in the mid-eighties. His album The Wastrel, which came out in 1988, was immediately sold out. His songs blend a subtle melancholy with lyrical beauty making him the best living lyricist in the Czech Republic today. And though he has triggered much controversy in the past years he still remains one of Czech Republic’s most talented singer-songwriters.
Roman Kostovski has a B.A. in Russian Language and International Relations from the College of William and Mary, and an M.A. in Russian Language and Linguistics from the University of Maryland. He also holds a Lecturer of Czech Certification from Charles University in Prague. He has taught Czech at George Washington University and worked as a Central and Southeastern European Media Analyst at Georgetown University. He translates poetry and prose from Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, and Slovak into English. His translations have appeared in numerous journals, including Absinthe-New European Writings and Watchword Press. He has collaborated with singer songwriters such as Lenka Dusilova, Robert Krestan and Martin Ledvina to write song lyrics in English. His translation of Arnost Lustig’s Porgess was published by Northwestern University Press in 2006, and his translation of Viktor Dyk’s Czech classic The Ratcatcher was published by Plamen Press in 2014. He founded Plamen Press in 2013, a print-on-demand publishing house for the promotion of literature from Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe throughout the English-speaking world. He works and resides in Washington, D.C.