Thursday, June 23, 2011


Various Venues
June 23 – 25

The place to be in Prague this weekend.

The biggest music party of the summer gets underway tonight, and it’s a humdinger: More than 150 bands from 20 countries playing over three days, starting in 20 clubs tonight and continuing on seven outdoor stages over the weekend. The range is staggering, with the usual rock, jazz, blues and folk supplemented by Belgian electronica, Portugese fado, Balkan brass, Catalonian fusion, Cuban punk protest and – get this – Afghan rappers.

That almost looks like more than we can take,” says United Islands founder and chief dramaturgist David Gaydečka.

He may not be exaggerating. Last year’s festival attracted so many people that by mid-Saturday afternoon, it was nearly impossible to get on or off Střelecký Ostrov. And in the run-up to this year’s festival, Gaydečka says, “We’ve had about twice the number of hits on our website that we had last year.”

A lot of those are coming from southern Florida, where the expat Cuban population has been closely following the drama surrounding Porno para Ricardo, a Cuban dissident band that was invited to make its European debut at United Islands. Even though organizers on both ends secured the proper paperwork, the Cuban government refused to issue visas for three of the four band members. The founder of the group, Gorki Águila Carrasco, was already out of the country, so he will be at the festival, backed by the Prague-Lithuanian “hardcore yoga” band Alaverdi.

Imprisoned for two years and constantly harassed by the Cuban police, Carrasco sent this message ahead of his appearance: “The Castros and Castro fans can just put it where the sun don’t shine. Porno para Ricardo is coming to play!”

That’s just one of many great back stories about United Islands, which is in its eighth year. The basic concept of the festival has not changed: Put as much free music as you can possibly jam into one night of clubbing and two days of outdoor concerts on Prague’s river islands, and let ’er rip. But unlike other music festivals, most of which are struggling to survive in these trying times, United Islands just gets bigger and bigger. That’s due mostly to strong support from the main sponsor, Česká Spořitelna, and from the city and state governments. But United Islands has also developed a self-generating quality, according to Gaydečka.

There’s like an internal motor feeding things,” he says. “Every year after the festival, people get inspired and say, ʻWhy don’t we do this at United Islands?’ They come to us with ideas, and we’re open to new ideas.”

The festival has taken on some interesting cultural and political dimensions this year, with a broader sampling of world music – in particular, Spanish or Spanish-flavored bands from Portugal, Brazil and Catalonia – and a revolutionary backbite that ties in nicely with the “Week of Freedom” currently being celebrated in Prague. Venting their outrage along with Carrasco will be A-N-G, aka Afghan New Rappers, a group of London-based Afghani gangsta rappers; Deolinda, whose hit song “Parva que Sou” (What a fool I am) has become the anthem of a disaffected generation of young Portugese; and Russkaja, a Gogol Bordello-type dance band that Gaydečka describes as “a group of angry Russians from Austria.”

There are simply too many other bands to offer a comprehensive list of recommendations in this space. The best strategy is to follow your taste.

The main island, Střelecký Ostrov, will host the rock and world music stages, where headliner bands like the UK’s Archie Bronson Outfit and Audio Bullys will perform. The Friday night lineup also includes Canja Rave, a male/female duo known as the Brazilian version of White Stripes. There will be a lot of gypsy music on Saturday afternoon, along with an appearance by Polkaholix, a “polka rock” band from Berlin.

Kampa is the place to go for alt-rock and blues. A lot of the talent on those stages will be local, but there’s nothing wrong with catching great acts like Juwana Jenkins & the Mojo Band. Kampa will also have an open mike stage on Saturday, with many aspiring amateurs playing in 30-minute slots starting at 10:45 a.m. For jazz, head to Jazz Dock, where there will be free music both inside and on the rooftop outside on Saturday, and Slovanský Ostrov, where some very tasty big band music is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

And a couple practical suggestions: First, do not attempt to drive anywhere near the festival. Trams 6, 9, 12, 17, 18, 20 & 22 will get you close, and on Saturday, the 6, 9 and 22 will drop you at a special stop right in the middle of the bridge overlooking Střelecký Ostrov.

And even though all the music is free, you can help support the festival by buying a Partner Pass for a very reasonable 100 Kč. For that you get a map, schedule, full catalogue of the performers (in Czech), free beer coupon, CD sampler and, most important, one of those ribboned passes to hang around your neck that all the cool people wear at concerts.

For tonight’s club schedule:

For a complete weekend schedule:

For more on the Week of Freedom:

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