Monika Brodka, 2012, photo: Wojciech Barczyński / Forum
Known for her unique brand of "folk power with punk energy", she is one of the most acclaimed young Polish recording artists, brandishing success on all fronts - gold records, critical praise and industry awards. The key to her success is her fresh, experimental approach that pushes the envelope on commercial pop without alienating the masses.
Born in 1987 in Żywiec, Monika Brodka started out as a typical 'Idol' winner from the Polish TV competition, releasing her first record Album just after her win. Her style has matured over the years, with braver beats woven between folk-inspired and rock vocals. Her second album went gold, while her third album Granda scored her eight nominations - and three wins - at the 2011 Fryderyki Awards, Poland's answer to the Grammy's. In 2012 Brodka was nominated for MTV European Music Awards. Her fashion sense too has made her a style icon featured in all the major magazines.
Brodka proves the power of indie pop, with its multi-hued texture of electronica, witty lyrics, poppy vocals and folk flavour.
While Album was speckled throughout with covers drawn from the U.S. pop and r&b charts through the years, her later songs matured into independent compositions written especially for or by Brodka herself. Her initial style had a hybrid, manufactured aura, with collaborations with Polish rappers resulting in a confusing mix of sweet and sordid. Lacking a solid "character", her Album didn't do especially well.
Next came Moje Piosenki / My Songs, with a more independent bend, but still tailored for radio spins, playing upon European pop trends of short, gentle, joyous songs. Four years later, she came out with Granda, an album that set the Polish music industry back on its toes, with its new sound that strayed from the canned pop variety. In an interview with Sebastian Rerak, she said she spent a great deal of time preparing to make the record, looking for the right collaborations. "There was a great deal of determination within me to create this sort of an album, not any other", she shares. The album features collaborations with Radek Łukasiewicz from the indie band Pustki and Budyń from Pogodno, musicians who were largely responsible for the progress of alternative music in Poland at the start of the 2000s.
Granda is an album that draws upon an inexhaustible store of influences and cannot be shut up in any box. Its sound rooted in electronica - synthesisers, keyboards, whimsical production techniques - yet the real allure is in the details - the texture of background sounds created using traditional instruments from the Beskid mountains. We hear the trombita - a folk instrument comparable to the Alpian aslphorn, bagpipes, mandolines and the wakat - a folk percussion instrument. The compositions themselves are more courageous, as are Brodka's own vocals. As she has matured, she has become more comfortable in her own skin and her own voice, even letting a few screams loose once in a while. As she addresses her newfound courage in an interview with Piotr Miecznikowski,
It's really the first time I have the courage to call myself an artist, but in the end it fits. Because before I felt a bit like I was just a performer, someone hired to sing already what had already been written the best way I knew how. In spite of the fact that I had a good deal of input into what I was recording before, the difference today is colossal. I can say that recording Granda I felt like a debutante, everything was completely different, new and incomporable to what came before.
She recently recorded a mini-album, Lax, in Los Angeles, and played at New York City’s CMJ Festival. The album Lax features songs in English, and gives a glimpse into Brodka's future plans for an LP. Brodka also toured to Chicago, where she performed a concert on the 16th of March 2013.
Listening to "the new Brodka" we can sketch out what is understood by popular music in Europe today - a concept that we use on a daily basis, but which slips beyond definition. It is a style that incorporates a number of themes, taking elements of electronic music, the rich history of song-writing and singing, as well as world music. She doesn't let herself or her listeners get bored. She joins together extremes in a cunning way, which makes Brodka in concert so exciting as she follows up Highlander-inspired tunes with her rave anthem of the '90s, King of My Castle. She toured Poland and the world with Granda, giving over 70 performances, from major festivals (SXSW, Open'er) to small, intimate clubs.
What does the future hold for Brodka? One can only hope she continues to push the limits of her multi-hued horizons and come up with ever-funkier songs for her impatient fans.
Author: Filip Lech. Translated (with edits) by Agnieszka Le Nart