The first week of Mzaza’s tour was packed with shows, a recording session and a ridiculous amount of cheese. Our first gig was at a beautiful venue in the very musical 20th arrondissement of Paris. The audience was full of Pauline’s family and friends and industry people like the lovely Bruno (from Universal France) and his wife Virginie who also kindly put us up in their Pigalle apartment. Pauline and Greta stayed with Pauline’s childhood friend Elsa near Bastille. We met Rachid Taha after the show who, after hearing that we were Australian, reminisced about the time he played the Sydney Opera House with Brian Eno.
Lunch in Montmartre was a great chance for the band to meet Boris Bergman, one of France’s most celebrated lyricists and adapted our Gainsbourg cover, Dying to Dance with the Devil. Bruno from the label who made the recently released Bergman compilation elicited some great stories of how Boris had adapted and written lyrics specifically for the individual singers on the compilation.
To the right is a photo of the cool bar La Plage where we played our first ever basement gig on our second night in Paris.
On our last day in Paris we great recording session at a studio called Atelier Clandestin with an old friend of Pauline’s, Hugo, and his mic-master Antoine. We made live recordings of a new Mzaza song and a French cover and because we recorded them at Atelier Clandestin we can’t tell you any more! It was the first time in Mzaza’s studio experience that the engineers suggested we go to a local restaurant for lunch – most Aussie engineers we work with don’t have a concept of a French style lunch break.
The drive to Switzerland took us through France’s mountainous cheese region where each village, like Morbier, has it’s own special cheese. The 9 seater van that Malindi, our tour manager, hired from Slovinia, somehow has room for the seven of us, our bags and our twelve instruments!
Sebastien who has a hire boat company and bar on Lake Geneva was our generous host. He showed us the town and played us his favourite Gainsbourg records on his marshall amp stereo. The venue where we played, La Bretelle, was owned by a not for profit organisation of students and music lovers who got together and bought the bar a couple of years back to protect the local music venue. It used to be a girls’ gay bar, then a mens’ gay bar and the booking manager explained that now it’s ‘tutti frutti’. Mostly it is a great “bar de quartier” with a brilliant atmosphere. The audience was one of our best yet – they knew the words to every French cover and sang along drunkenly. Greta stayed with a diplomat friend down the road from the UN which is housed in the former League of Nations headquarters.
The drive to Dresden was an epic 14 hour mix of autobahn speed and traffic jams, but we made it to the Scheune Schaubuden Sommer Festival with plenty of time to explore the circus, magic and theatre spectacle. We were blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the German audience. The next day we ate at a restaurant that’s a monument to the cuisine of the German Socialist Republic, plenty of sausages, schnitzel and amazing beer. Thomas an architect from Dresden gave us a tour of the old town with a historical context. He showed us how the black old stones that survived the WWII carpet bombing, were used in the reconstruction of the first ever Lutheran designed church.
Prague, the city where Greta spent four years of her life learning music, was a short drive from Dresden. Our first stop was a restaurant in Žižkov where the usual beer and food prices encouraged us to over order. We played our first show (of three!) on the (A)VOID barge moored in the Vlatava River . The quays of Prague are full of boats that double as hotels, restaurants, bars and live music venues. We were supported Musicians, Martin, Predrag and Jiří, some of whom Greta used to play with when she lived in Prague during the 90’s. They played a great mix of of Bosnian, Bulgarian and Macedonian songs and before that Martin and Greta played a couple of Martin’s duets just for old time’s sake. We got to play in the 9pm Prague twilight which was gorgeous.
The next night Mzaza had been invited to play in bizarre tea shop up behind the Prague Castle that was in a series of basement rooms, each one accessed through either a cupboard or a hidden bookshelf. We had a post-show session with a Brisbane accordionist Keiren who’s played with Mzaza in the past, and also the owner of the cafe.
One of Mzaza’s most picturesque gigs was in Valdštejnská Lodžie, an old hunting lodge in Jičín . It had been bought about 4 years ago by a great artist who’s dedicated his time to restoring the 15th Century buildings and filling them with music and theatre. The acoustics of the space where we played were amazing; built in a time when clever design was the only amplification.
One of the most nostalgic nights of the tour for Greta was at U Paliárky a club in Prague run by an amazing local world musician, Rene Starhon. Many of the friends from the Prague folk music scene were there and we had a good session after Mzaza’s gig.
Mzaza were introduced to a totally new way of performing at the Linz Pfasterspektakel Festival (translated as ‘cobblestone spectacle’). Linz has hosted this street festival, which has been designed by artists, for 30 years. We were given a tour of the 20 busking sites around the old town (which is empty of trafic for the weekend) and then we chose our sites (the quiet, shady ones). At the start of the festival the Mayor welcomed the performers and encouraged the crowd to be a generous audience, reminding them that the city wasn’t paying the performers. We met some amazing artists including Geordie, a Berlin based guitarist who gave us some tips on how to play street festivals, and Daniel, a local who plays hurdy-gurdy.
One night our gig got rained out so we moved to a Spanish bar where met two Viennese girls who we snuck into the after party. The favourite band at the party was Faela a mix of Latin, funk and rock. We learnt the name of the band when a fan got on stage pulled down his jeans and exposed his undies onto which he’d nicko-ed ‘Faela’.
After three gigs a day for three days Mzaza drove to Gmunden to see the Austrian alps, have a swim in Lake Traunsee and eat grilled fish.
Then we drove to the UNESCO protected town of Česky Krumlov back in the Czech Republic where we stayed in an ancient renovated house right on the Vlatava. Our hosts explained that Česky Krumlov had been emptied of inhabitants when the Germans were kicked out of Czechoslovakia. Slovak Romanies were then moved to live in the empty town. Because they didn’t have any experience with house maintenance no building or reconstruction was done for years and although they got a bit run down no buildings were modernised until the Velvet Revolution. After 1989 the little town was alive with music and reconstruction. Then the local council tried to restrict concerts to only baroque and renaissance music to match the architecture and cater to the tourists. Recently the rules have relaxed and when we were there the town was full of musicians including a untypical duo of a Slovakian Rom guitarist and a Czech clarinettist busking. Our lovely hosts organised a concert in a local music bar and Mzaza played to an interesting mix of locals and tourists.
In Vienna we met with the Elizabeth from the Australian Embassy who was very helpful in connecting us with festivals in the region. Our intention was to have a couple of days off but our new friends Lena and Teresa who saw an Mzaza show in Linz organised us a show! We had a great time playing in an artist studio in Yppenplatz – a really multicultural area where many people were enjoying after work drinks and snacks on the street.
Prazdiniy v Telči, which is a gorgeous family-run festival in the Telč town square and fairy tale castle, totally stole our hearts, as did the lovely people running it. We opened the festival in the picturesque town square and had a guest appearance by our good friend Martin from Prague who joined us to perform one of his compositions, Lyra. We also were surprised to be joined by two giant giraffes! The giraffe, or žirafa, was the theme animal of the festival for 2016.
It’s with a heavy heart that we crossed the Czech/Austrian border for the fifth time in two weeks! We knew it was the last stop before the long flight back to Australia and were sad to farewell Czech friends, food and architecture!
Our last show was at the charming Beserlpark Festival, a small three day event with only 500 guests (most of whom were camping) and an international line of up of amazing world music.
On the long journey home we remembered all the new and old friends we made who programmed us at their venues and festivals, put us up, organised shows for us, shared songs with us, photographed and filmed us, spread the word, showed us their beautiful towns and cities and cheered at our shows. The tour was an amazing opportunity to take our music home and record 2 songs, visit 5 countries and play 20 shows in 23 days. We can’t wait to do it again!