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Marta Kubišová - Ne! The Soul of Marta Kubišová

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Artist: Marta Kubišová

Album: Ne! The Soul of Marta Kubišová

Label: VampiSoul

Review date: Jan. 13, 2010

Prague Spring was a fleeting period of liberalization in 1968 Czechoslovakia, and one of the defining movements in a year marked by the spirit of resistance. The Czech leader spearheading the attempted reformation, Alexander Dubček, envisioned a “socialism with a human face.” Before and after Soviet tanks returned the country to a bastion of censorship, that face was embodied by singer Marta Kubišová. Standing out among other mainstream artists for her dissidence and unwavering public voice, her lyrics reflected the stifling realities of the political and social climate. In a true illustration of subversive pop, Kubišová covertly delivered her signature anthem "Modlitba pro Martu" ("Prayer for Marta") to radio stations herself.

In the years leading up to the Soviet invasion Kubišová was the biggest pop star in Czechoslovakia and nearing international fame. She had signed a record deal with Polydor Germany and her name was growing in Paris. But at the height of her popularity in 1969, she was ousted from radio and TV, prohibited from performing in public and her record contract was terminated. She would not return to stages or recording studios until the fall of the Eastern Bloc 20 years later.

This set focuses on rarer material from the early years of her vast catalog and excludes iconic tracks like “Prayer for Marta.” Her popular cover of “Hey Jude,” which memorably plays over the invasion scene in the film adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, is also left out. Instead, Ne! focuses on what the liner notes specify as her “rough” material and includes her work with Helena Vondráčková and Václav Neckář as the Golden Kids. Mixing originals with covers of international hits, the compositions are performed by renowned Czechoslovakian jazz ensembles and touted classical orchestras like Mefisto. The compilation also spans Kubišová’s first solo LP, Songy a balady, which was simultaneously released and banned in 1969, as the “normalization” process unfolded.

The strength of Kubišová’s contralto mirrors her steel resolve. Her’s is a soulfulness that verges on operatic, a deep, full timbre that propels the funk, bossa nova, and psych-tinged arrangements onward and outward. The groove merchants at her back trade in celebratory organ fills, punctuating brass, Clyde Stubblefield worship and meandering fuzz. “Jacoby nic” is notable not only for its overtly lysergic turn. The A-side of her last single for the Supraphon label barely survived the communist censors who destroyed the finished pressing. The version here is taken from a “stolen” copy.

Kubišová’s only recording from her time spent blacklisted was a set of Moravian folk songs secretly taped in a kitchen by Swedish journalists. She spent most of those years as a mother, a clerk, and a signatory and spokeswoman of the radical civic collective named for the Charter 77 initiative. The Velvet Revolution afforded her return to singing in 1990, but Kubišová is that too infrequent performer whose legacy of activism shines brighter than her rich musical history.

By Jake O'Connell

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