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“I like to peek into an artist’s soul,” says Iva Bittová with a smile. She knows what she is talking about; her show is precisely about that kind of gazing.

In early February, famous Czech singer Iva Bittová brought her art of vocals and violin to the PuSh festival (http://pushfestival.ca) in Vancouver. The festival is organized by Music on Main (www.musiconmain.ca), who in recent years have showcased talented musicians from all over the world. They organize intimate concerts at local music clubs and in turn, elevate and enhance our collective musical palette. The company’s artistic director, David Pay, carefully and skillfully chooses world-class performers.

On behalf of LingoStar and the Czech and Slovak Association in Vancouver, we are very pleased to present this interview with Iva Bittová, which took place just before her amazing performance at the Fox Cabaret Club on Main Street.

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Photo by Jan Gates

An intuitive artist showcases her originality

Iva is a peaceful and well-balanced woman who radiates enormous strength and femininity. She is modest and pleasant without any pretence or artificiality. There is no doubt that she belongs amongst the biggest names in the Czech and Slovak music scene. She has performed thousands of concerts, recorded many albums, and starred in a number of movies.

She has fans in the Netherlands, Japan, USA, Canada and many other countries around the world. On stage she has a gift for presenting herself in a true and genuine way. This requires a lot of hard work, renunciation and dedication to music. The Czech nation is very lucky to have Iva Bittova, not only for her singing and violin playing, but also for her incredible self-awareness, and for having always forged her own path.

The greatness of such a person does not rely on talent alone. It is also about understanding one‘s life purpose, and harbouring a deep love for the arts. It is about listening to intuition that will always provide the right direction. These are just some of the reasons that Iva has been so successful. She performs hundreds of concerts a year, receiving invitations from all around the world even though her music is not mainstream. At times her unusual creations on stage provoke some listeners to raise an eyebrow.

Iva is not ashamed to open up on stage. Her performances are emotional journeys that glow with authenticity. She may inspire listeners to search within the depth of their souls and tap into their own consciousness, becoming aware of the commercial world we live in, and recognizing whether or not they have connected to their truthful self. They may examine to what extent an outward image is important and why people often hide. Many of us hide because we are afraid to show our true selves to the world and to be the person who we really are inside. If we are able to accept this, we can accept the peace and love inside of ourselves and in our surroundings.

This is exactly what Iva makes happen on stage. Her show is not about practiced moves, it is not about fake emotions, it is not about a pre-defined image. On the other hand – it is about the self, bursting out fully, naturally, unpretentiously, without any fear of what the audience will think. For her honesty, authenticity, and amazing courage to be herself, Iva Bittova deserves our great admiration and respect.

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Iva Bittova (on the left) with the LingoStar CEO Lenka de Graafova (on the right)

An interview with Iva Bittova in Vancouver

You sang at the PuSh festival in Vancouver. What interested you about this festival? How do you like Vancouver?

First time I visited Vancouver was when I performed at a festival at Jericho Beach 23 years ago. The city made a great impression on me and I have been back a few times since. I can see how it is changing, there are glass buildings appearing everywhere. Even though it is large, it seems peaceful and cozy to me. There are amazing people here who have welcomed me warm-heartedly. I was contacted by David Pay from Music on Main since he was putting together the program for the festival. He is a very comprehensive promoter who carefully chooses the music and artists. He is bringing in the type of music that is often presented to an audience for the very first time and he is actually educating the listeners. He is not afraid to take a risk. You see, there are only a handful of such promoters, most of them are afraid to take a risk and therefore remain conservative since they do not want to lose the audiences. But it takes those courageous ones to bring in something interesting.

You live in New York State. Do you travel and perform in North America or in Europe? How have American audiences accepted you and your music?

I left the Czech Republic in 2007. I wanted to try to live abroad, so I took the opportunity, and now I feel like the US is home. My younger son studies music there, and I’m happy in the USA, it’s a big country. While I live close to New York, I actually live far away from civilization. I get more invitations now to perform back home in Czech, they appreciate me more. So every second month I fly from New York to Vienna so I can perform live in Europe and deepen my relationship with the audiences. I left my door open there, and I love to go back to my house in Moravia, the south of the Czech Republic. I especially enjoy having a dialogue with the listener, I like to observe how this connection works. I play 100 concerts a year, I cannot complain about the American audiences, they have accepted me. I’m getting more and more offers for performances, even from other countries. The Americans support originality so I have connected with those listeners. I just feel sorry that promoters are sometimes hesitant or worried because often they don’t know how to categorize my music. They keep asking themselves, is this jazz, classical, folk, etc.?

My other musical expression is represented through providing masterclasses at universities and workshops. During those sessions I share my experiences with the younger generation. I really would like to enhance this type of teaching.

 Has living in the USA brought you freedom or restrictions?

It has not restricted me at all, on the other hand, it has given me so much, and it was my free choice. I have built up my life there by myself, without any help, and I function as a parent and a musician. My son is thriving there, I can see that this country is powerful with a lot of artistic support. I have learned how the US system works even though it is different from Czech. It has been a great learning lesson and it has empowered me. Now I feel more independent and more self-sufficient. I realize that it is very healthy to make it on your own. It has also given me a different perspective as to what is going on back home.

How do you perceive Americans? And after this time spent abroad, the Czechs?

I travel a lot, get to know a lot of people and I enjoy going back to familiar places such as Japan, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. There are amazing things everywhere in the world as much as there are problems everywhere. We do not need to talk about global politics but compared to the Czech Republic, the laws actually work in the USA, which gives you inner peace for your work and life. People are smiling in the US. Unfortunately, back in the Czech Republic, the people are not that welcoming, it is an effort for them to feel happy. There is an underlying suspicion, jealousy and I feel sorry that people make their lives complicated. The difference is very obvious. So it is much healthier for me to be creative in the USA because my work is not commonplace, but the Americans accept it without any doubt. This has now had impact in the Czech Republic because people see that I have managed to settle down in the US which provokes much bigger respect back in Czech. I am happy about it because I have actually always been striving to do the same thing. I think that in our creative work and life it is important to prove these values to ourselves and our surroundings all over again.

What satisfaction does music give you?

I am a very sensitive person, there is a lot of emotion in my music. I put a lot of energy into my work so that the healthy positive energy can emanate into the outer world. Live performances and creativity bring me freedom and an escape from reality and I like to indulge in this. I live far away from civilization as it keeps me healthy and I believe that it also has a healthy effect on my listeners. I feel happy when they connect to my energy, to my songs. It drives me forward. It is my responsibility, my life purpose. I do not want to disappoint people and while I feel healthy and strong, I will be creating music and moving forward in my development.

Folk music and nature live through your music, where is your love for both coming from?

It is genetics. I come from a musical family that has roots in the creative world, inspiration and a bond with nature. When I was about 22 years old, I realized that I need to go back to playing violin whose basics I was taught by my father. Thanks to my parents I gained a healthy instinct and a natural intelligence that have helped me to clarify all my questions. I realized that I need to find all the answers within myself, I do not need to seek help within my surroundings. Nevertheless, I do need an opinion about my work from the people that I value, which also involves my family. I need to know how my family is affected by my music. All my life I have worked with a violin professor and the opinion of my parents was always very important. I choose the people around me because I believe that this way we create our surroundings. I have had great luck in making good friends and opportunities and cooperating with amazing musicians.

Where is your inspiration for making music, singing and violin playing coming from?

It is very important to have inner peace in order to be creative, not to clutter life with useless things, not to have loud thoughts, to be connected to nature. My violin helps me with this, it is a great tool and I practice every day. After long travels I regenerate and recharge my batteries away from people, in the countryside. Nature is the source of everything for me, I am inspired by folklore, authenticity. When listening to music I want to touch the musician from the inside. I always want to touch the soul of an artist. The music of other musicians interests me as I feel as if it has been composed from one heart to another. I do not like the image attitude and it confuses me. As for myself, I strip my soul for the benefit of the listeners, I try to show them my inner world the way I have created it. I always look for a personal testimony within myself and others. It is exciting to decipher other souls, you can feel the human story as there is hard work, austerity, sacrifice behind it, and there are strong messages. Often you don’t need any lyrics, it is just the radiating energy. I like to go back to certain artists, I have my favourites but I do not have a TV or listen to a radio, I prefer to concentrate on my own playing and violin practice.

Today’s world is eliminating emotions. Many people are surprised that I show so many emotions on stage. I am sorry to see today’s transformation to a robot-like way of life. It seems that people no longer want to live through their emotions. But I hope that this will be everyone’s choice, that each of us will choose how to live with emotions without being overwhelmed by technology.

As a creative person, you have dedicated all your life to music. What role does feminine intuition play in this and how do you combine it with raising children?

Intuition is very important, we all have the ability to work with it and deepen it. I cannot even imagine my life without intuition. Motherhood is also a big inspiration for a woman in the arts. I feel that every healthy woman in the arts should not prioritize her career but really become a mother because only then will her art be coherent. It is actually motherhood that creates an amazing beauty and empowers femininity. It depends on every person how they create their life, it is definitely not easy to have a career and raise children. Naturally, all work absorbs us. As a violin player, I had to be selfish at times and practice the violin while my children were playing next door. However, I have an amazing friendship with my children. Even though they are both grown-ups now, we like to spend time together. Thanks to my intuition I handled their upbringing naturally, I think, there is no strict rule on how to raise kids. It is sufficient to be a good example and to show them how to take care of themselves, the household, the kids, and this way we are creating a good life model.

Are you preparing a new record, concert or tour?

There is a lot to do, in March I have my European tour which will commence with a concert with the Czech Philharmonic in Brno where we will be performing a piece by the composer Schnittke Doctor Faustus for 90 musicians and an ensemble. The listeners can later find this on YouTube. Besides that I will be travelling, and recording in a studio. I am finishing up an album with the band Čikori which will be released in the fall. Above all this, I am writing a dissertation which will be the last step in my studies of ancient music at the Musical Faculty of the Masarykova University in Brno. Furthermore a lot of concerts are awaiting me in the summer. Additionally, in Los Angeles I will be working with students and compiling a program for the University. All my musical activities can be viewed at my website http://www.bittova.com/.

Dear readers, what is there to conclude?

A few questions arise from this beautiful performance by Iva Bittova. We can ask them when the daily winds calm down and we have a few minutes to think about our lives. Let the singer inspire us because she has no fear of showing her many faces on stage. Within a millisecond, her beautiful, peaceful face turns into swirling rapids of emotion. How about we ask ourselves:

  • What is emanating from the centre of our being? What emotions are there and where do we store them? Do they serve us as a medium for creation?
  • Do we also have the courage to show our emotions to our surroundings? To be honest and alive in accordance with our inner selves?
  • What is rising from within us? What do we feel excited about and what sacrifices can we make in order to find something meaningful in life?
  • The singer uses her voice and violin to make her personal confession. What do you use? What tools serve you to search into the depths of your soul?
  • A paintbrush, business, cooking, knitting, gardening, nature walks? Not all of us are singers but all of us have a beautiful inner world that we just need to awaken and let blossom.

Luckily for Iva Bittova, she has managed to succeed in this for many years already. Thank you Iva for inspiring us!

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From the Editor

This interview was conducted by Lenka de Graafova, a volunteer editor of the Magazine Zpravodaj of the Czech and Slovak Association in Vancouver.

Lenka is the CEO of LingoStar, a translation company in Vancouver. Interviewing and writing about interesting Czechs and Slovaks living abroad is her personal creative confession. These interviews belong to a successfully growing series. Do you have an interesting story from your life abroad that you wish to share with the world? Contact Lenka at lenka at lingo-star.com. Thank you for your patronage and support in showing the world interesting personalities from the Czech and Slovak nations. Because all of you have special stories to share!

With a warm heart,

Lenka de Graafova

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