Xavier Baumaxa on the new wave of Czech folk

Xavier Baumaxa, photo: CTK

One of the emerging Czech singers-songwriters of the new generation, Xavier Baumaxa is entering the Czech mainstream with his new album Retrofutro. Highly acclaimed by critics and increasingly popular with Czech audiences, Xavier Baumaxa is our guest in this week's Arts.

Xavier Baumaxa, photo: CTK
Xavier Baumaxa, a singer - song writer based in Litvinov, North Bohemia, released his new album Retrofutro in April this year. The album was a success. Following its release, it ranked fifteenth in the official Czech TOP 50, and introduced its author to a wider audience. Retrofutro, however, is Xavier Baumaxa's third album and his musical career spans back even further. Surprisingly perhaps, it was not always just one man and his guitar on stage.

"I used to have a lot of bands, beginning with a folk band and a folk-rock band. Then we had a punk band, and we played funk-rock later. We stopped playing, I think, around the year 2000. I was just sitting at home, composing songs just for the future. But I couldn't stand the isolation, so I started performing with my Ukrainian friend, the poet Em Rudenko. At these gigs, half the time I would play, and the other half, poetry was recited for the audience."

Xavier Baumaxa, photo: www.xavi.litvinoff.cz
Xavier Baumaxa studied Czech and English, worked as an English teacher for a while before joining a well-known chain of do-it-yourself shops that inspired his pseudonym. Rumour has it that he even used a company-car to drive himself to concerts. Around 2002, Baumaxa left his job because, as he put it, it got in the way of his music, and became a full-time musician. After the release of his latest album, he spent two months touring the Czech Republic.

"The tour took me the whole of April and the whole of May and I think it was some 35 or 40 concerts. Now in the summer, I focus on summer festivals. I enjoyed it a lot but it was very hard for me as far as alcohol and cigarettes are concerned. There were times I could not even breathe, and I think twice I almost fainted on stage, but it was a fantastic tour for me."

In his songs, Xavier Baumaxa rants on topics as varied as love, sex, drugs, Czech pop icons, and racism. One of the most popular songs from Retrofutro is entitled Nazijazz. It attacks Czech TV for broadcasting a show by Daniel Landa, a musician and former skinhead, who staged a performance in a Prague church, composed of a mix of religion and music by the late Karel Kryl. What was so upsetting about it?

"I don't think it only upset me. I saw a part of this Vysehrad performance by Daniel Landa, priest Vaclav Maly, police officer Jiri Komorous and others, and it really astonished me. I was really shocked, and immediately called my friends to ask if this was really happening. We couldn't believe Czech TV was showing it live on prime-time TV. What Landa did I find really dangerous because he is really clever in the way he works with the media influencing people. He has got huge groups of fans and I don't quite understand it because I don't think Czechs are extraordinarily racist or xenophobic. I think the new generation of Czechs is quite free and clever enough to form its own opinions."

Xavier Baumaxa, photo: www.xavi.litvinoff.cz
Xavier Baumaxa comes from Litvinov, a town with a turbulent history. Before the Second World War, it was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Germans. After the war, the Germans were expelled from the whole area and a new population was brought in, including a large number of Roma. While the expulsion of Sudeten-Germans is not a big topic for Baumaxa, the Roma community certainly is.

"I used to live in a housing estate; there were Roma and Czechs living together from the beginning, so I can't be blind to these things. I think, generally, that several of my songs which are about racism which I really don't like. I don't understand the prejudices people have concerning the colour of skin. So maybe it's down to the place I come from. I lived among both white and coloured people."

Retrofutro, the title song of the album, is a U2 cover-version. Being played live just by Baumaxa and his guitar, it is truly amazing. His new album is gradually getting him into the mainstream of Czech popular music and onto the front pages of magazines. Some critics even claim he is at the forefront of the new generation of Czech singer-songwriters, following in the footsteps of Karel Kryl, Karel Plihal and Jaromir Nohavica. I was wondering whether he had any explanation as to why he finally made it as a solo singer after all those years in a band.

"Statistically, maybe, song writers, or folk singers, whatever you want to call them, there is maybe one hundredth of them compared to the number of bands, so I think this is one of the reasons. Another one is that there were several people in Prague who started spreading the music amongst their friends because they liked it. I think Prague was the first place where people started to listen to my music in 'masses'."

Is he perhaps considering forming a band again?

"I like when I can manage my things myself. But sometimes I miss the variety of instruments and sounds so sometimes I play with up to six friends so there are seven of us on stage. I am planning to give a concert on the 16th of August on Strelecky Ostrov in Prague with twelve musicians including a string sextet, so I really enjoy playing with other musicians."