Lenka Lichtenberg was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her mother was a child survivor of the Holocaust. Lenka was not aware that she was Jewish until the age of 10, and did not know her family’s history until circumstances forced the revelation. The petite, blond singer spent her childhood years in the immensely popular musical theatre Semafor, as child star sidekick to the icon of Czech anti-establishment culture, Jiří Suchý, with whom she recorded several hits that remain popular to this day. She studied classical music at the Prague Music Conservatory, specializing in voice.
Once in Canada, Lenka performed in bars and hotels, and in a rock band travelling remote parts of British Columbia. She also cruised the Caribbean, singing on the Princess Cruise ship Sun Princess. Back at school, she received her Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia, and Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology from the York University in Toronto. Her thesis was on Yiddish music of the Holocaust. Between 1997 and 2005, Lenka taught Music Appreciation at the Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, while raising three children.
Getting to know her mother’s family’s story as an adult, Lenka felt compelled to refocus her creativity and musical energies and become a Yiddish singer, despite the fact that her Czech family was entirely assimilated and no Yiddish was spoken for several generations. After releasing three albums as a solo artist, Lenka co-founded, with Isabel Fryszberg, the Yiddish swing all-female group Sisters of Sheynville, with whom she performed across Canada, in the U.S. and Europe. The band won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year in 2008 for its Sheynville Express disc. Lenka’s diverse musical palette continued to evolve and crystallized in 2010 when she founded her ensemble Fray (Yiddish for ‘free’). With Fray bandmate and co-producer Alan Hetherington, Lenka recorded the band’s eponymous debut LP in 2010, followed by Embrace (2013). Both albums of mostly original music build on Lenka’s Eastern European roots and are further informed by her band members’ North Indian classical, Brazilian and Middle Eastern sensibilities.
While long known for her work in the realm of Yiddish music, Lenka’s latest album marks her first foray into celebrating the music of her country of birth. ‘Masaryk’, described as “breathlessly beautiful” in the Dutch press (Moors Magazine), revisits some of the classic Czech, Moravian and Slovak folk songs that permeated Lenka’s early childhood – and provided much of her introduction to folk music.
Lenka tours internationally as a soloist and with various ensembles, presenting concerts in venues ranging from The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., to Etno-fest in Wroclaw, Poland and the Klezfiesta in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her insatiable curiosity and desire to bridge cultures through music propel her to discover new possibilities as a composer, multi-lingual vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Her work has been rewarded with a number of nominations and awards, most recently winning the 2018 Independent Music Award for Masaryk. Other notable awards include the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Singer of the Year for her album Songs for the Breathing Walls. For this unique collection, Lenka recorded sacred Hebrew songs in 12 synagogues across the Czech Republic with a cast of international artists from Czech Republic, Israel, Germany, Canada and Russia. The project was the focus of a TV documentary film by Jaroslav Hovorka, broadcast on Czech television.