Contemporary Polish folk groups are a diverse lot. Some bands play highlander tunes or heavy neo-folk inspired by Slavic mythology, some others stick to the more traditional songs and dances of the Polish heartland, but overall the folk scene in Poland could convert anyone into an avid folk listener.
Kapela ze wsi Warszawa
The English version of their name is Warsaw Village Band, but don’t be misled by their big-city origins – they pack plenty of rural energy into their music. For their compositions, which feature many surprising instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy and the moharpa, they draw inspiration from traditional rustic melodies from Mazovia. They’re one of the best-known Polish folk bands, both abroad and locally - the Guardian called them ‘one of the most adventurous, exciting groups in Europe’. Their sixth and latest album Nord, released in 2012, received enthusiastic reviews and includes amongst others the charming track My Fate. The band’s current line-up includes 6 persons, among them singer and fiddler Ewa Wałecka and double-bass player Paweł Mazurczak.
This band plays music that can perhaps be described as heavy neo-folk. In their songs you can find distorted electric guitars and strong drums blended with folk harmonies. The group’s name translates as Elemental, a reference to its members’ interest in Slavic mythology and folk demonology. Żywiołak was founded by lyre player Robert Jaworski, who used be a member of Warsaw Village Band and multi-instrumentalist Robert Wasilewski. Only Jaworski still plays with Żywiołak, which has 4 other members, including singer and fiddler Olga Rembowska and guitarist Kamil Strzyżewski. The band has released 4 albums, one of which, a 2011 release, is entitled Globalna Wiocha and contains the energetic song Mój miły rolniku.
They’re best known for their peasant protest songs, which are based on traditional songs and stories of feudal oppression from Eastern Europe. Their music is sometimes compared to the Blues, not for stylistic reasons, but because it has roots in slavery and toilsome work (in historical times peasants in Eastern Europe had a status very similar to American slaves before the Civil War). Instead of harps and bottleneck guitars, in R.U.T.A.’s compositions, which feature folk melodics and punk rock energy, you’ll hear early instruments like plock fidel and suka (both resemble a violin). The band’s 8 musicians were brought together by percussionist Maciej Szajkowski, a member of Warsaw Village Band. On one of R.U.T.A.’s albums, a 2012 record entitled Na Uschod. Wolność albo śmierć, you can find the haunting song Ius primae noctis - Prawo pierwszej nocy.
Witcher 3 enthusiasts will recognize them from the game’s soundtrack. This band collaborated with Marcin Przybyłowicz and Mikołaj Stroiński on the music for this hit Polish video game. The Witcher computer fantasy role-playing games purposefully have a Slavic ambience, which is part of their great appeal, so it only seems natural that the third instalment’s creators turned to Percival for musical assistance as this skilled band makes use of old Slavic harmonies and traditional instruments like baglama or Byzantine lyre. To make things sweeter the band’s name refers to the name of a character from the world in which the games are set – a gnome called Percival Schuttenbach. Among the group’s 4 members are Mikołaj Rybacki and Katarzyna Bromirska who are both multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. On Slava!, which is one of the 5 albums released by Percival, there’s amongst others, an intriguing song entitled Gusta.
This band from the Polish capital specializes in acoustic urban folk. They have many traditional Warsaw songs in their repertoire but they also play tunes which are rooted in various places outside of the capital, e.g. the Balkans or the Middle East. By doing so they want to demonstrate that the rich Warsaw musical tradition includes plenty of foreign influences. The band consists of 8 members, including guitarist and mandolinist Kuba Jurkowski and the fiddler Aga Sroczyńska. One of the most outstanding compositions recorded by CzessBand is Pałacyk Michla, a classic song from the Warsaw Uprising.
They are a family band at heart: their strange band name is their surname. The Trebunia-Tutki family, from which the group originates, has a multi-generational tradition of playing highlander music that dates back to Jan Trebunia who was born in the 19th century. The band in question, which has performed across the entire globe in countries like China, France or the US, is one of the biggest Polish highlander groups. One of the reasons behind the band’s popularity is that they don’t play only strictly traditional music from the Polish mountains but also experiment with genres like rock and reggae. They have recorded 30 albums including the 2008 record Songs of Glory, which was made with the Jamaican group the Twinkle Brothers and contains the heart-warming track The Day I Built My House. The Trebunie-Tutki band currently has 4 members and is led by Krzysztof Trebunia-Tutka, who comes from the village of Biały Dunajec and plays among others the fiddle and sings.
Numbering over 150 artists, Mazowsze is one of the largest folk song and dance groups in the world. It includes a choir, ballet and orchestra. The initial mission of this group, which was created back in 1948 by a decree of the communist authorities, was to preserve the song, dance and artistic tradition of the Mazovia region, hence its name. Over the years however the group’s formula expanded and now its repertoire includes scenic treatments of folklore from 42 different regions. In the many years the group has been active it included many noted performers such as the singers Irena Santor and Stanisław Jopek. Among the records Mazowsze has made one can find for instance the wonderful 2009 Christmas Carol album Kolędy polskie.
Written by Marek Kępa, 4 Nov 2015