Czesław Niemen. Photo: East News/Marek Karewicz
Czesław Niemen, photo: Marek Karewicz/East News
 
 

Vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and lyricist. Born on February 16, 1939 in Stare Wasiliszki near Nowogródek, died on January 17, 2004 in Warsaw.

Czesław Niemen is one of the most popular and most original influential artists in Polish pop music of the 20th century. After beginning with modest pop songs, he quickly turned toward expansive compositions that incorporated elements of jazz and avant-garde music. A charismatic vocalist gifted with an exceptional voice, Niemen was also one of the first artists in Poland to use electronic instruments on a wider scale.

Born Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki 16 February 1939 in Stare Wasiliszki near Nowogródek (which was then Polish territory) he sang as a child in the church choir and attended primary music school in nearby Grodno. After forced resettlement of the entire family in the 1950s, he attended secondary school in Gdańsk and played covers with an acoustic guitar at student cabarets and clubs.


In 1962, after receiving an award at the Young Talent Festival in Szczecin, he went on his first Polish tour with the band Czerwono-Czarni. In fall of that year, he began using his stage name Niemen, which he later officially changed.

Near the end of 1962, Niemen joined the popular band Niebiesko-Czarni for nearly 3 years. The band played an intense schedule of concerts in Poland, as well as Hungary, Yugoslavia and France and the famed Olympia concert hall in Paris in December 1963. In January 1964, he opened for Marlene Dietrich in Warsaw. Dietrich soon went on to record her own version of Niemen's song Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz? / Do You Still Remember Me?, entitled Mutter, Hast du Mir Vergeben? / Mother, Have You Forgiven Me?.

Czesław Niemen, IXth National Polish Song Festivan in Opole, 1971, photo: Andrzej Wiernicki / FORUM
Czesław Niemen, IXth National Polish Song Festivan in Opole, 1971, photo: Andrzej Wiernicki / Forum


After parting ways with the Niebiesko-Czarni, Niemen worked with the band Akwarele. After their first tour, in April 1967 he recorded tracks for the album Dziwny jest ten świat / Strange is This World. The title track received awards at the Opole Music Festival and became one of the biggest hits of Polish pop music in the 1960s.

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After tours in Poland, Germany, and France, Niemen and Akwarele cut another album - Sukces. Songs and concerts promoting the album were recorded in a short film by Marek Piwowski. The band split up after recording the Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz? album, which contains new versions of Niemen's early compositions.

 

zesław Niemen, photo: Jan Bebel / Forum
Czesław Niemen, photo: Jan Bebel / Forum

After touring intensively in Poland and Italy, Niemen put together a new band in autumn 1969. The album Niemen Enigmatic contains four expansive compositions that run the gamut from progressive and psychedelic rock to jazz and the avant-garde. With innovative takes on poems by Polish writers lyrically, the recordings included sessions by Zbigniew Namysłowski and Michał Urbaniak, acclaimed jazz musicians. The album's masterful blend of complex lyricism and innovative compositions, has assured that Niemen Enigmatic is one of the most progressive and inspiring Polish rock'n'roll albums of all time.

Niemen's next release came in January 1971, a double-album entitled simply Niemen, which was an attempt to encapsulate jazz and rock experiments in shorter songs and adapt poetry as well as original lyrics by Wojciech Młynarski.

The band Niemen formed in autumn 1971, with bassist Helmut Nadolski and musicians from the progressive band SBB. The band recorded two partially improvised albums at the watershed of experimental rock and fusion, Niemen Vol. 1 and Niemen Vol. 2, released by the Polish label Muza in 1973. During the same period, Czesław Niemen (with Andrzej Kurylewicz and Wanda Warska) recorded an album of short experimental pieces composed mainly for television and theater.

The band Niemen also recorded two studio albums in Munich, Strange is This World and Ode to Venus for the Western market, which were promoted with a series of European tours. Despite favorable reviews, neither of the albums were popular breakthroughs. The solo albums Russische Lieder and Mourner's Rhapsody, the latter recorded with session musicians in New York, met the same fate. The band Niemen broke up in autumn 1973.

Niemen took a new band into the studio in 1974 - Niemen Aerolit. Less than a year later, they released an album filled with the rich sounds of the Hammond organ, mellotron and Moog synthesizers. The band broke up due to the death of the drummer, Piotr Dziemski in March 1975.

In 1975, Czesław Niemen released Katharsis, which he recorded completely on his own and played all the instruments, with significant involvement of electronica. Next, he released a triple album Idee Fixe, recorded during countless sessions with the musicians of Aerolit and, once again, with Zbigniew Namysłowski. Niemen spent 1976-80 mainly on tour, from USSR to the USA, from the Bombay Jazz Festival to the Youth Festival in Havana. In January 1980, he promoted his Postscriptum compilation album at the MIDEM Fair in Cannes.

During the 1980s, Niemen played a few shows with various backing musicians as well as solo. After re-releases of his classic albums, he finally released Terra Deflorata, a solo album he had been painstakingly preparing for years, filled with experimental electronic music illustrating his original lyrics.

1995 saw the release of the first compilation authorized by the artist, Sen o Warszawie / Dream of Warsaw, followed by rereleases of his previous albums on CD. In 1999, a readers' poll of the "Polityka" weekly recognized Niemen as a timeless Polish artist.

His final album containing original material, spodchmurykapelusza, continued his experiments with electronica and was released in autumn 2001. By that time, the artist seemed to be more interested in painting and computer graphics than music.

Czesław Niemen spent the final years of his life battling cancer. He died 17 January 2004. An urn with his ashes was buried at Warsaw's Powązki cemetery on 30 January in a ceremony that brought together several thousand fans and numerous friends from the music industry.

Discography:

  • Dziwny jest ten świat - Muza, 1967;
  • Sukces - Muza, 1968;
  • Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz? - Muza, 1969;
  • Enigmatic - Muza, 1970;
  • Niemen - Muza, 1971;
  • Muzyka teatralna i telewizyjna - Muza, 1971 (with Wanda Warska and Andrzej Kurylewicz);
  • Strange is This World - CBS, 1972;
  • Ode to Venus - CBS, 1973;
  • Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 - Muza, 1973;
  • Russische Lieder - CBS, 1973;
  • Mourner's Rhapsody - CBS, 1974;
  • Niemen Aerolit - Muza, 1975;
  • Katharsis - Muza, 1976;
  • Idee Fixe - Muza, 1978;
  • Postscriptum - Muza, 1980;
  • Samarpan - Muza, 1987 (with Sławomir Kulpowicz);
  • Terra Deflorata - Veriton, 1989;
  • spodchmurykapelusza - EMI Music Polska, 2001.


Author: Maciej Sienkiewicz, July 2010.
Translated by: Jerzy Kamecki, July 2010.