Brno, Czech Republic – As if talent and publicity were doomed to be incompatible. It’s still a mystery to me why Riava, one of the most promising young bands in Slovakia, isn’t reaching the top ranks of musical charts, or why all the radio stations out there aren’t drowning their music-loving listeners in their ethereal melodies.
For Riava is, without a doubt, the kind of band which deserves a much bigger audience than they enjoy right now. So here it is, yet another hidden gem of niche Slovak music scene.
When melody meet poetry
Imagine gentle tones building up into enticing melodies. A seamless flow of smooth cascades. Intriguing melodic progressions that paint the spacey soundspace with vivid colours. The brooding atmosphere is a key aspect of their strength, with sophisticated minimalism tugging at the heartstrings.
Do you remember the Tolstoys? If you enjoy their music, Riava is a match made in heaven. Although the visually extravagant side of the Tolstoys is missing here, Riava’s music is nothing short of remarkable. It won’t come as a surprise to know that their piano and keyboard player Marek Votruba is a founding member of Tolstoys but left the band in the early stages of their career.
Taking a closer look into their music, I refrained from any conclusive genre categorization on purpose, because there truly isn’t any conclusive way to label it.
“It’s hard for me to say anything about the music and the genre, because I can’t easily categorize it, and it’s difficult for me to step down as an unbiased listener,” Riava’s front-girl Hana Sumbalová told Kafkadesk. “The main element of the creation is an ingenious synergy of words and sounds, which creates an atmosphere, stimulates thinking and evokes an impression, a feeling in the listener.”
Aside from a well-written music, Riava’s lyrics (or shall I say poems?) are also an integral part of their art. The meaning, the word choice, the consistency, all of it nicely contribute to the full-featured artistic experience. Unfortunately, non-Slovak speakers may be left behind, for the lyrics are exclusively in the band’s native language. Maybe the trigger you’ve been waiting for to finally get cracking and learn Slovak?
Riava is a band of creative minds who dedicated, very young, their artistic devotion to music: Hana Sumbalová (vocals), Marek Votruba (piano/keys), Vadim Ramacsay (guitar), and Dominik Špuler (drums). Originating in high school, their youthful enthusiasm matured into their debut album Zore, which came out last year and surpassed the expectations. Needless to say, Riava isn’t a bunch of skilful marketers with ties to influential names in the industry. On the other hand, its obscurity makes it special for those who know, and care.
Self-recorded in Marek’s home studio and finished during the lockdowns, the birth of Zore wasn’t an easy process at all. Riava’s first album materializes the devotion these young musicians had to invest to overcome the hard times as a starting band, a dedication, I dare say, that plays a key role in cementing the songs’ quality.
Lockdowns also left their mark on their first single Lastúra, which came out shortly before the album’s release. “It was quite challenging for me, but certainly for the guys too. Whatever we planned was not certain, and many things did not even happen,” Hana explains.
“For example, we wanted to shoot a clip for the single Lastúra, but at the last minute the [anti-Covid] measures changed, a strict lockdown was introduced, and we had to change our plans. At that time, we were saved by graphic artist Lucia Večerná and photographer Dominik Sepp, thanks to whom Lastúra came out with great visuals.”
In sharp contrast with Riava’s music, the process of putting together their first album wasn’t smooth at all, with the pandemic only adding more obstacles along the way.
“In 2021 we released our debut album Zore, which is the result of three years of work. We recorded the album ourselves and finished it during the pandemic, which complicated our communication and took longer than expected. The post-production was done by Tomáš Lobb and Juraj Peták, with whom we also collaborated online. Despite the difficulties, we are very satisfied with the work the guys did,” she tells us.
What does the future hold for Riava?
Fortunately, the album is now finally out. Its qualities, its emotional tenderness made even more acute by the difficult birthing process preceding its release, are here for us to appreciate and find solace in in those overwhelming and stressful times.
Singer Hana Sumbalová currently studies medicine in Brno, while the rest of the band is based a few hours away in Bratislava. What next for the young musical minds of Riava? Despite being forced to work together online due to the pandemic, this kind of working arrangement is far from ideal in the long-term to keep up the creativity that characterized their debuts.
But asked about their plans, Hana gives us a glimpse on what to expect. “We are currently collecting inspiration, writing new lyrics, and saving new ideas for songs I hope will be finished in the near future. We’ve recorded a live session in a wine cellar in the summer with four songs from the album in organic arrangements. We plan to release them soon. We also approached various Slovak festivals and if it works out, we would finally be able to play more during the summer, if the measures allow it.”