Interwar Music Revivalists: The Bands & Singers Playing Polish Music of the 1920s & 1930s
default, Interwar Music Revivalists:
The Bands & Singers Playing
Polish Music of the
1920s & 1930s, Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra, photo: band's press materials, center, warsawska_orkiestra_sentymentalna.jpg
The centenary of Poland’s regained independence might have already passed, but a revival of interwar culture, particularly music, is still on the up. In recent years, an increasing number of bands have sought to re-popularise the classic and the forgotten Polish hits of the 1920s and 1930s. Culture.pl picks out the best of many modern-day artists who are breaking into the Polish vintage music scene.
Jazz Band Młynarski-Masecki
Founded by the distinguished musicians Jan Emil Młynarski and Marcin Masecki, Jazz Band Młynarski-Masecki has become a renowned Polish jazz band emanating the style of interwar orchestras – with a contemporary twist.
To infuse new life into age-old numbers, the band have set classic tangos and foxtrots from the Interwar era to modern arrangements. Their songs incorporate bursts of American jazz, classical music, Polish folklore and Jewish music, and feature dazzling instrumentals, underscored by huffing, clamouring brass.
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One of their hits is a version of the 1936 Czarna Kawa – a Polish version of Believe It, Beloved. Ripples of smooth jazz lead into a sprightly, if nostalgic, reminiscence about a ‘fairy tale’ outing to a café.
Another, and one of their most popular singles, is a rendition of the 1932 foxtrot Abduł Bey, written by Fanny Gordon and Ludwik Szmaragd, with its unchecked, meandering jazz section. The kaleidoscopic, zoetrope-like music video features a couple in green-screen suits vivaciously dancing the Charleston, as well as playful camera tricks.
Warszawskie Combo Taneczne
Also from the brilliant mind of Młynarski is Warszawskie Combo Taneczne (Warsaw Dancing Combo), which have been playing Polish folk music since 2009. The seven-member band focuses on a retro repertoire, with their most recent album, Sto lat Panie Staśku!, celebrating 100 years since the birth of the legendary Warsaw folk singer Stanisław Grzesiuk.
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The band have also released music videos – their buoyant version of Ach te Rumunki is complete with a mesmerising cartoon made up from oozing tattoos, shot through with flashes of menace from glowering strings.
More recently, Warszawskie Combo Taneczne have played live concerts online to entertain people staying at home due to the current epidemic.
Noam Zylberberg & Mała Orkiestra Dancingowa
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Noam Zylberberg, photo: Grzegorz Domański / courtesy of the artist
The clue is in the name for Zylberberg’s band, which is often to be found playing in the courtyard of Klub SPATiF in Warsaw. Though the band an enchanting repertoire of classic and lesser-known Interwar songs, their performances intend to encourage dancing – resurrecting the frivolity of any 1920s Polish club or café.
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Zylberberg grew up in Israel but reconnected with his Polish roots after visiting Warsaw. He transcribes the songs the band play from old recordings – the group are careful to consider the stylistic traditions of the Interwar period in their work, whilst also acknowledging the undeniable influence of more modern musical training on their renditions.
With his husky but nonetheless sparkling voice, Zylberberg work serves to capture the dynamic, confident and polished sound of the Interwar period.
Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra (Warszawska Orkiestra Sentymentalna)
The Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra (originally: Warszawska Orkiestra Sentymentalna) advertises themselves as having ‘a taste for old melodies of the beginning of the 20th century in Poland’ – they perform revue and cabaret hits once sung by Mieczysław Fogg and Adam Aston, amongst others.
Launched in 2015 at the Nowa Tradycja (New Tradition) Polish Radio Folk Festival, crowdsourcing allowed the band to release their first album.
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Though the Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra seek to preserve the timeless appeal of Interwar music, they also add a hint of more modern styles, or flirt with traditional melodies. Theirs are lighter and sunnier versions of timeless songs, like the swinging capers of Bez Przerwy Śmieję Się (I’m Laughing All the Time) and a contemporary yet effortlessly retro version of the cool Nikodem (Nicodemus).
On their website, the Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra says the dance repertoire of the Interwar period is their ‘endless source of inspiration.’
A Polish-British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Katy Carr began performing an Interwar repertoire as she became more interested in the culture of the 1930s and 1940s. Today, she plays at Polish diaspora events worldwide, dressed in period clothing.
With an emotional delivery, and channelling the Polish star of stage and screen Hanka Ordonówna, Katy is inspired by the original recordings in her renditions. She has previously spoken about the connections she feels with the artists behind the songs.
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Aside from playing the classic sounds of Interwar Poland, Carr also writes songs. Her 2014 album Paszport (Passport), a tribute to Polish WWII heroism, won Best Concept Album at the Independent Music Awards.
Może Kiedyś Innym Razem
With a name plucked from a classic Interwar hit, Może Kiedyś Innym Razem (Maybe Some Other Time) is a new theatre group of musicians who perform the songs of the 1920s and 1930s at clubs and cafes in Warsaw, as well as promoting Interwar Polish history.
Despite only holding their first concert last year, the group take a theatrical approach, performing lively and humorous renditions of Interwar favourites. On social media, they also hold recitals of Interwar poems, and organise meetings with Interwar historians.
Born into a Catholic family, Olga Avigail converted to Orthodox Judaism after an interfaith visit to Auschwitz, and she now sings forgotten Yiddish tangos.
Her aim is to reinvigorate the use of Yiddish within the Jewish community, but she also researches local musical folk customs from across Eastern Europe, particularly Jewish music of Ashkenazi roots, from the borderlands of Poland. Her renditions are also inspired by international styles – she includes the use of a bandoneon, a classic Argentine instrument in tango, but which was rarely used in Interwar Poland – and sings in both Yiddish and Polish.
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Her renditions are also inspired by international styles – she includes the use of a bandoneon, a classic Argentine instrument in tango, but which was rarely used in Interwar Poland – and sings in both Yiddish and Polish.
She has played Bal u Starego Joska (A Ball at Old Josek’s) with the Canadian jazz pianist Ron Davis – who also happens to be the grandson of the song’s protagonist, Józef Ładowski.
And Avigail’s wistful version of the lost tango Rivkele – a Yiddish version of the standout 1933 Polish hit Rebeka – certainly packs a punch, with the singer flitting from coquettish smirk to the picture of doe-eyed bashfulness.
Though made up of a group of young friends– who first performed dressed in their grandparents’ old clothes – Kapela Sztajer (Sztajer Band) have rapidly made a name for themselves as one of Warsaw’s best-loved street musician bands.
After becoming fascinating with the old music styles of Interwar Warsaw – as well as the traditional urban dialect and history – the friends decided to revive the tradition of street music in the city.
Street Songs: The Urban Folk Music of Warsaw
polish music of the 20th century
In the style of the classic Orkiestra z Chmielnej (The Chmielna Orchestra), Kapela Sztajer can be found hovering around the streets leading into the Old Town in summer, when they play traditional folk songs along with more genteel Interwar hits. Some of their favourite songs to perform are the troubling, sinister tangos of Polish yesteryear, which swell with the voices of their audiences when performed on the Old Town streets, or in the gloomy courtyards of the Praga neighbourhood.
Like those old sayings about the powerhouse of Polish interwar song, Andrzej Włast – that his hits were performed all over Warsaw, and travelled from stage to street – each band and performer today is also helping to keep this music alive.
Written by Juliette Bretan, 23 Apr 2020