Marta Kubišová: Tajga Blues ‘69 (Supraphon, 1969)

4 Aug

Said by Marta Kubišová herself to be her favourite among all her recordings, Tajga Blues ‘69 is also one of the greatest records of its era, and not only in the former Eastern bloc. Few Western singles of the day are as remarkable as this particular few minutes of dramatic balladry and highly political poetics underscored by heavily distorted guitar. Tajga is the arctic region of the northern hemisphere, and appearing so soon after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, it’s unlikely that the song’s allusion to Siberia as a region of exile would have been missed, however oblique the imagery of the song itself, reminiscent as it is of some of the material written the Serbian poet Vasko Popa in Yugoslavia, and others elsewhere. How the record was released and even televised (and not, like another overtly political Kubišová song of the same moment, Ne (No), quickly withdrawn) is something of a mystery, possibly related to a time-lag between the management at the State record label (itself a powerful export income generator through its Classical music arm) and the ‘normalisation’ process, but no real information seems to be available. Whatever the reason for her recordings continuing to be released for around a year after the 1968 invasion, Kubišová did not hold onto her room for manouvre for very long. Despite her immense popularity, smear stories were run in the press and used as grounds to impose a ban during early 1970, preventing her from performing, recording or travelling for the next twenty years. If at least some of these post-1968 songs were pressed (though often left largely undistributed) the ban finally managed to silence her, musically at least, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. This version of Tajga Blues ’69 first appeared in Poetry Review (Vol.100 No.4) in the winter of 2010. The song can be heard here and a transcript of the original Czech lyric can be read here.

Tajga Blues ‘69

(after Bohuslav Ondrácek/Zdenek Rytir, 1969)

Tajga sleeps, soft white drifts in,
Tajga lies sleeping, is gracious – his first grave sin.
Tajga slumbers in a dungeon of trees,
handcuffed to the Blue Mountains
as guards cling to houses in a quiet street.

Tajga blues, sing out the chorus still –
no word fears these short days
or the long nights.

Tajga does not wake, the north is quiet,
Tajga’s wolf trails are tracked by guards.
There are white places on maps,
blank pages in this open book
and power in the eyes of those who look.

Tajga blues is the echo I hear
as rivers roar and wind laughs a storm
through the long nights.

Tajga spreads its blankets to hide the world,
Tajga’s snow thickens on the quiet woods.
Where to go, but walk blind
through forests whose beautiful frosts
envelop us, though our eyes are closed?

Tajga blues, we sing as they imprison us;
our voices echo – exiled, heard –
and long nights whiten until the world returns.

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