Face of Czech banjo music Ivan Mládek still cracking jokes at 80

Banjo Band Ivana Mládka

Banjo playing Ivan Mládek is likely to be the first image that comes into a Czech’s mind when talking about funny songs to play by the camp fire. Mládek has been writing, singing and performing songs for close to six decades now and is one of the few Czech musicians to also register big success abroad. His hit Jožin z bažin is known to millions of Poles, Germans, Italians and Russians.

Ivan Mládek has been playing jazz and country music with various bands and ensembles since 1966. Aside from being a musician, he also writes short stories, creates table top games and is a hobby painter. Although an artist to the bone, Mládek was originally supposed to be an economist. Coming from a family of civil servants, he studied at the University of Economics in Prague at the same as future Czech President Václav Klaus.

Ivan Mládek | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

However, his love of music instead led him to become a song writer. His humorous texts have since become popular folk songs, sung at campfires by generations of Czechs. One of his most famous songs is called Jožin z bažin. Its iconic 1978 music video, which was quickly produced in return for a box of slivovice liquor, is a small YouTube hit and led to the singer being recently rediscovered in Poland where he and his Banjo Band experienced a comeback.

The song was also performed by the famous American heavy metal band Mettalica at their 2018 concert in Prague, with bass guitarist Robert Trujillo singing the lyrics in Czech accompanied by thousands of fans in Prague’s packed O2 Arena stadium.

Born on February 7, 1942, the Czech country music icon celebrated his 80th birthday this week.  To mark the occasion, new editions of his Dobrý den! (Good day!) and Nashledanou! (Goodbye!) albums are coming out. The two records originally came out in 1976 and 19777. Aside from Jožin z bažin, they feature several other of Mládek’s hits, such as Můj švagr má bagr (My father-in-law has a tractor), Medvědi nevědí (Bears don’t know), Prachovské skály (Prachov rocks) and Dáša Nováková. Known for their funny lyrics written in straightforward rhymes and performed together with his Banjo Band, the songs almost always make the audience laugh and join in with the singing.

run audio