April 12, 1944|
Kromí?, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
|Died||March 3, 1994
|Genres||folk, Protest song|
|poet, Singer-songwriter, musician, graphic artist|
|Labels||Supraphon, Primaphon, Caston, Bonton, And the End Records|
Karel Kryl (April 12, 1944 Kromí? - March 3, 1994 Munich) was an iconic Czechoslovak (Moravian born and Czech speaking) poet, singer-songwriter and performer of many hit protest songs in which he identified and attacked the hypocrisy, stupidity and inhumanity of the Communist and later also the post-communist regimes in his home country.
The lyrics of Karel Kryl's songs are highly poetic and sophisticated, with perfect rhyming and a frequent use of metaphors and historical allusions. The sparse sounds of his guitar served to underscore the natural flow of the lyrics themselves. In certain respects--especially the complexity of his lyrics, his accompaniment by a single acoustic guitar, and also his great popularity--Kryl was similar to a young Bob Dylan. However, unlike Dylan, the Czech singer had a smooth and pure, though forceful voice, which gave a hauntingly moving quality to his mournful lyrics.
Having lived for twenty years in forced exile, he was initially keen on the collapse of communism in his country, but very quickly he became bitterly and uncompromisingly critical of the new regime and its protagonists as well, including Václav Havel, and especially of those who were responsible for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992.
Kryl was born on April 12, 1944, in Kromí?, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. He was the son of Karel Kryl and Marie ?ebestová. His father owned a printing business, which was confiscated from the family in 1948 after the communist takeover. Kryl wanted to be a potter and studied at an industrial secondary school where he specialized in ceramics. He graduated in 1962.
Kryl moved to Prague in 1968 as an assistant at Czechoslovak Television. In his spare time he performed his songs in numerous small clubs. When the Warsaw Pact armies occupied Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, to suppress the Prague Spring reform movement, Kryl released his first album. The title song Brat?í?ku zavírej vrátka (Keep the Gate Closed, Little Brother) was composed spontaneously on 22.8. 1968 as an immediate reaction to the occupation. The album described his perception of the inhumanity of the regime and his views on life under communist rule. The album was released in early 1969 and was banned and removed from shelves shortly after.
Kryl left Czechoslovakia in 1969 to attend a music festival at Waldeck Castle in West Germany. Faced with certain imprisonment in his homeland, he decided to apply for political asylum and stay. His second album, Rakovina (meaning "Cancer" in Czech) was banned in Czechoslovakia; however, copies were smuggled into the country and circulated widely. The title song, and other songs on the album, reflected on the paralysis that brought the nation of the Prague Spring on its knees and into a new subjugation; they reference the self-sacrifice of Jan Palach as well as the brutal suppression by the Czechoslovak police of peaceful protests on the first anniversary of the 1968 invasion. Kryl attained a second, German, graduation in 1973 and went on to study art history and journalism at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, though he never attained a title. For the majority of his time in exile, Kryl worked for Radio Free Europe and released a number of albums during this period. Though his albums were banned in Czechoslovakia and not played on government-controlled radio stations, many of his songs became iconic back in his homeland, where listening to his records or singing his songs became a major component of underground protest. Kryl went on several tours across Scandinavia, North America and Australia. During this time, he composed songs not only in his native Czech, but also in Polish and German.
In the enthusiastic November days of 1989, during the Velvet Revolution, Kryl returned to Czechoslovakia to attend his mother's funeral. At first he was thrilled, but he later reportedly became disappointed with the transformation of society. He continued to write protest songs criticising politicians and others responsible for the failure of the country's transition to an authentic democracy, especially those who left the Communist party in or after 1989. Kryl attacked those who sought to manipulate the Czech and Slovak citizens by nationalist catchphrases and lies about economic transformation. Due to the conditions in the country that he considered unbearable, he decided to leave for Germany again. On March 3, 1994, just a month before his fiftieth birthday, Karel Kryl died of a heart attack in a Munich hospital.