Lucie Kostelecká, bringing the sounds of South Africa to Czech audiences

Lucie Kostelecká, photo: Lucie Kostelecká's Archive

Czech singer Lucie Kostelecká fell for the charm of South African music during her stay in that country several years ago. Lucie even studied singing with South African teachers, and when she returned home after three years, she decided to bring the songs by the acclaimed singer and human rights activist Miriam Makeba to Czech audiences. On Saturday, she performed at the Africa Day held at Prague’s riverside Žluté Lázně. Unfortunately, it was a cold and drizzly day but when I sat down with Lucie, she told me it had been a great show despite the rain.

Lucie Kostelecká,  photo: Lucie Kostelecká's Archive
“It was very nice. The weather was quite bad but a lot of people came and I think they enjoyed the African music. We brought some sunshine to the gloomy day.”

How did you get interested and involved in South African music?

“I lived in South Africa for three years, and I just loved the music, the people there, the whole vibe. So this is the kind of music I really like to do.”

There are many kinds of African music – what kind do you play?

“I play songs by Miriam Makeba. She was a South African artist who was nicknamed Mama Africa, and she was a very interesting person because she fought against apartheid. She used the most powerful weapon she had – her voice – to tell people what was going on and how important it was to help people there.”

Are these issues still alive in South Africa?

“Well, the situation changed because obviously, the apartheid is no longer there. But I think it’s still in people’s hearts, especially black people, because they remember what happened. What I want to do with my music is basically to tell people that the way we treat each other is very important and the colour we are does not mean anything.”

Lucie Kostelecká,  M.A.T. Band,  photo: Lucie Kostelecká's Archive
You lived in South Africa for three years – how did you get there?

“I lived there with my boyfriend, so it’s not a very interesting story.”

How did your singing studies go?

“It was great. South African vocal teachers are different from the teachers here, everything is about feelings and hitting the right note.”

Are there any South African musicians in your band?

“No, I found the musicians here, they are my friends, and they are the kind of people with the same feelings about this sort of music like me. M.A.T. Band means Mama Africa Tribute Band. I sing in English, Zulu and Xhosa.”

Lucie Kostelecká,  M.A.T. Band,  photo: Lucie Kostelecká's Archive
And how do Czechs react to that?

“My concerts are educational as well, because I tell people about every song, why it was written and what it is about, because they don’t understand, so yes, they quite like it.”

Before you got involved in South African music, you appeared in what is referred to as Old Prague Cabaret. What made you take part in this kind of shows that are very different from what you do now?

“Well, I was living in the Czech Republic and I always enjoyed singing and performing. So I just put a programme together basically for foreign visitors to Prague. I was fun but after a few years, I thought I really wanted to say something with my music. So that’s why African music is so important for me because I can relay some messages that are very important for people here.”

Are you planning to come up with your own music as well or are you going to rely on Mama Africa?

“I’m planning to do my own music, too.”

You and your band are involved in this project organized with the aid of the South African embassy in Prague to raise money for a school in Johannesburg. Can you tell us about that?

“It won’t be in Johannesburg, it will be in KwaZulu-Natal. I found a pre-school there where some 90 percent of the children are orphans. I think that one of the biggest issues in South Africa is education, or the lack thereof. People don’t have money to go to school, and I think this is the biggest problem. So I’d like to support this pre-school and the children so that they can get proper education.”

When Czechs hear about South Africa, it’s usually something negative, either about violence and crime, or perhaps about the fugitive Czech businessman Radovan Krejčíř who seemed to be based there. How was life there for you?

“A lot of people ask me about crime and they say, ‘oh, it’s very dangerous there’. But nothing bad happened to me there so I cannot say the same. My life there was great, I really liked the people and their vibe, so I can’t really say.”

Would you say that Czechs – who have their own issues with the Romany minority, on an entirely different scale of course – can learn something from South Africa?

“That’s very difficult. What I want to say to people is really how we need to treat each other and it doesn’t matter what colour we are, or whether we are poor or rich, so I think we can learn from each other.”

Have you actually played this music in South Africa or do you only play here?

Lucie Kostelecká,  photo: Lucie Kostelecká's Archive
“I only perform here. It was quite strange because in South Africa, I won a singing competition and I was singing Czech songs which they really liked. When I came back, I missed African music and thought this was what I wanted to do.

What are you plans for the near future? Where can people hear and see your show?

“We will have another concert on August 27. In early October, we will go to South Africa where I’ll be performing with Zululand Gospel Choir, and we are going to record an album together. And then I’d like to do some shows with them here.”