The group known as Věra Bílá and Kale was an entirely unique phenomenon that originated in Rokycany, a town in the western part of the Czech Republic. In 1995 a group of young men all related to one another (Emil “Bišu” Miko, Emil “Pupa” Miko, Jan Dužda, Deziderius Lučka and Milan Kroka, who e was later replaced by Marek Miko) joined forces with the vocalist Věra Bílá from the Giňa clan of musicians.
A genre is born
From their parents, all the band members had learned traditional Romani songs, which they performed on stage and on recordings alongside their own original compositions (also sung mainly in Romani). The songs take social topics, love and everyday experiences as their themes.
Musically, Kale have defined the genre known as Rom-pop: sophisticated vocal harmonies with fierce dissonances in a mix of Romani folk music, pop and Latin jazz.
Examples of the band’s reinterpretation of traditional songs include “E kapura” (The Gate) and “Rumuňika” (Romanian).
A Latin/Brazilian influence can be heard in the track “Sar me khere avava” (When I Come Home).
Kale as a major Czech export
The band’s first album was entitled RomPop (1996). Their second recording, Kale Kalore (1998), paved the way for the group’s international success. At the height of its fame, the band played in the US, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland and Israel, among other countries.
The 1990s saw Kale and Věra Bílá profiled in newspapers such as The Guardian and The Washington Times; the latter considered Věra Bílá the queen of Romani music and compared her to Ella Fitzgerald. Another sign of international recognition was the inclusion of Bílá’s album Queen of Romany in the UK’s “100 Essential World Music CDs” chart.
Split and reunion
Following ongoing disagreements, Kale parted ways with their vocalist in 2005 and continued performing without her. That decision, however, met with criticism from their fans, who now saw the band as incomplete. Guitarist Emil Miko commented on their reaction by saying, “We are like a car. Věra Bílá is the brand and Kale is the motor. It all depends on what’s more important for the listener.”
As its own project, Kale released an eponymous album in 2006 and Šun Kale in 2012, with Deziderius Lučka as the lead singer. Eventually, Kale decided it was worth giving joint performances with Věra Bílá another chance, and that decision led to several successful concerts. Owing to Bílá’s health troubles, however, she is not performing with the band at this time.