1991 – Izrael
In 1990, reggae band Izrael returned to Poland straight from London. The band brought with them a treasure: 1991, an album recorded in the legendary Ariwa Studios run by Mad Professor, a Jamaican music producer and disc jockey. The album sounds refreshing even today – here, reggae meets rock, funk joins rap and outstanding synthesisers are connected with Włodek Kiniorski’s improvised saxophone.
Izrael was founded in 1983 and had already recorded three albums before 1991. The band was led by Robert Brylewski, one of the most significant figures of Polish punk, a member of Kryzys, Brygada Kryzys, Armia, and later Falarek Band, 52UM-u and The Users (with Tymon Tymański, Mikołaj Trzaska and Marcin Świetlicki). Izrael was Brylewski’s first reggae project. The transition of the first Polish punks in the direction of Jamaican music was not limited to the musical dimension. When asked by Rafał Księżyk (in an interview in Crisis in Babylon) Brylewski explained:
What brought me to reggae is the energy that lies within it, only later did I realise that the music was a whole culture, not connected exclusively to entertainment but most importantly to spirituality and social and mental changes.
Izrael’s line-up became fixed for good in the late 1980s, when Brylewski moved with his family and friends to Stanclewo, Mazury, and with the help of Marcin Miller, a businessman from London, established a recording studio called Złota Skała. The artists had found themselves a shelter, a place outside society where the communist Polish authorities did not interfere. The situation changed when the transformation occurred.
In the autumn of 1989 the band performed a concert in Czechoslovakia – Poland was already free at the time, while its neighbours were still under communist rule – without Kiniorski yet, but with Wojtek Konikiewicz on keyboard. Piotr ‘Stopa’ Żyżelewicz, a long-time member of Armia and later Voo Voo, played the drums; Sławomir ‘Dżu-Dżu’ Wróblewski accompanied him on bass guitar; and Dariusz ‘Maleo’ Malejonek (who later played for Houk and Maleo Reggae Rockers) was the second frontman, playing guitar and singing.
Kiniorski originated from the world of free jazz and world music, Wróblewski had played drums in Izrael earlier, and was helped by his wife Vivian Quarcoo. Stopa, Maleo and Brylewski had played together in Armia, a band with a much harsher sound, closer in its timbre to metal or punk. Armia's album Legend was already developed when the musicians returned to Poland and was recorded in Staclewo straight away. The punk roots of Izrael were strong but Brylewski emphasizes the value of artistic freedom more than anything else:
Kryzys willingly implemented ska elements, because it outraged punks. I remember Kelner and friends throwing eggs at us. (…) We had to declare whether we were on the only acceptable punk rock path, or we were open to the world.
1991's innovation is defined most of all by its freely changing rhythms, harmonies and styles. The album was prepared in the UK and sung in English. Most texts were written by Malejonek, only three were drafted by Brylewski – those in which rock prevails: the unsettling Progress, the ecstatic Hard to Say, and the closest to the earlier Izrael’s recordings: S.F.A.
The opening Ride On begins with Kiniorski’s flute and is joined by Maleo’s guitar. The most hypnotizing part is the song’s incredible offbeat rhythm. Malejonek rap with a low voice: ‘Get ready, people’, and later ‘Get out of this place’. This band goes above and beyond.
To the showcase of the album we can add the full of emotions Live to Love or another single that starts with Kiniorski’s spiritual intro: See I & I. The Jamaican drums rhythm are mixed with bass, guitar, saxophone and the words: ‘You teach me how to live/ you teach me how to love/ more I live, more I love’. In I Know there is a passage about politicians who don't need people but their votes – an advanced observation for the beginning of 1990. Epirus 2 and I Don’t Wanna Get Stuck include elements of folk, jazz and funk in a combination that is hardly explainable in words. The most outstanding thing is that the album is not limited by any restrictions, divisions and fashionable musical paths.
The recording session for 1991 lasted for two days. The third day was designated for mixing and organized by Derek Fevrier, a producer who did not take any money for his contribution to the project. At that time Izrael performed in London, e.g. in club Marquee, but musicians were engaged in other works as well. To earn money for fuel they agreed to give a performance on Japanese television alongside other Polish artists like Basia Trzetrzelewska.
Izrael kept playing until the mid-1990s, but their next real studio album was released only seventeen years after 1991. The reasons as to why the album did not make an international star out of Izrael is the beginning of another story.
Author: Jacek Świąder, December 2015, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, January 2016Culture.pl