2018-12-16 Back to list

Back to 1986: The Kaunastic Christmas Anthem

The name of Kardiofonas band was inspired by the Kaunas Institute of Cardiology.

The Kaunas-based band Kardiofonas doesn’t exist for some 30 now, but their biggest track, Kalėdų eglutė [Christmas Tree], is still very popular and comes back every Christmas. One could even call it the Lithuanian answer to Last Christmas!

There is an interesting story behind the song. Rock music wasn’t something the Soviet government openly praised and encouraged during the occupation years, as it was considered an essential part of the Western capitalist propaganda. There were quite a few big beat bands in Kaunas before 1972 when Romas Kalanta set himself on fire protesting against the brutal regime. After his death, playing the music young people loved was pretty much banned, unless the lyrics (or the musicians) were in line with the regime. In the late 80s, Gorbachev loosened the chains and rock was somewhat legalised; it later became one of the main forces that disbanded the USSR.

This was when the band we’re talking about was born – in 1986, the new wave collective that had already played together in the 27th high school, came together in the Kaunas Institute of Polytechnic (now Kaunas University of Technology). Later, it became the ensemble of Kaunas Institute of Cardiology (now part of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences). All bands had to belong somewhere – a school, a factory or any other organisation, to be able to perform in public. And, yes, the name of the band, Kardiofonas, is dedicated to the institute.

Kardiofonas 10 1

Cool Cats of the 80s. Author unknown.

The members of Kardiofonas only played together for 5 years, and the Christmas song was the one that brought them to the spotlight – and on TV. The music of the band wasn’t obviously radical (Antis band, also born around that time, was way more political) but still attracted the interest of the censors. The musicians weren’t professional – that’s why, most probably, they didn’t engage into a long career. They could – in 1987, they won Jaunimo Estrada, one of the hottest contests of new music in Lithuania.

The music was written by the band leader Rimantas Giedraitis. The author of the lyrics of Kalėdų eglutė is Antanas A. Jonynas, a popular poet and a prominent translator. Our loose translation of the lyrics is of course far from perfect, but we hope the author doesn’t mind! So, this is what Lithuanians sing every Christmas.

Speckled cuckoos are swinging
On the Christmas tree
No idea what they’re cuckooing about
No idea what they’ll cuckoo out
Spider’s crawling on the branches,
Wax is dropping from the candles,
It is falling on a table,
Full of letters that I haven’t read.

Hang it, hang it,
On the Christmas tree,
Hang a magic necklace
Full of pictures of Archibald.
And the mice run on ice,
And your tricky eyes blink,
And the moon is on fire,
Smoke’s coming from the craters. 

A dusty passerby
Is watching me from outside
And I can hear the sea,
In the shell of a telephone.
I can hear a woman laughing,
And then it all becomes silent,
A bullet is getting ready to shoot
From a radio antenna. 

Hang it, hang it,
Hang a chain of hectic silence,
Hang the choky silence of fighter aircraft,
That’s locked deep underground.
Hang it, hang it,
On the Christmas tree,
Hang the choky silence of fighter aircraft,
That’s locked deep underground.

P.S. there’s one more song by Kardiofonas we really like. It’s called Šliaužk į kopas [Crawl to the Dunes] and is dedicated to summer in Palanga, Lithuania’s most popular seaside resort. It is not included in the band's only LP, Kalėdų eglutė (available on Discogs!), but is featured on a compilation released in 2000.


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