Last week was all about Polish things: First Sara introduced us all to a brilliant album with a mysterious Polish title, then half of the news happened to be about Poland. And while I’m getting nowhere trying to learn the language, I’m immersing myself in Polish culture, which is more fun anyway. My personal native speaker has introduced me to a lot of music I had never heard of before, and most of it is very enjoyable, so let me share it with you. (This can obviously not be in any way a complete list, so if you spot a glaring omission, let me know in the comments!) Give it up for non-English-speaking music, y’all!
The most famous representative of Polish music will always be Frederic Chopin (or Chopinski, as we call him lovingly). Yes, a well-disguised Pole!
My first encounter with both Polish music and language must have been when I was in my early teens and found my parents’ Niemen records. The record sleeve came complete with translations, so my first Polish sentence was “Gdzie to jest,” which means “Where is it?” I reckon I can get reasonably far with that phrase. Czesław Niemen was one of the most famous and influential songwriters in Poland, and one of the first to bring psychedelic music to the communist country. His best-known song is “Dziwny jest ten świat” (“Strange is this world”), a powerful protest song from 1967. I love it:
Protest against the system was a powerful force in Polish music (as happened in other communist countries at the time). Stanisław Staszewski, an architect and poet, was expelled by the authorities and emigrated to France, where he died in 1973. His son Kazik started recording Staszewski’s songs in the 1980s with his band Kult. Here’s my favourite. (Do sing along loudly when passing elderly Poles in the street. “Kurwa” is the most popular Polish swear word.)
Before I met my husband, I never knew that jazz was one of the most popular musical genres in Poland. After suffering Stalin’s repression until the late 1950s, it was revived and developed into different strands in the 1960s. Krzysztof Komeda’s 1965 album Astigmatic is regarded as one of the first to move away from American jazz towards a more European style. Komeda wrote numerous film scores, many of them for Roman Polanski’s movies.
After Komeda, Leszek Możdżer. Born in 1971, he’s keeping Polish jazz alive:
Remember Chopin? Well, Krzysztof Penderecki, born in 1933, might well be the better-known Polish composer, if only because his name sounds way more Polish. His most famous work is Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which might not be the most accessible classical work you’ve ever heard, but then it’s not meant to be:
Moving back to pop music, I’m a little bit in love with this song from 1981:
Nawwww. “Don’t cry Ewa ‘cause there is no room for your girly tears / Down Love street the crazy wind now blows through the broken panes.” Sob.
Let’s counter this with some punk:
As for more recent music, I’m not as well-informed. My informant is a grumpy old man who hates everything released after the 1990s, and neither of us have lived in Poland for some time. But I came across this a couple of years ago:
Anna Maria Jopek is a successful Polish musician who has collaborated with Pat Metheny and German NuJazz duo Nighthawks. Again, jazz. They’re mighty good at it.
And now, as a treat for staying with me, I present to you one of the worst things I have ever had to endure. In a good Catholic country like Poland, Arka Noego just had to happen. It’s Christian music for children, by children and well-meaning adults. And apparently “A gu gu” is the way small children pray. My daughter loved this when she was two, and I can’t even…
On that note, goodbye and sweet nightmares. Join me next week for the best and worst of German music!