about him |news |concerts |discography |other work


Jaromír Nohavica, singer, songwriter, translator, born June 7, 1953, Ostrava.
Nohavica attended a secondary comprehensive school in his home town and then completed a secondary school of library studies in Brno; his studies at the Ostrava Polytechnic Institute of Mining were never completed. He currently lives in Ostrava, though in the years 1978–99 he lived in Český Těšín.

He has worked at a wide variety of jobs, among other trades as a labourer and a librarian; since 1981 he has been able to support himself as a musician. He has no formal musical training, and in fact taught himself how to play the guitar, violin, flute and accordion.

Nohavica first made a name for himself as a songwriter, beginning with lyrics for the regional groups Atlantis (1967), Noe (1968); he also wrote for the Ostrava rock band Majestic, collaborated with the Czech Radio offices in Ostrava and leading popular singers from the region – Petr Němec, Věra Špinarová, Marie Rottrová. In 1981, he published an unofficial samizdat translation of the volume of satires “Piórka” by the Polish poet Jan Sztaudynger and adapted the songs of V. Hlavička for the staging by the Těšín Theatre of “Dundo Maroje aneb Lišák Pomet” (D. M., or the Confused Fox).

Nohavica’s first public performance with his original songs occurred (by chance) in March 1982 at the “Folk Carousel” festival in Ostrava-Poruba; as a mature artist, he quickly rose among the leading personalities of Czech folk song. At the Czechoslovak national finale Porta 83, he won the viewers’ poll as the most interesting personality, in particular through his song “Pánové nahoře” (The Men Above), openly attacking the evil effects of unlimited political power, though making use of an adaptation of an international classic, the French writer Boris Vian. This and other texts of Nohavica’s understandably soon provoked the ire of Communist censorship, and like many other artists who articulated a clear political subtext, he found many obstacles placed in the way of his free expression. Matters came to a head in 1985, when he was invited to perform at the Porta festival but prevented from appearing on stage and actually forced to leave the town of Plzeň, the event’s traditional location. Paradoxically, in the time when Nohavica had still released no recordings and the media ignored him, he managed to win a place in the top ten artists in the “Zlatý slavík” (Golden Nightingale) poll, first in 1987 and then several times afterward. Nonetheless, his work was widely dispersed among the general public in the form of illegal amateur audio recordings or even handwritten copies of his songs.

The first officially released album of Nohavica’s saw the light of day only shortly before the fall of Communism in 1988: “Darmoděj” (Wastrel) is a mature and balanced album, assembled from live recordings from late 1987–88 and representing the first crowning period of Nohavica’s singing career. In 1989, a selection of songs entitled “Osmá barva duhy” (The Eighth Colour of the Rainbow) appeared, followed one year later by “V tom roce pitomém” (In That Stupid Year). The first studio project by Nohavica was brought together in 1993. Entitled “Mikimauzoleum” (Mickey Mouseoleum), it quickly was recognised as one of the great Czech singer-songwriter recordings ever; the arrangement, ground-breaking for its time, is the work of Karel Plíhal. An ensuing studio project, “Divné století” (Strange Century) won the Czech Grammy for the record of the year in 1996 without any classification (the first time that a folk recording had ever won). A conceptual meditation on the century soon to finish, it is a compact and highly thought-out album, at times evoking the French chanson, at others inspiration from Russia and the Balkans, but above all putting forward the testament of a well-seasoned artist. The sensitive, stylistically and instrumentally rich arrangements (Karel Plíhal, Vít Sázavský) strongly underscore Nohavica’s evocative voice and accordion playing. With this album, Nohavica caught the attention of the wider public and sparked the interest of the mass media. In the years 1994–95, he concentrated primarily on work for children (the album and book “Tři čuníci” (Three Piglets) with rhymes and stories) and the complete publication of his lyrics (the book Písně Jaromíra Nohavici od A do Ž [Songs of J. N. from A to Z] was published by the press Hitbox).

Nohavica has written song lyrics as well as music for many theatrical stagings in the Těšín Theatre, Prague’s Fidlovačka Theatre, Ostrava’s Petr Bezruč Theatre etc. Other frequent collaborators for song lyrics include the groups Neřež and Doga, the singer Pavlína Jíšová and many others. In 2000, Nohavica recorded the album Moje smutné srdce [My Sorrowful Heart], with influences of folk, blues, chanson and jazz, guests include Čechomor, František Uhlíř, Milan Kašuba etc.) and became one of the leading figures in the Czech Television documentary entitled “Legends of Folk and Country,” covering the Czech scene from the 1960s up to the present day.

In 2002, Nohavica played the leading role in the fictitious documentary by director Petr Zelenka, “Rok ďábla” [Year of the Devil], which won several “Czech Lion” awards from the national film academy, including the prize for the film score, shared by Nohavica and the group Čechomor. “Perhaps Year of the Devil most closely resembles a thoughtful cinematic variation on one of Nohavica’s songs –  in this respect, the singer remains the central personality of the film, and with equal facility alternates disarming humour with reflections verging on the philosophical” (reviewer Darina Křivánková, Lidové noviny, March 7, 2002). “The greatest attention is attracted by Jaromír Nohavica himself… While all the others continually are seeking something, a kind of absolute knowledge of themselves, whether through God, ritual, music or alcohol, Nohavica is the only one not trying to explain anything. He in fact is striving for nothing, only existing on the screen, perhaps because he  discovered this sense within himself long ago and hid it within his songs, which themselves form the impulse for the others to start their own searching. He becomes the symbol and the indication of nearly everything metaphysical that transpires in the film” (reviewer Martina Muziková, Literární noviny, July 22, 2002).  

Nohavica is exceptionally talented, marked by his intelligence, erudition, sensitivity, and industriousness. His concerts are often a unique experience for his listeners, as he definitely ranks among those performers who create, while on stage, a kind of gripping mystery. With great expertise, he remains poised between folk music and folklore, truly occupying the role of the bard of his region. Strikingly, he remains different from the generation of Czech folk singers from the 1960s, in that his stylistic orientation tends to look eastwards: using elements of Slavic melody, taking subject matter from a Slavic setting and inspiration from Russian Romantic literature. Indeed, Nohavica is one of the songwriters closely linked to poetry and literature in general: he has set to music the work of several Czech poets, e.g. František Gellner (Radosti života [The Joys of Life]) and Petr Bezruč (Kdo na moje místo [Where Do I Belong]), translated and sung the songs of Vladimir Vysotsky, Bulat Okudžava and Alexandr Blok (though also making use of the translations of Milan Dvořák). However, the great bulk of his translations remain unpublished (viz. Petr Čehovský, author of the sole scholarly study hitherto on Nohavica).

Nohavica’s greatest advantage is his rich vocabulary, his ear for the melodic qualities of sung Czech, and for the unique stratifications of linguistic typologies from the most literary diction through slang to vulgarisms. In his verbal expression, what immediately strikes the listener is its force, transparency, strength of rhymes, trenchant aphorisms, yearning for romanticism, simplicity and self-evidence. Thematically, the range of his songs is uncommonly wide. On one hand, they often hold up an unflattering mirror to the current state of society (Dál se háže kamením a píská [They still throw stones and whistle],  Dopisy bez podpisu [Letters without signatures], Nechte to koňovi [Leave it to the horse]), and put forth an uncompromising civic or political stance (Mávátka [Pennants], To nechte být [Leave it alone], Křivá zrcadla [Distorting Mirror]), yet on the other hardly refrain from historic themes (General Windischgrätz, Husita [Hussite], V hospodě na rynku [Inn on the Marketplace]). They can evoke a medieval atmosphere, while introducing into the authentic surroundings a hero or narrator with a timeless philosophical stance. Nohavica has also written for children (Grónská písnička [Greenland Song], Tři čuníci [Three Piglets], Delfíni [Dolphins]), referred to the theme of sports (Sportu zdar [Long live sports], Cyklistika [Cycling], Ragby [Rugby]), has revealed himself a true poet of the everyday (Muzeum, Když mě brali za vojáka [When they took me as a soldier], Zestárli jsme lásko [We’ve grown old, my love]). The theme of love is treated in its various shifts and permutations (Bláznivá Markéta [Mad Margaret], Delfíni, Heřmánkové štěstí [Chamomile luck], Láska je jak kafemlýnek [Love is like a coffee-mill], Svatební [Wedding], Zatímco se koupeš [While you bathe]), as is hope (Dokud se zpívá [As long as there is singing], Ahoj slunko [Hi, sun], Gaudeamus igitur, Zítra ráno v pět [Tomorrow morning at five]), transience (Kometa [Comet], Muzeum, Sudvěj), the stance of a pacifist and philosopher (Krajina po bitvě [Landscape after battle]). He makes use of subtle humour and wordplay, is a master of the love lyric, the epic narrative, satire, parody of various genres of music and lyrics: contemporary blues (Blues o malých bytech [Small Apartment Blues]), ballads (Až mě zítra ráno [When tomorrow morning I…]), romance (Svatební [Weddings]), caricature (Dál se háže kamením a píská), children’s rhymes (Voláme sluníčko [Calling the Sun]), or even folk chorales (Panna na oslu jede [Virgin on a Donkey]), traditional tunes (Hlídač krav [Watching the cows]), waltzes (Pochod marodů [March of the invalids]), chansons (Planu [Aflame]), Russian romances (Petěrburg) etc.  Nohavica strives to (and succeeds in) capturing the laws of the world and of human existence, grappling with the deepest experiences of life, with questions of faith, immortality, the task of the artist (Never more, Darmoděj, Mikimauz, Litanie u konce století [Litany at Century’s End] –  most commonly presenting the archetypal figure holding the keys to human fate, or to the artist’s curse, making use of dark symbolism, complex layers of connotations, often reaching a truly existential feeling). And yet Nohavica’s repertoire also contains several true folk songs (from Silesia, Sokolové oči [Falcon Eyes], Našel jsem já pytlíček [The sack it was I found], from Moravia, Svatá Dorota [St. Dorothy], Usnula nečula [Falling asleep], Mám já jednu zahrádečku [A little garden have I], Dobrú noc má milá [Good night, my dear], Ej dívča, dívča [My girl, my girl]) and many others in which the influence of folk song is unmistakable.
The strength of Nohavica’s expressive register can be found in his precise and disciplined service to the word. Emphasising his testaments are the singer’s exceptional declamation, the choice of specific language (e.g. the jargon of a specific profession, Ostrava dialect etc.), the deliberate construction of melodies with frequent repetitions (in the manner of folk ballads) and suitable transformations of the musical form through arrangement – from the traditional chestnut to the modern chanson. At present, Nohavica performs both as a soloist as well as with the accompaniment of the groups Kapela (with which he recorded the album “Koncert”) or Čechomor. Clearly the most popular and most listened-to Czech singer-songwriter, Nohavica is a star personality of Czech songwriting, a many-talented artists and a highly specific figure in the Czech music scene. He has fully overcome the role of the “martyr of folksinging” from the 1980s, and his popularity has not declined since 1989, but indeed the reverse: as a unique artist pursuing his own path, he has been able to come to terms with the radical post-Communist transformation of folk music within Czech society.

Source: Český hudební slovník osob a osobností
(Czech Musical Dictionary of Persons and Personalities)



photo gallery

video TV

video archive