Interview: Borek Holeček

You think you have problems with the foreigner's police? Borek Holeček of Rachot productions talks to PTV about bringing the best World Music Bands to Prague.

Borek Holeček, the man behind the Respekt music festival and Rachot Productions, apologizes for being late as he collapses onto the couch in the back room of Un Chien Andalou and lights a cigarette. Getting his start with underground shows before the revolution, Holeček has been organizing Prague’s only World Music events for over 10 years, and sometimes the strain shows. Yet, despite a Byzantine visa policy for non-EU countries (especially poor, developing countries), extremely tight budgets, and the general hassles of promoting and putting on concerts, Rachot Productions continually brings some of the best concerts to Prague. PTV sat down with Holeček to talk about the history of the Respect music festival, the current state of World Music, the challenges of putting on concerts in Prague and what concert-goers can look forward to in the coming months.

Respekt traditionally books some of the best World Music concerts in town, if not all of them. How do you go about selecting bands?

Well first of all I am always looking for the bands that I like and then seeing if there is any way to afford them. Unfortunately for this market, many of the bands are just too expensive. The one most important thing I have learned through the years is that there are certain things I like, me and about 3 other friends, but they are not good for the audience. So it is what I like, what is affordable, and what is attractive for the local audience.

Often the bands Rachot books are not well known here. How do you educate the audience?

[Laughs] I don’t know. One reason is that we have good partners that help us, and another reason, I hope, is that we have been doing this for a few years and people trust us. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you have a band and the music is great, but there is no attractive picture or story behind them and then it is difficult. One example is Tinariwen. I was shocked. The first time they came it was sold out. But if you look at the poster, they look attractive, and the story behind them…I mean it’s so great… then, you know, everyone pays attention to it. But if you have mainly music then you’re really screwed because there is no radio station here that will play this kind of music so there is no way to tell anyone about it.

What impact do you think file sharing has had on World Music?

I don’t know how much damage it has really had on world music. I mean it is more damage for the majors. It’s the majors who made music as something which is just like recycling… something of no value. If you look at the small labels that do limited editions they are almost the same. They are always almost broke, they will never become rich. However, I would say there are still a good amount of “freak” collectors like myself out there. For me, if there is some music I really like, I want to have the original, even if the CD will never be the same as vinyl. I’m still going to buy the original. Then you have other people who [points to the speakers in the bar] just want something for the car and then months later you throw it in the garbage. That’s it.

On the other hand it’s very helpful. Just the fact that today you can listen to every band that will come to play, is a great thing.

Why is the festival no longer held in the castle grounds?

It wasn’t just the festival. When Havel went to the castle it was like fresh air. Before Havel the castle was closed to everyone, you know just the representatives and secret police around. Havel’s idea was to basically to open it for the public. So even for the events like the World Music Festival or Manu Chau even before us there was the first electronic music festival in Prague. But you know Klaus represents a totally different way and when he came to power it was the end of the concerts, and not just us, but almost every kind of music or cultural event. I think Klaus’ assistant said something like these kind of events have no place in such a symbol of the Czech Nation. [laughs] No comment.

The Respekt Festival is billed as being “under the auspices of Karel Schwartzenberg, an independent senator from Prague 6. (see Tomin Article). What role does the government play in the festival?

First let me say that Karel Schwartzenberg gave us the auspice long before he became a senator. The festival started together with the Respekt weekly magazine, which he finances. So basically we can say that we exist thanks to him. Personally, I am not looking for someone who is involved with a particular political party. There are many things I think are problems in this country but I don’t think this is the platform where they should be discussed. It’s a World Music festival and it should be about music. The broader messages of anti-racism and tolerance are appropriate but the smaller, local issues should be raised somewhere else.

But while the government does not directly play any direct role we are very grateful to the Prague Town Hall. They help us immensely.

What kind of problems do you encounter trying to secure visas for the performers?

It’s a fucking nightmare! And it is actually getting worse. Since we joined the E.C it’s actually worse than before, because we joined the E.C but not Schengen. It’s really crazy, it’s disgusting. For some people there is simply no chance to enter the Czech Republic. Now I have the help of some people, of Schwartzenberg for example, who can write letters explaining that these people are artists, but the process is endless.

If you are a normal citizen of Senegal, for example and you go to the Czech Embassy and say “I would like a visa” they will tell you to simply fuck off. There is no chance. And now there is a new restriction, valid for more than one year now, that says everyone must apply for a Czech visa in their own country. So if you have a band from Mali, there is no Czech Embassy in Mali, they must go to Senegal, to Dakar, 1000 kilometers away, and the visa process takes 5 days. It means 8 members of the band have pay for a hotel or whatever for a week and they are not even sure that they will get the visa.

So, for much of the time our only chance is for them to get the visa in Paris or somewhere while they are on tour. Many bands have said that it is even harder for them to get a Czech visa than it was to get one for the States. The Americans look at the passports and see the previous visas and that the band has been touring before and they give them the visa. Czechs are not thinking this way which is sick because when you see the places these bands have been, why would they choose to stay the Czech Republic?

It’s ridiculous. And now, on top of the things you need like a letter of invitation and the voucher from the hotel where the band will stay, you have the new law, which is one month old, which says that anyone visiting the country must have health insurance, and not just any health insurance, but Czech health insurance. We will have to endure this for another 2 years and then we will be part of Schengen and we shouldn’t have any more troubles, because there will be one visa that they already have. But sometimes it makes me just want to give up.

Prague concert-goers are definitely glad he doesn’t give into that feeling..

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