Iva Bittová (born July 22, 1958) is a Czech avant-garde violinist, singer and composer of Roma origin. She began her career as an actress in the mid 1970s, appearing in several Czech feature films, but switched to playing violin and singing in the early 1980s. She started recording in 1986 and by 1990 her unique vocal and instrumental technique gained her international recognition. Since then, she has performed regularly all over Europe, the United States and Japan, and has made over eight solo albums.
In addition to her musical career, Bittová has continued acting and still occasionally appears in feature films. In 2003 she played the part of Zena in Želary, a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Academy Awards.
Iva Bittová was born on 22 July 1958 in the town of Bruntál, northern Moravia in what was then the Republic of Czechoslovakia. The second of three daughters, she grew up in a musical family where her father Koloman Bitto, a famous Roma musician from southern Slovakia, played guitar, trumpet and double bass in folk and classical ensembles, and her mother Ludmila Bittová (née Masařová) sang in professional vocal groups. As a child, Bittová took ballet and violin lessons in Opava and played child roles in the Silesian Theatre of Zdeněk Nejedlý. When her family moved to Brno in 1971, she dropped music in favour of drama and studied at the Brno Conservatory. For the next ten years, Bittová worked as an actress, appearing in several Czech feature films and Brno television and radio productions.
In the early 1980s, Bittová returned to music and studied violin under Rudolf Šťastný, professor of Janáček Academy in Brno. She had received her vocal training while at drama college and quickly developed a unique way of singing and playing the violin. In 1985, Bittová collaborated with percussionist Pavel Fajt from the Czech rock group Dunaj and recorded Bittová + Fajt, a fusion of alternative rock music with Slavic and Gypsy music. She then recorded a few solo EPs in 1986 and sang with Dunaj for the next few years. Her breakthrough came in 1987 when she and Fajt recorded their second album Svatba (The Wedding), which was released internationally by Review Records. This attracted the attention of English percussionist Chris Cutler of Recommended Records, who re-issued Bittová + Fajt internationally. The duo also attracted the attention of English avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith, who featured them in a documentary film on him, Step Across the Border (1990), which gave them their first broad international exposure and a tour outside of Eastern Europe.
Bittová recorded her first full length solo album Iva Bittová in 1991, followed by River of Milk, her first United States release. In 1997, she began exploring classical music with a series of concerts and recording an album of Béla Bartók's violin duets with Dorothea Kellerová. She collaborated with Vladimír Václavek to record a double album Bílé Inferno (White Inferno) in 1997, and the success of this release lead to Bittová and Václavek establishing Čikori, an association of musicians involved in improvisational music.
Bittová has performed with a number of avant-garde musicians internationally, including Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and the late Tom Cora, and has given solo concerts across the world. Bittová married Pavel Fajt and lived in the village of Lelekovice near Brno with her two sons, Matouš and Antonín. She now resides in Rhinebeck, New York, with her son Antonín.
Bittová's music is a blend of rock and East European music which she describes as "my own personal folk music". Her violin playing mixes different techniques, including playing the strings with various objects and plucking them like a banjo. Her vocal utterances range from traditional singing to chirping, cackling and deep throat noises. She puts her whole body into her performances, drawing on her theatrical skills. AllMusic.com writes: "Her irresistible charm, original use of voice, and fondness of melodies that sit on the border of avant-garde and playground nursery rhymes won her devoted fans around the world."
With Pavel Fajt
Bittová + Fajt (1985, LP, Panton)
Svatba (The Wedding) (1987, LP, Review Records)
The Danube (1989, LP, Panton)
Pustit Musíš (You Must Let Go) (1996, CD, Rachot Behemot)
With Dorothea Kellerová
Béla Bartók: 44 Dueta pro Dvoje Housle (44 Duets for Two Violins) (1997, CD, Rachot Behemot)
With Vladimír Václavek
Bílé Inferno (White Inferno) (1997, 2xCD, Indies Records)
With Škampa Quartet
Classic (1998, CD, Supraphon)
With Netherlands Wind Ensemble
Dance of the Vampires (2000, CD, N.W.E.)
With Andreas Kröper
Echoes (2001, CD, Supraphon)
Čikori (2001, CD, Indies Records)
With Miloš Valent
Leoš Janáček: Moravian folk poetry in songs (2004, CD, Supraphon)
With DJ Javas
The Party (2004, CD, Indies Records)
With Miloš Valent, Marek Štryncl, Solamente Naturali, Bratislava Conservatory Choir
Vladimír Godár: Mater (2006, CD, ECM)
With Bang on a Can
Elida (2006, CD, Indies Records)
With Susumu Yokota
Wonder Waltz (Skintone) (2006, CD, Japan)
With George Mraz, Emil Viklický and Lolo Tropp
Moravian Gems (2007, CD, Cube Metier)
Iva Bittová (1986, EP, Panton)
Balada pro Banditu (A Ballad for a Bandit) (1986, EP, Panton)
Iva Bittová (1991, LP, Pavian)
River of Milk (1991, CD, EVA Records)
Ne, Nehledej (No, Do Not Seek) (1994, CD, BMG)
Kolednice (Carol singer) (1995, CD, BMG)
Divná Slečinka (A Strange Young Lady) (1996, CD, BMG)
Solo (1997, CD, Nonesuch Records)
Ružové sny (Rosy Dreams) (1976)
Die Insel der Silberreiher (Island of the Silver Herons) (1976)
Jak se budí princezny (1977)
Balada pro Banditu (Ballad for a Bandit) (1978)
Únos Moravanky (1983)
Mikola a Mikolko (1988)
Něha (Tenderness) (1991)
The Man Who Cried (as the voice for Christina Ricci) (2000)
Tajnosti (Little Girl Blue) (2007)
Official homepage: http://www.bittova.com/
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