A Procession in Isolation: 'Sad Maniuszka' by Maniucha Bikont & Marcin Wicha
default, A Procession in Isolation:
'Sad Maniuszka' by Maniucha Bikont & Marcin Wicha, Maniucha Bikont recording music in Polesia in Ukraine, photo: Oleksij Nahornyuk, center, maniucha-bikontm3.jpg
Created despite isolation, a new collaboration has appeared by the highly-respected Maniucha Bikont and Marcin Wicha. The musician and author tell Culture.pl how ‘Sad Maniuszka’ has roots in traditional Russian procession songs and how it speaks to life during a pandemic.
Filip Lech: How has the pandemic affected your work? Have you been able to create things during this period?
Maniucha Bikont: On the one hand, the pandemic has taken work away from me. Day after day, something else is getting called off: concerts, performances, rehearsals, all my scheduled journeys. Also taken away were my children's nursery, their grandmothers and our network of friends with children. I've become a full-time mother of two small children, which means work is impossible anyway. On the other hand, I quickly understood that I wouldn't be able to get through this period without creative work.
Marcin Wicha: My day job is writing and designing. I mostly do this at home or at least nearby, so at first not much changed for me. But shutting yourself in, worrying about your family, feeling helpless, just waiting around – all of that has been quite overwhelming.
MB: Just like in our song about Sad Maniuszka, the pandemic has released within me an ocean of sadness, a feeling of loss, helplessness, sorrow, anger, longing. The worst thing wasn't the fear of getting sick, but the dominating solitude, even though I was isolating with my family, who I adore. It's hard not to feel guilty. Thanks to conversations with friends and psychological help, I learnt how to carve out some time for work, which turned out to be my protection, my haven, my ‘cress’.
MW: That was when Maniucha wrote to me and proposed I write lyrics. It was a fantastic event. I think it's a privilege to be able to work with her. In the lyrics, I tried to describe the emotions of these strange times. And then I could see – or rather hear – how these paper lyrics are turned into a recording, into a song, into something real. I don't know how to compare it. It's a bit like something has grown out of a seed. Something alive from something dead. Just like that cress in the song.
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MB: I don't like anything connected to being alone. Music has always been my way of communing with people – both musicians and listeners. Now, since I've been working on songs with Marcin Wicha, I'm no longer alone. The starting materials are mostly field recordings from my archive, but also sometimes lyrics from Marcin's archive. We will just have to see what comes of it all. We continue to exchange recordings, lyrics and compositions... Marcin somewhere between the verses can read my moods and sometimes writes something that I would happily say myself. He's been a splendid companion for these difficult days.
FL: What's happening right now in the world not only affects people's health and the economy, but also the audiosphere surrounding us. How has the landscape of local sounds around you changed?
MB: Around my way, the pandemic hasn't changed much in the sound landscape. The only thing is that people's voices are a bit more obscured, muffled under the masks.
MW: For many days, all I could really hear were ambulances. And also the birds returning for spring as if nothing had happened. And the family life of our neighbours. When the city's quiet, we can hear sounds we'd normally never notice.
FL: What are processional songs?
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MB: I'd already comes across a song about Sad Maniuszka years ago – everybody's dancing in a procession, she's the only one who doesn't. It's a dancing song from southern Russia. The singers walk in a circle, stamping out the rhythm with their feet and gesticulating towards a chosen person, each of them singing a slightly different variant of the melody and accenting different parts, creating a dynamic and harmonic whole. These processions have a magical pedigree, a ritualistic one. They're supposed to make nature come back to life, the stamping is supposed to wake the Earth.
FL: You play ‘Sad Maniuszka’ on a simple glockenspiel. Many Polish families have forgotten about how they might have made music together in the past. Maybe these strange times would be a good moment to bring back these customs? How would people start?
MB: I don't know. You definitely can't force them, can't convince them. But if somebody feels pulled towards music, nothing will get in their way. That's what I find in my experience, but also in the many stories I've been told by folk singers and musicians. Jan Gaca, who's from the village of Przystałowice Małe, told me that when a melody appears in the mind, the fingers will follow it themselves. I had the melody for this song in my head, just as my son Berek's glockenspiel was nearby. So I'd recommend always having something you can play at hand. What if something comes to mind?
FL: What are you listening to this spring?
MW: I've been listening to a lot of field recordings, the ones Maniucha has been sending me. They've been novel and interesting for me. I tried to find some myself in the Russian Internet. I realised that various Russian songs I already liked had strong roots in folklore. Even music by Bulat Okudzhava. I suddenly started listening to Novella Matveyeva, even though I used to find her irritating. I've also been listening to – as I always have – Psoy Korolenko and Olga Chikina. But if you're looking for proper recommendations, you'd have to ask Maniucha.
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MB: Psoy, for sure! I'd recommend specifically his album The Unternationale, which he made with Oy Division. From the Russian avant-garde period, definitely Viktor Tsoi and his band KINO. And for people who like TV series and crime shows, something with Vladimir Vysotsky in the main role, namely The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed (it's on Youtube with English subtitles as ‘The Place Of meeting can not be changed’). But I suppose you want me to talk about about folk. The band Warszawa Wschodnia brought out a double album called Ławeczka – one of the discs is just these incredible field recordings from the Russian village of Podserednieje. For people who understand Russian, I recommend scouring the Runet in search of the original music sources – for example, in the Vkontakte group Ладно-хорошо or the performances of Sergey Nikolaevich Starostin or bands like Romoda, Wola, Russkaja Muzyka. It's worth rummaging.
Music: Maniucha Bikont
Lyrics: Marcin Wicha
Art director: Urszula Sławiec
Post-production: Monika Proba
Sound engineer: Igor Kłaczyński
Make up artist: Aleksandra Dutkiewicz
Extras manager: Piotr Topiński
English translation: Anna Micińska & Krzysztof Rowiński
Interview conducted in Polish, Apr 2020; translated by AZ, Apr 2020
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