Czech musicians — many of them banned from performing or working in exile — played a significant role in the toppling of the communist regime. On the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, these are some of the songs that defined the era, many of them performed in iconic Prague locations to record audiences.
Modlitba pro Martu (Prayer for Marta) – Marta Kubišová
In 2007, Czech daily iDnes published the results of a poll asking Czechs to name the most important song associated with the Velvet Revolution. “Prayer for Marta” won by a landslide. Originally composed as a response to the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968, Kubišová would later be falsely accused of making pornographic photographs and banned from performing that song, or any other, in the Czech lands.
A signatory of Charter 77, the Golden Nightingale award winner would eventually sing the ballad from a balcony on Wenceslas Square on November 22, 1989. This year on November 17 at 17:11 Czech radio stations will play the song to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Náměšť (Square) – Jaroslav Hutka
The activist performer and signatory of Charter 77 left Czechoslovakia in 1978 due to persecution by the communist party. He lived in exile in the Netherlands, returning on November 26, 1989. This song was originally composed in the 1970s for a music festival (Náměšť na Hané) that was eventually shut down by the communist party. It is considered an ode to the basic values of faith, truth, love, and freedom.
Bratříčku zavírej vrátka (Brother Close the Door) – Karel Kryl
The poet laureate of protest songs, Karel Kryl is often compared to Bob Dylan (though with a better singing voice) for drawing attention to the hypocrisy of government regimes. The titular track “Bratříčku zavírej vrátka” from his 1968 album, featuring cover photography by Josef Koudelka, was written as an immediate response to Warsaw Pact invasion. Forced into exile for 20 years, Kryl’s work remained critical of the post-revolution leaders of the country even upon his return.
Jednou budem dál (We Shall Overcome) – Spiritual Quintet
This Czech folk band, formed in the 1960s and led by singer Jiří Tichota, is considered one of the most important ensembles of the era. The group was known for adapting American gospel songs for Czechoslovak audiences. Their song “A Little More Faith In Jesus” with Czech lyrics was performed on the Melantrich balcony on November 23rd, 1989 as well as a year later, during American president George Bush’s visit to Prague. Their rendition of “We Shall Overcome” (Jednou budem dál) is considered an essential anthem of hope.
Kde domov můj (Where Is My Home) – Karel Gott & Karel Kryl
The Czech national anthem, words written by Josef Kajetán Tyl and composed by František Škroup, would be performed multiple times throughout the November and December demonstrations. Originally from the play Fidlovačka and first performed in Prague in 1834, the most notable performance was by Karel Gott and Karel Kryl, which took place on December 4 at 16:55 from the balcony of the Melantrich building.