Rock and pop music has left an indelible mark on the country and Prague in particular, and it is still hugely popular to this very day. As with every other major city, the different types of music performed all come with their own subheaders; there’s dance music, hip hop, indie, rock, metal, classic rock and every other genre in between. This means that whatever your musical preference, you will always find something to interest you in Prague.
Rock and Roll first came to prominence in the 1950s, as the American musicians conquered the world with their new style of music. Artists such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard were all discouraged by the ruling Communist Party, but they were tolerated to greater extents than other foreign influences. Dancing to this new form of music even became popular, and there are still several world-class rock and roll dancers to be found in the city!
During the 1960s, the twin forces of new music and a thawing of the political situation allowed music to flourish like never before. The influences of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys became massively popular, just as it did everywhere else in the world. Czechs had their own homegrown talent, though, and the most popular of these was Marta Kubisova, who still regularly performs in the city today. Many Praugers see her music as a reminder of this time in Czech history.
The 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion stopped the invasion of rock and roll in its tracks, though, as many musicians were prohibited from writing or performing any new music in the country. More mundane music was encouraged by the authorities, and the walls of the country became a barrier for all foreign music. Most of the popular songs of this period – such as “Je jaka je” by Karel Gott – were simply cover versions of foreign songs, repackaged to appeal to both the Czech people and the Communist Party. Although artists such as Gott are seen as having collaborated with the Communist Party to destroy the Czech music scene, they remain popular. They regularly perform in Prague to this very day.
As the Velvet Revolution approached, the underground rock scene became heavily politicized, with bands devoting their lyrics to the injustices they felt. One of the most popular of these bands was Plastic People of the Universe, a cult favourite during the period. Even the name of the Velvet Revolution has rock influences, as one of Havel’s favourite groups was the Velvet Underground, a popular American band at the time.
Perhaps the most influential musician of the time was Karel Kryl, who was exiled to West Germany from the Czech Republic. He used the political freedom that he had in this country to put his feelings into song. These songs became popular throughout the Czech Republic, stirring up a real feeling of national identity. Throughout history, musicians have often played a large role in social change, and this was certainly the case when it comes to the music of Karel Kryl.
After the Velvet Revolution occurred, pop and rock music came back to the Czech Republic with a vengeance. Many of the artists who had inspired the revolution to take place – artists such as Lou Reed, Mick Jagger and Frank Zappa – were all regular visitors to the country and Reed even became known as the unofficial Culture Minister! During this time, a number of Czech bands also emerged – bands such as Lucie and Zluty Pes – as did a number of influential singers and songwriters like Lucie Bila and Iva Bittova. Currently, in the Czech Republic, the most popular Czech acts include the hard-rocking Kabat, the pop group Krystof and the folk music of Cechomar.
Western music has also embraced the market in the Czech Republic, with many of the world’s biggest bands stopping here on their world tours, usually to perform in Prague. Some of the first bands to play in the post-Communist era were REM, the Rolling Stones and U2, as well as Guns N’ Roses and Bruce Springsteen (who uttered the immortal line of “Okay, you ex-Commie bastards, it’s time to rock and roll!”). Nowadays, all of the world’s top acts regularly put on performances in the country.