Genre Bending with a Velvet Voice

Singer Sara Vondraskova goes from obscurity to Oscar nod

By Alison Maney

Sara Vondraskova, photo: neversol.cz.

Sara Vondraskova
Photo courtesy of neversol.cz.

Blue lights and mist pour onto the stage as Sara Vondraskova, poised in front of a stand-up piano, coolly towers over her audience. Her white skin glows as the light changes, and her hair balloons into a wispy cloud gathered at the crown. Her voice, deep and smooth, moans the first few bars of her biggest success: the song “Lay Down,” co-written with Czech film and theatre composer Michal Novinski for the Czech film noir “Ve Stinu”. Having her song in this production is no small feat; the movie was selected as the Czech Republic’s submission for the “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar.

Her music has a distinct jazzy sound, but 23-year-old Vondraskova doesn’t consider herself a jazz musician. Despite her history performing at jazz festivals as far away as Edinburgh, studying jazz at the Jaroslav Jezek conservatory, and singing in a jazz quartet as an adolescent, Vondraskova said how jazz is “a thing to start building on something that might be more myself.”

“I would say maybe folk,” Vondraskova said when asked about her music’s genre. “But it’s hard. I wouldn’t call it alternative because I don’t like that word. People use it for too much things. It’s losing the meaning.”

In this search of her own sound, Vondraskova ended up in two genre-bending music groups. Most famously, she’s the singing, songwriting and piano-playing half of the folk-cum-blues-cum-jazz music group Never Sol with drummer Lenka Dundrova. She also performs as a singer and piano player in Floex, an electronic music group.

Kaca Santrochova, Vondraskova’s best friend and fellow musician, said Vondraskova has a velvet voice and described her sound as “very ethereal.” Vondraskova’s melodies sharply contrast the jittery club beats of popular artists in the Czech Republic, which mainly include international hit makers like Rihanna and Flo Rida.

“The most popular is dance music,” Josef Vlcek, a Czech music critic, said. “We are a country that is strongly going into globalization, so dance music is most influential.”

However, Vondraskova represents both an important link back to the Czechs’ jazz fascination, which was a symbol of rebellion during the communist period and also a look forward to a new emerging type of female artist.

“I figure we can now trace the influence of a whole generation of women who are singer songwriters but who work in the jazz medium, like Nora Jones,” Keith Jones, who has run the “Music on Film, Film on Music” festival, said.

“I like to listen to female artists, young artists,” Vondraskova said. “I’m trying to do it in the same feeling. Recently I listen to Cat Power.”

“’I’m just doing what feels right in the time I am, and I’m trying to do the best I can,’ Vondraskova said. ‘I think the situation will show me if it’s good or not. I hope I will be capable in the future, but who knows where life will throw me.’”

Now that Vondraskova has gained some prominent recognition, she’s drifted even farther from the jazz genre that she studied for so long.  But Jones said how there is some flexibility within the genre. “Jazz doesn’t have to get lumped into a facsimiles of what it was fifty years ago,” Jones said.

Additionally, there are still distinct jazz and blues undertones in “Lay Down,” which is also Vondraskova’s first music video single. Vondraskova’s husky voice ripples with pain over repetitive snare drum and piano chords. The music resembles Lana Del Rey’s sadcore soul, but the voice recalls Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” in 1939.

“I’m just doing what feels right in the time I am, and I’m trying to do the best I can,” Vondraskova said. “I think the situation will show me if it’s good or not. I hope I will be capable in the future, but who knows where life will throw me.”

Never Sol – “Lay Down”, Sara Vondraskova

courtesy of LuckyManFilms, from YouTube.cz

Alison Maney is in NYU’s class of 2014. Her hometown is Clifton, Virginia.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Culture, Spring 2013 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

%d bloggers like this: