Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia… If you were asked what those countries have in common, you would probably mention their history (in the past, all were on the eastern side of Iron Curtain), their fast-growing economies or their status as newcomers to the European Union. You'd be correct, but here’s another secret link - all of these countries have a blossoming generation of songwriters that cannot be missed!
Singer-songwriters, musicians whose characteristic feature is that they create and perform their own lyrics and compositions, constitute some of the most recognizable and iconic musicians: Bob Dylan, Paul Anka and Bruce Springsteen, to name but a few. Their style has proved to be evergreen, and its continuators are such contemporary Americana classics as Bonnie Prince Billy, Bon Iver and Iron & Wine. But to consider this a solely American phenomenon would be incorrect, as the signer-songwriter style has spread far beyond the United States.
Why is it so catchy? Probably because it is a very accessible way of artistically expressing your thoughts. You do it all by yourself, you don’t need complex arrangements; you usually don’t even need a band. The personality and charisma of the singer-songwriter, expressed by his or her voice, is far more important than any other factor. This is why listening to songwriters from different countries is such a fascinating activity. Some of these artists sing in English, some in their native tongues. The latter are no less accessible and understandable than the former, in spite of the language barrier - each song's message comes through loud and clear thanks to the inherently personal nature of the music. They cross the barriers of language and distance to somehow reflect the character of their generation, of the cities that they come from, and of social groups or subcultures. If you want to know what the younger generation of south-eastern Europe has to say, listen to these ten extraordinarily gifted artists.
Marten Kuningas (Estonia)
Marten Kuningas, 'Tagurpidi Vaal / Twited Love'
28-year-old Estonian singer-songwriter Marten Kuningas has become widely recognized thanks to his song Tagurpidi Vaal (Twisted Love).
‘It’s a track with an unusual groove pattern, written together with our guitarist Raul Ojamaa’ - comments Marten. - It’s a journey immersed in Telecaster [a type of electric guitar – editorial note] soundscapes. A quest to reach for the unreachable.’
Thanks to this song, he came first in the Uno Naissoo Competition of Music Composition and Interpretation, augmenting expectations for his second LP, Praktiline mees (Practical Man), that is to be released in September 2014. His music seems like the soundtrack for a film that was never made, infused with a lot of mystery, bitter-sweet emotions and longing. To a foreigners’ ear, it is also fascinating to hear how the soft parts of the overlaid guitars collide with the rarely-heard Estonian language which consists mostly of sharp and rough sounds. Even if you don’t understand the words, the message comes across quite easily.
Fismoll is the stage name of an extremely sensitive musician, aged just 20, whose real name is Arkadiusz Glensk. Despite many media attempts to pigeonhole him together with several of the best-known Icelandic artists, his style stands out as overwhelmingly original. Minimalistic arrangements, combined with effortless guitar parts and his warm, discreet voice, result in a subtle structure that was never seen before in Polish music. And it seems that in today’s world of constant rush and struggle, this type of fragility and hush was needed. Right after his debut, he earned significant popularity and was noticed by the most important artists, such as Katarzyna Nosowka, who said of him:
When I experience something delightful, I always tend to express this fascination loud and clear! This is why everybody already knows: Katarzyna Nosowska listens to Fismoll! His gift and potential are strictly indecent! This boy melts my heart to mush!
What is really surprising is that Fismoll, despite being so young, stuns his audience by taking them on a journey into a realm of quiet atmosphere and delicacy. Listeners are invited to sit down, close their eyes and stay perfectly silent, diving deep down into his music.
Fismoll, Let's Play Birds, NextPop Label.
Nina Romić (Croatia)
Unlike the majority of other artists mentioned in this article, Nina Romić is not a novice. She has to her credit three widely-acclaimed albums and the status of Croatia’s most beloved singer–songwriter. On her last CD, titled Stablo (Tree), she recorded a true gem – Bicikli (Bicycle), a minimalist and subtle ballad about love, disappointment and lost chance.
Nina Romić, 'Bicikli'
Katarzia, whose pseudonym means Catharsis in Slovakian, is a young singer–songwriter with an intense voice and an interesting past. Since her early childhood, she has been struggling with being the daughter of an iconic Slovakian actress. Her pursuit for her own identity and name led her to United States, aged just sixteen. There, she was given her first chance to sing publicly and soon started getting more and more into the world of music. After coming back to Slovakia and not being accepted to theatre school, she devoted herself fully to music and became Katarzia – the most recognizable voice of the so-called “generation Y”, characterised by her lo–fi charm and expressive lyrics.
Katarzia, 'Z vágneho jasné', Live at Naživo_FM
Peter J. Birch (Poland)
Warning - probably the friendliest singer-songwriter in the world! Peter J. Birch (a literal translation of his real name, Piotr Jan Brzeziński) is a 20-something-year-old bearded fellow and the epitome of straightforwardness and joviality. He started his career as a drummer for high school bands but in 2013, he debuted as a songwriter and singer with his album When The Sun’s Risin’ Over The Town. The recording was critically acclaimed and Poland soon fell in love with Peter’s easy-going songs and warm voice. His style is deeply rooted in country and western but he is also inspired by the music of his friend from Iceland – Halla Nordfjord (who appears on his debut recording) Damien Rice, Rocky Votolato, Bon Iver and Damien Jurado. He is one of the busiest touring artists in Europe, playing numerous concerts in Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and other countries. Recently he came up with the idea of organising the ‘Living Room Tour’, during which he plays concerts in private flats in front of a very limited audience. The goal is to create the aura of intimacy and comfort which best fits his music. His new album, Yearn, is coming soon, so stay tuned!
Peter J. Birch, 'I Don't Know What To Do About Myself', Balcony TV Kaunas
Kittchen (Czech Republic)
Yet another man of mystery! Kittchen - a masked singer who paints dark musical landscapes with his electric guitar, mixed with perfectly-paired lo-fi sounds and ambience, to create a story that is a delight to listen to. There is not much to be written about Kittchen, as his identity remains secret. His website consists of some very unsettling videos, images, pictures and has creepy background sounds that cannot be turned off – all these elements combined make you feel as if you entered some other realm, full of paranoia, acidic colours and chaotic snapshots. Kitchen is definitely worth devoting a while to, so listening to his album Radio and spending some time on his website (www.kittchen.cz) is highly recommended, if only to admire his complex artistic self-creation!
Never Sol (Czech Republic)
This is how Nordic pop is translated into Slavic soul. Never Sol debuted with a song for the successful noir drama In the Shadow directed by famous Czech film artist David Ondříček. Soon afterwards, she was given a chance to work with one of the most acclaimed Czech producers (Jan P. Muchow), and this is how her first album came about. The surprisingly matte and low voice of the vocalist, backed up by polar electronics, made it very intriguing and immediately turned Never Sol into one of the most recognizable independent music stars in the Czech Republic. She is a very active artist, eagerly taking part in various projects, including ones which aren't necessarily purely musical. She recently recorded a song for BoaDesign – a Czech design duo that creates ‘out of this world’ lamps and lighting installations. Her voice was the main source for this song – it served as harmonic base, background sounds, ambience and lead vocals, perfectly illustrating the charm of BoaDesign’s installations. Never Sol wrote of it:
This song was made specially for a project connecting light, glass and sound. Everything you hear in this track is only voice. Besides melody and harmony line I was layering my voice or it's fragments and made loops or samples of it wich than create rhythmic section or they stand for another function or instrument.
The glass and light was created based on the voice parts- the light fills the glass as the harmony and melody changes.
Never Sol's song for the project with BoaDesign
Coldair is Tobiasz Biliński's solo project, also known from folk/ experimental/post-rock band Kyst. He is a true individualist. He usually performs solo and creates his music on his own. It seems as though his musical alter-ego - ‘Coldair’ - has even possibly come to dominate his real identity. He is entirely made out of his music, which can be described as fickle and vaguely dark, with surprising orchestration and uncommon arrangements. He is a true loner, usually the first to leave after-parties, without making any effort to network. Recently, he toured the United States and Europe, appearing at some of the biggest music festivals such as Primavera (Barcelona) and SXSW (Austin, TX). Given all of the above, it is not surprising that he produces and distributes his music by himself and that he is his own booking manager. His recordings are available via his online store and concerts only. Meet the perfect DIY artist – Coldair:
Tobiasz Biliński aka Coldair, 'In The Nether'
Beloslava’s own blend of pop, jazz and electronics has earned her the position of the apple of Bulgarian eyes. Her song Nyama (presented below) is just another sign of Beloslava being a perfect combination of talent, experience, and know-how. Skilfully arranged, relaxing but never monotonous, with jazzy influences – all bound together by her velvety voice. If you like it, there is plenty more to discover. Beloslava has been cooperating with the most prominent Bulgarian jazz and pop musicians for almost ten years now and has managed to record three albums: Streets (2001), Listen to Me (2005) and When There’s Why (2012) and plans to release her fourth studio album by the end of 2014.
Martin E. Kyšperský (Czech Republic)
Martin is one of the most experienced artists on this list. His career started in 1993 when he co-founded the band Květy (Flowers). Since then, he has been one of the most prolific Czech artists, forming numerous bands, composing music for theatre plays, producing and arranging albums for other artists and releasing almost thirty albums with Kvety, Čvachtavý lachtan and as a solo artist. What is hypnotizing about him is the tangible feeling of rawness, and the undisturbed and honest thoughts that are carried by his music. His voice may not seem perfectly honed and his arrangements may come across as a bit chaotic at first listen, but the outcome is, in a certain way, touching. In November 2013, he released his solo album titled Svetr (Sweater) which offers a great blend of folk with contemporary song-writing influences. If you ever plan to visit Prague, it could serve well as a soundtrack for the journey.
Martin E. Kyšperský, 'Ptáci'
Author: Wojciech Oleksiak, 30.VII.2014.
Source: artist's websites, beehy.pe, youtube.com, spotify.