Náměšť by Jaroslav Hutka

Historic Czech song about human dignity and freedom.

Czech:

English:

Lyrics

Czech:

 

1. Krásný je vzduch, krásnější je moře
Krásný je vzduch, krásnější je moře
Co je nejkrásnější, co je nejkrásnější,
usměvavé tváře.

 

2. Pevný je stůl, pevnější je hora
co je nejpevnější, co je nejpevnější,
ta člověčí víra.

 

3. Pustá je pouštˇ i nebeské dálky
co je nejpustější, co je nejpustější
žit život bez lásky.

 

4. Mocná je zbraň, mocnější je právo
co je nejmocnější, co je nejmocnější,
pravdomluvné slovo.

 

5. Velká je zem, šplouchá na ní voda
Velká je zem, šplouchá na ní voda
co je však největší, co je vsak nejvetší,
ta lidská svoboda.

Production: Sung by Lenka Zbruz and her four-year-old son Filip in 2011.
Guitar: Lenka Zbruz. Engineered by Scott Sibley at Rainbow Sounds Studio.

English translation by Lenka Zbruz of Jaroslav Hutka’s song, Náměštˇ

 

1. Beautiful is the air.  More beautiful is the sea. 
Beautiful is the air. More beautiful is the sea. 
Most beautiful of all, most beautiful of all are smiling faces.

 

2. Solid is the table. More solid is the mountain.
Solid is the table. More solid is the mountain.
Most solid of all, most solid of all is human faith.

 

3. Desolate is the desert and the distant heavens.
Desolate is the desert and the distant heavens.
Most desolate of all, most desolate of all is living without love.

 

4. Powerful is the weapon, more powerful is law.
Powerful is the weapon, more powerful is law.
Most powerful of all, most powerful of all is the truthful word.

 

5. Big is the earth, lapped by the water.
Big is the earth, lapped by the water.
Biggest of all, biggest of all, is human freedom.

Production: Just as Lenka Zbruz and her four-year-old son Filip sing on the previous song, Sarah Pirtle sings and plays guitar on the English translation, and her son Ryan, age 27, joins her on the final verse along with Lenka and Filip.

The Story of the Song

This Czech song from the Czech Republic is a song that changed the world and is an icon of peaceful change.  Singing in the square in 1989 became the actual way that freedom was opened.

When Lenka Zbruz was twelve years old in Czechoslovakia, she learned to play guitar at a time when the country was throwing off Communist control. It was a peaceful revolution, named the Velvet Revolution because of the commitment to nonviolence. Her guitar teacher, age twenty-three, was part of the community of students whose solidarity made the revolution possible. He chose this important song as the first one for her to learn on the guitar.

Here is the historical significance. November 25, 1989 was the day in Prague when the Czechoslovakian people gathered in the square and the tide turned; the Velvet Revolution for freedom from Communist control of the country was achieved. When this song was sung on that day, being able to sing it out in the square was evidence that the power of the people was indeed stronger.

Lenka remembers hearing on the intercom of her school the announcement that the revolution had been successful. Her father was there in the square in Prague. The last line of the song says in English that “Biggest of all is human freedom.”

Lenka explains, “This song was the glue that really connected people who were already like-minded. If the people didn’t have a force like this song to connect them at this turbulent time, they might have gone astray. By singing this song together, the people had evidence that the human freedom they were singing about was coming to be.”

Wikipedia writes: “Jaroslav Hutka is a Czech musician, composer, songwriter, and democracy and human rights activist. He is a signatory of the Charter 77 and the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communist. Because of communist persecution, he left Czechoslovakia in October 1978 and lived in exile in the Netherlands. After the fall of communism, on 26 November 1989, he returned to his native country.”

A radio program written by David Vaughan tells the story:
Jaroslav Hutka had been bullied into exile in 1978, and all his songs and recordings banned. As soon as the revolution of November 1989 began, he came back home, and in one of the most moving moments of the period, he appeared at the vast demonstration held on Prague’s Letná Plain on November 25.

            “Hutka, Hutka,” shouted the crowd - a staggering 800,000 people had gathered in the park - as the singer came onto the stage with his guitar. And it was a sign of how far the revolution had come since the police had clamped down on the first demonstration on November 17, that the whole event was broadcast live by Czechoslovak Television. There was silence, as Jaroslav Hutka broke into song.

            “The words that he sang …capture much of the spirit of the time – its euphoria, its moral clarity and its …optimism. Hutka wrote the song back in 1973, and it has more than a hint of nostalgia for the hopes of the 1960s that were dashed by the Soviet tanks of 1968. All this was part of the inimitable atmosphere of November 1989.” 
Source:  From Radio Praha archives: Cesky Rozhlas

More background information. Czechoslovakia became two different countries – the Czech Republic with Prague as its capital, and Slovakia whose capital is Bratislava.

Here is how to pronounce the name of the songwriter. Phonetically his name, Yaroslav Hutka, is pronounced like this—Yar-uh-slav  Hoot-kuh.

Lenka’s experience was that Czechoslovakia was bilingual to a degree that most people in the United States haven’t experienced. Lenka says, “Everyone spoke both Czech and Slovak. When we watched television, we’d see a cartoon in one language and then the other. A friend might ask me a question in the Slovak language and I’d reply in Czech.”

Translation: When Hutka speaks of smiling faces in the first verse, his underlying message is that without freedom, people cannot smile. In translating this song, Lenka’s goal was to retain the simple pattern that Hutka developed and not disturb the structure of the song.  Some sections needed to be reworked. For instance, the literal translation of the beginning of verse five is this:

                        Big is the earth, water splatters on it.

Lenka chooses a more poetic English version:

                        Big is the earth, lapped by the water.

Some translators use the word “justice” in verse four. They say, “Powerful is the weapon, more powerful is justice.” Justice was an important goal of the change in the government, but Lenka chooses to sing, “law,” because it has a closer correspondence to Hutka’s own words in Czech.

 "Náměšt" is an actual village in the Czech Republic called "Namest na Hane". In the summer of 2011 after recording the song, Lenka went to Náměšt to see a yearly music festival  called "Zahrada," which means garden.

She spoke to a music publicist, Tomas Hruby, about Hutka and his song, and learned that Hutka wrote the song in 1973 for this very festival. The song "Náměšt" was meant to be a hymn sung at the event. However, the whole fest was canceled and forbidden by the government that year. The song was then spread in the underground and sung along with many others during the communist reign to hold out the hope for change.

Lenka says, “I strongly believe that children should be encouraged to find non-violent ways to resolve conflict so they grow up to be peaceful negotiators. When I think about this, the images of the first demonstration on November 17, 1989, come to my mind. The police were beating people with batons, while the people were chanting: "Mame hole ruce! - Mame hole ruce!" Those words mean, “We have just bare hands.” If the students in the streets had been armed, it would have been a massacre with lots of people killed and goals would not have been accomplished. The velvet revolution was led by college students. I see a connection between having education and choosing the method of nonviolence.” 

Web resources:
1. Transcript of the radio program quoted above:
Biggest of all is human freedom”: Jaroslav Hutka and the Velvet Revolution, David Vaughan, 30-07-2009.
http://www.radio.cz/en/section/archives/biggest-of-all-is-human-freedom-jaroslav-hutka-and-the-velvet-revolution

2. This thrilling youtube shows the audience knowing all the lyrics by heart as Jaroslav Hutka sings Náměšť in 1990. Then historic photos are included of the huge crowd singing at the historic moment during the revolution.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKiQGwj6n5Q