6 Polish Folk Bands That Throw Tradition Out of the Box
The word ‘folk’ can often box in musicians and force them to craft their sound to fit the traditional vibe of Polish folk music. The modern Polish folk scene tosses this limit on creativity out the window without forgetting their roots. These six bands continue to innovate and blend genres seamlessly. Folk your life up and enjoy!
Chłopcy Kontra Basia
Chłopcy Kontra Basia’s sound is heavily steeped in traditional folk and a smooth blend of jazz. Their compositions, while written by the group, draw on decades of folk sounds. The group, formed in 2009, was originally a duo with Marcin Nenko on the double bass and Basia Derlak on the clarinet and Jew’s harp. In 2010, Tomasz Waldowski, an avid jazz lover, took up the percussion helm. Their highly-anticipated debut album Oj tak! was released at the end of 2013.
A methodical groove of cymbals and bass pushes their sound along while Derlak dances over the jazzy instrumental with lyrics and themes such as speaking with animals and nature, maturing and marriage, mythical creatures and God, while singing in a modern, expressive, even theatrical form, not unlike a storyteller. Through her lyrics, Chłopcy Kontra Basia brings themselves out of a jazz classification and into the world of folk with a completely new sound.
If their beautiful three-part harmonies don’t get you to pay attention, Sutari’s usage of common household items in their compositions will intrigue and astound. Through their sound, the trio reinvents old folk songs and adds a certain swing to their works. Zofia Barańska, Katarzyna Kapela and Barbara Songin are vocalists, instrumentalists, actresses, and performers who have been active on the Polish artistic scene for many years. After forming Sutari, the trio received international praise for their innovation and rustic sound.
In the KEXP session above, you will notice a bowl of water, a wrench and bottles of water being used to craft their pieces. In other recordings and performances, Sutari have used other items easily found in a cabin in the woods like a grater and a knife being sharpened to make their sound more genuine. Combining traditional lyrics with their own bass swing and rag-tag percussion, Sutari has simultaneously channeled the folk culture of singing to communicate and the ability to make music out of anything.
Janusz Prusinowski Kompania
Arguably the most ‘classical folk’ group on this list, Janusz Prusinowski Kompania pushes the boundaries of folk in a different way: through improvisation. The members of the band, Janusz Prusinowski, Piotr Piszczatowski, Michał Żak and Piotr Zgorzelski, learned how to play folk from folk music legends from central Poland. Since their formation, Janusz Prusinowski Kompania has participated in many events and is part of many organisations which aim to help preserve the Poland’s folk music traditions including instruments, dances and more.
Their music greatly relies on cultural encounters. Its members draw on the archaic melodies passed on to them by the old masters and continue to branch off from these melodies, creating their improvisations. Due to the old age of the source material, the musicians are often stumped on how to play the pieces. This is where they use their improve and what they were taught to almost create new pieces. Hence, the band members have emerged as the next generation of the older folk musicians that popularised the tradition.
Close your eyes and imagine the Sex Pistols or the Ramones on the streets of 1920s Sanation-era Poland. That’s Hańba!, but they’re also so much more. Hańba! (which translates to Disgrace!) was formed in Kraków after all playing for a mixed bag of other bands (of amny genres including folk, indie rock and even heavy metal). Its members are: Andrzej Zamenhoff – banjo, Adam Sobolewski – drum, comb, tambourine, Ignacy Woland – tuba, and Wiesław Król – accordion. Their albums have received many accolades in recent years.
The words ‘punk folk’ don’t completely summarise Hańba!’s working class image. Despite their flat caps, shirts and baggy trousers with suspenders suggesting a vintage shop raid, their sound is fresh and fits the 21st century very well. Their up-tempo compositions could easily be made electric and thrown into the ‘punk’ box, but their street performer image and passion for their source material keeps them a definitive Polish folk group to watch out for.
Not many would peg garage rock and folk to make a good pairing. Żywiołak should prove them wrong. Żywiołak was founded in Warsaw in 2006 by the multi-instrumentalists Robert Jaworski and Robert Wasilewski. The band was later joined by drummer Maciej Łabudzki and vocalists Anna Piotrowska and Izabela Byra. In April 2011, Piotrowska and Byra left the group. Their places were taken by Monika Wierzbicka and Karina Kumorek. Since their formation, Żywiołak has been invited to both folk and rock events all over Europe.
The group’s albums have since broadened the boundaries of rock and showed that combining this genre with folk can sound modern and original. The acoustic folk instruments harmonise with the sounds of the fuzzy guitar, the hard sound of the bass guitar and the strong percussion rhythms typical of any teen rock band jamming in their basement. Over the rock instrumental rings typical folk harmonies with a certain bite, pleasing both folk and rock purists.
Księżyc (Polish for ‘the Moon’) come from the humblest of musical beginnings: as a lo-fi group who were present for two decades only on low-budget records, cassettes, and the Internet. Inspired by the traditional music of the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, Księżyc wrote and performed for a number of years before going dormant. After a vinyl reissue of their debut album Księżyc (1996) in 2013 and a subsequent CD release, the group has managed to attract a much larger audience, including many who don’t speak Polish.
On their reissued debut album, Slavic folk meets psychedelia and the music resists being assigned to any single genre. Acoustic instruments, such as the clarinet, saxophone and accordion, are equal to more electronic instruments throughout. There’s clearly folk there, it’s just in a more bedroom-pop-Bandcamp style. The entire album is linked above so you can hear it for yourself!
Any Polish folk bands you think push the boundaries of the folk genre? Let us know in the comments!