Katus - modern-day troubadour with repertoire in eight languages

Katus, photo: Tamsin Daniel, www.katus.cz

In this week's edition of the Arts I'll be speaking to a modern-day troubadour - a half-Czech, half-English female troubadour, who sings in eight different languages and borrows inspiration from the folk traditions of countries as diverse as France, Bulgaria, Russia and Ireland. Her name's Katus.

"It's a Czech name because my mum is Czech and born in Czech and she named me after my great-grandmother Katerina. And instead of shortening it to Katka, I've always been "Katus" or "Tus" in English, which has always been a bit strange."

How important are your Czech roots to you?

"They've completely made who I am. I left England when I was 18, and I didn't want to go university. I came to visit Czech with my mum and meet all my family for the first time, and I felt so at home and I felt like I could discover who I was here so I came to live in Prague. That was in 1993, and I lived in Prague for nearly a year and a half and learnt to speak Czech. I felt like I was at home here, which I'd never felt in Wales where I grew up. I left after a year and a half and I travelled all over the world but I kept coming back to Czech and my mum has always come back so at least once or twice a year I've come back."

So would you now consider yourself half and half, or more Czech than English even?

"I consider myself half and half, even though I'm actually only a quarter Czech by blood, I definitely feel more half and half, because after a few days here I kind of click into how I feel and the way I deal with people and I feel like I've been here forever."

I know it's a question that most musicians dread, but how would you define your music?

"It's all about the way I feel. I've not studied music. When I first came to Czech I was a painter. I never even considered myself a musician. I was here and I painted pictures for a year and a half. But I've always painted musicians, and I've always met them and I always actually earned my living from music. I was standing on Charles Bridge once or twice a week for a year and a half playing my piccolo, just making up little tunes. And that's how I survived in Prague for the time I lived here. I started playing guitar five years ago, and writing songs. The second song I wrote was a Czech song. I just sat down and it came, the chords and everything just came, and the words just came to me. It wasn't like I knew I could write a Czech song, because I didn't realise I could even write anything in Czech."

But there a couple of Czech songs on your CD "Smile".

"There's one Czech song at that CD, and another Czech song which isn't on there. On that CD there's French, Czech and English. I also sing in Bulgarian, Russian and a little bit of Polish and Gaelic as well."

Let's hear something from the CD. You've chosen a song, which one is it?

"The song I've chosen is the first Czech song I wrote - "Ale Laska" - and Ale Laska means But Love. The rest of the song is too long to write on there - "Kdyby byli v prdeli ryby nemuseli by byt rybniky" - "If everybody had fish up their bums then there wouldn't need to be any lakes", is pretty much what it means. It's a Czech tongue-twister. It's one of the first Czech phrases that my friends in Domazlice, where my family are from, were trying to teach me. So it's always been something swimming around in the back of my mind, and it came out as a song."

Katus you're here in the Czech Republic with your percussionist J.B. and you're working on a sort of festival exchange. J.B. - can you tell me more about how that works?

"Basically, I'm involved with a couple of festivals in the U.K., and we decided last year to bring some Czech artists over on a world stage, and for Katus to play, obviously, in the Czech Republic. We asked a few people, and put out a few feelers on the net. We decided to do it as a cultural exchange, and actually bring some of Katus's fans with us to a festival in Czech and take Lenka Dusilova from Czech back to the U.K. So Czech fans of Lenka's can experience festivals in England, and Katus's fans from England, or other artists' fans, could come and experience Czech festivals."

To my layman's ears, Katus, your music and Lenka's music is quite similar, I'd put you both in a category called "folk". Is that a category you feel comfortable with?

"I'm happy to be in a folk category, but I've not grown up listening to folk music or particularly loving English or Czech folk music. It's not something I heard as a child. If I've got any influences, they're more likely to be dance music or Spanish guitar music, which I do really like. When I first started to play I did to try to emulate Spanish flamenco playing. I sing in about eight different languages, and I think it is world music. People can dance to my stuff, but the lyrics are equally important. The lyrics to me are poetry. I love writing, and so each song I feel can stand alone. It's a story. Each song is a story. Next to English folk music, I'd put myself alongside people like Rory McCloud maybe, they're travellers, they're telling stories, they're just living their life - troubadours. I think that's definitely what I am. Songs choose me. I don't mind how it ends up, whether it's more folky or more Irish or African. If I end up writing completely classical music - that kind of music, even opera, influenced me as much as anything else."

You've chosen a song for us to play out with. Which one is it?

"The song is Smile. It's about a journey from the river right down to the sea. It's about autumn leaves falling and shining like gold or silver. A journey, along with some animals, which are other people and thoughts in life, right out to the ocean and how you've got to get there. And all the time you've got to get there and keep your vision of the sea ahead of you. You just hold up your smile and everyone else has to hold up their smile. And that's life."