Prague to host Respekt world music festival next weekend

Next weekend, the terrace of the Prague Castle Riding School will host the fourth annual Respect festival of ethnic and world music. The festival will feature groups and artists from six countries, from India to South Africa. Alena Skodova has the details.

Next weekend's music will be accompanied by several extra events, including a screening of films featuring ethnic music and a workshop of Indian music, led by the famous German expert on India Peter Pannke. The previous festivals have always focused on a certain theme, such as Gypsy music or the music of the Mediterranean, but as the programme director Borek Holecek told me, this would not be the case this year:

"This year our festival is not focused on one particular theme. The thing is that our financial situation means we have to choose our guest ensembles very carefully - we have to make sure the music follows a certain theme and so the choice is a difficult one. Secondly, what happened last year was that while I was really proud of managing to bring in artists who were really difficult to get, the reaction of the audience was rather lukewarm - no-one shared my enthusiasm. That's why this year I made a compromise and brought in groups which our audience might like better."

Mr Holecek told me that logically the music groups he chooses must first and foremost appeal to him, but that the main factor is always money. Much is decided by the groups' managers - some of them are well aware of the festivals' tight budget, and while some are willing to lower their fee, others are not used to make compromises. According to Mr Holecek, ethnic music is not as well established in the Czech Republic as in Western Europe, and his experience is that Czech audiences like tunes they can dance to or at least stomp their feet.

Mr. Holecek said the Respekt festival was increasingly popular with the Czech audience. When it was held for the first time four years ago, the organisers had no idea how many people would come. They were pleasantly surprised - all of them stayed to the very end of the outdoor concert, even though it was pouring with rain.

And what's the main idea behind the festival? Borek Holecek again: "Our aim is to stage traditional music from other cultures as a reaction to the present atmosphere of xenophobia and racism in Czech society. We fully identify with what the French Roma film director, Tony Ghalif, once said: "When I try to warn people against racism, I always let the music speak, because music cannot be opposed." And I truly think that music can achieve more than billboards in the streets."