Communist-Era Crooner and Far-Right Metal Band Share a Spotlight

“It says a lot that almost everyone in the Czech Republic loves Karel Gott,” he said. “His popularity is exceptional and it is really interesting that all generations appreciate him. In a way, it represents living under communism without thinking about politics, while Ortel is only known for their politics.”

Mr. Gott is the first to acknowledge that although his music is not political, part of its appeal is its strong association with the communist era. “It is a combination of things, but there is of course nostalgia,” he said.

While many suffered under communism, Mr. Gott experienced an improbable rise in the 1960s that took him from being an electrical engineer in a factory to being a national icon who was allowed to travel and perform outside the country.

Fifty years later, “Sinatra of the East,” as Mr. Gott became known, has sold tens of millions of records internationally from a catalog of nearly 300 albums and compilations with offerings in several languages including German, Russian and English. He is arguably the Czech Republic’s most successful singer.

While his work is celebrated today as having represented a form of expressive freedom in an otherwise repressive society, there are others who stood more firmly against the communists. Mr. Gott worked within the system, but others like the singer and activist Marta Kubisova fought against it and were banned from performing. After finding prominence with the pop group the Golden Kids in the 1960s, she took off as a solo pop and ballad singer with the song “Prayer for Marta,” which became an anthem against communist aggression.

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Karel Gott has won the male singer category in the Czech Nightingale Awards 42 times, starting in 1964.

Credit
Milan Bures for The New York Times

At this year’s Czech Nightingale ceremony, Mr. Gott presented Ms. Kubisova, who retired from singing earlier this year, with a special award for her activism against communism.

The work of both Mr. Gott and Ms. Kubisova stands in contrast to the highly controversial music of Ortel, which is known for disparaging Muslims in a country where xenophobic ideals are taking root in politics.

“Under communism, we had quite a few folk singers who were against communism, and now we have these new phenomena in bands like Ortel,” Jiri Pehe, a writer and political analyst who…

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