Indian in the city
Jarda Svoboda returns with a domestic spin
Stage Review | Archives
By Darrell Jónsson
For The Prague Post
June 27th, 2007 issue
Whether fronting a punk-polka slam being televised by Czech television or waiting with his clarinet for an impromptu jam in a squat, Traband founder Jarda Svoboda always has a fresh-off-the-river-boat vibe about him. When he vanished in 2006 after 10 years as a fixture on the local club and festival circuit, one had to wonder if he hadn’t been Shanghaied, like one of the merchant marines in his songs.
Svoboda tells The Prague Post that it was “crows join crows, a birds-of-a-feather” thing that led him to temporarily drop off the local music radar and dedicate a year of his life to helping Prague’s growing homeless population by working at the Nadeje mission. Part of his sympathy and empathy for the displaced comes from his own experience, he says. “Years ago I lived for a short time as a homeless person, and in a certain sense I still am homeless.”
Before Svoboda’s disappearance, Traband dramatically closed the first chapter of its career with the concert DVD and CD 10 Let Na Cestě (10 Years on the Road), which captured a decade of musical explorations. With banjos, clarinets, accordions and an ace rock rhythm section, the band shook off some of the stigma attached to Bohemian and Austro-Hungarian traditional sounds. With a dash of punk rock and lyrics that Svoboda describes as “figurative, sometimes even like comic books,” Traband was as danceable as they were spellbinding on stage. Given their habit for arcane costumes, at times the result could be like a hallucinatory dance party marching out of the pages of a Slavonic pulp-fantasy paperback.
Traband regrouped early in 2007 as a three-piece band, and this month is releasing a new CD, Přítel clověka. If it’s less dramatic than their previous work, it still pours on the charm.
“I used to sing about the homeless, refugees, runaways and stowaways,” Svoboda says. “Now I sing about people who know where they belong.”
Svoboda describes Traband’s new close-to-the-hearth sound as “home music,” in contrast to “world music.” The CD opens with a song inspired by William Blake set to a Beatles-esque raga centered on the drone of a 19th-century Polish harmonium. From that grain of sand, the CD unfolds into an array of tunes immersed in beer-drinking, hops-picking, children’s rhymes and Bohemian mountain wedding music.
As usual with Traband, though, the lyrics swerve far from your typical love-song jive. One rousing, bittersweet number entitled “Partisan” is about a patriot hermit inflicted by a singular Czech malaise that Svoboda describes as “being destroyed by the [post-Soviet invasion] developments in this country after ’68, and the lost illusions after the Velvet Revolution in ’89.” Other tunes weave lighter fables and parables from the imaginative point of view of Svoboda, who says, “In the wilderness of Prague … I still feel like an Indian in the city.”
Traband’s new sound may stay near the Czech-Moravian heart of instrumentation with its use of harmoniums and cymbelons, but the band’s rock and Slavonic vocal harmonies continue to reach for the universal. And collaborations are underway with beatbox wizards Cossigou and the quartet known as Clarinet Factory. Where Traband drives its new, home-spun vehicle in the future, Svoboda says, “only time will tell.”
Suitably, the band will be performing this week at one of Prague’s most magical yet off-the-beaten-track venues. Nested in the opulent surrounding of Prague’s Stromovka Park, next to the phantom of the abandoned luxury restaurant Šlechtovka, there is an ancient beer garden maintained by theater enthusiasts who call themselves the Šlechtovka Cultural Enclave. Šlechtovka’s diamond-in-the-rough bandstand, with a heritage reaching back to the 17th-century Habsburgs, should make Traband’s imaginative musical flights seem right at home.
Darrell Jónsson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org