If there’s any further proof needed that America’s influences are part of a universal language, one need only check out the music made by New Aliquot, a band from the Czech Republic that knows its way around bluegrass, country, and acoustic music in general. The band — consisting of Ondra Kozák (fiddle, vocals), Pavel “Tim” Duda (upright bass, guitar, vocals), Vít Hanulík (mandolin, guitar, vocals), and Karel Začal (dobro) — was first formed in 2016 when Duda, Kozák, and Hanulík opted to initiate a new and original ensemble. Each of the musicians had been previous members of Křeni, a highly respected outfit that had four albums to their credit, and was ranked as the number one European Bluegrass Band at the prestigious La Roche Bluegrass Festival in 2009. New Aliquot followed suit by winning second prize in the band contest at the La Roche Bluegrass Festival ten years later.
“In 2010, Křeni disbanded, even though we played as a trio for a while,” Kozák explains. “Since 2016, with Pavel on bass and minus a banjo, we have been working as New Aliquot. The name is a bit of a pun. Before I became a professional musician, I worked as a chemist and I dealt with ‘aliquots’ a lot. But in Czech, we also have the word ‘alikvot,’ and it refers to a higher harmonic frequency.”
The band’s current repertoire consists of original songs and instrumentals, as well as their own distinctive arrangements of lesser-known traditional tunes. “Our sound is very much influenced by what we listened to as teenagers,” Kozák continues. “I personally used to listen to a lot of modern bluegrass, its fusions, and various acoustic instrumentalists. Pavel loves modern folk music of the singer/songwriter variety, and Vít and Karel grew up listening to the Czech progressive bluegrass band Poutníci, as well as the Flecktones, Strength in Numbers, Toto, Irish music, and many other influences. They’re cousins and they recorded their first record at the age of 11! These days, we write a lot of our own instrumentals, which is quite untypical for a bluegrass band. I like to refer to it as new acoustic music.”
In addition, the group organizes a pair of annual music workshops, Zlatohorská hudební horečka and Bluegrass Vegas, in the Jeseníky Mountains of the Czech Republic, where each of the band members reside.
“The Czech Republic, is sometimes called ‘the heart of Europe’,” Kozák explains. “Many people automatically think of Prague, but we come from the northeastern border region called Sudetenland. It’s an area of beautiful mountains that is a bit cut off from the rest of the Czech Republic. It’s also a beautiful place for our families, for making music and organizing music camps.”
Nevertheless, New Aliquot has also made a habit of taking their music on the road. Kozák said they’ve performed in several European countries, including Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, and Slovakia. In addition, Křeni visited Holland, Hungary, Poland.
At the same time, they haven’t negated their homeland. “In the Czech Republic, we perform at festivals, clubs, and our own events that we organize in our beloved region, whether they are concerts, family festivals, or educational camps. We’ve played at the oldest European bluegrass festival in the country as well as two festivals in France — Banjo Jamboree and the La Roche Bluegrass Festival. We’ve also appeared at Dobrofest in Slovakia, at Strenger i Gress Bluegrassfestival in Norway, and at Bluegrass & Country Nacht in Germany.”
In addition, they’ve shared stages and studios with a number of well-known musicians, including Tony Trischka, Steve Gulley, Dale Ann Bradley, Cia Cherryholmes, Mike Marshall, Mike Compton, and Radim Zenkl, among others.
“In 2019, we released our debut album, It Takes Time, which is about half of our stuff and half covers,” Kozák notes. “We also had a few ‘non-bluegrass’ guests on there, so some of the songs feature accordion, flute or piano. The album can be heard on all streaming services. We are currently preparing our second album, which won’t have guests, but it will have an even more distinctive repertoire. Karel wrote some beautiful instrumental compositions, I added a couple of songs, and Pavel will be featured as a great solo singer, a change since I’m usually the one that sings. The album will be released in April and will be available on our website. In fact, you can order it there now as part of a crowdfunding campaign. As well as the records, we also have a couple of videos of live performances which can be found on my YouTube channel.”
Kozák also explained why the group tends to write instrumentals. “Actually, we enjoy playing without words, because instrumentals offer a huge musical freedom and variety,” he said. “But because we want to play for ‘normal people,’ we also sing. And since we don’t do a lot of lyric writing, we usually fish in the roots music waters and somehow arrange a traditional or folk song in a distinctive way.”
Their efforts appear to have paid off. “We get great feedback after the concerts,” Kozák mentions. “Even when we play a little more complex music, we intersperse it with funny stage patter, and include a fresh bluegrass standard here and there. We try to make as personal a connection with people as much as possible, both before and after the show. Our tutoring helps a lot, so a lot of our fans are also our students from our various workshops.”
Ultimately, their experience had given them added insight into what makes bluegrass so universally appealing all round. “It’s great music,” Kozák reckons. “It’s very positive and can lift one’s mood very quickly. It’s also relatively easy to learn, at least at the basic level. In the Czech Republic, in every small town, there’s a group of amateur musicians who meet in pubs on a weekly basis in order to play country and bluegrass music. That makes for a tremendously strong social connection. People go to hear this music because they can meet their friends at the shows and know they’ll have a good time together.”
Kozák also makes a point to offer some strong words of advice. “Here’s a challenge to Bluegrass Today readers: if you can, make babies. If you don’t want to, or can’t anymore, encourage your kids to make babies. Then take those kids to live music, play them songs, buy them whatever instrument they can think of, and feel free to fill a house with them. Show them that music is one of the most beautiful things people can possess, because it brings them together. Thanks to music, you can learn about the Czech Republic and be friends with someone who has completely different political or religious beliefs from you. Music changes humanity for the better.”