Singing After the Uprising: Contemporary Warsaw Uprising Music
small, Photograph from the Warsaw Uprising:. The area surrounding the Brodzisz villa at Malczewskiego Street in the Mokotów district. Pictured: (third from t, full_powstanie_muzyka_10000_mpw_770.jpg
It’s difficult to find an event in Polish history that is so often commemorated through sound and music as the Warsaw Uprising.
Every 1st August, at precisely 5 PM, the city of Warsaw stops in its tracks. All that can be heard are sirens and the sound of silence. This marks the so-called ‘W Hour’, which marked the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising.
The sound of the siren seems very close and it’s as if all the noises of traffic goes quiet. Cars stop and the official sirens are joined by an entire choir: of smaller, handheld sirens carried by the scouts, the sinus rhythm howls coming from a nearby police car, even horns of cars on the street.
When the last signal dies out after a minute, you hear that not a single one of the vehicles is in motion. Everyone and everything remains motionless in a solemn pause. Suddenly, applause starts to mount. The sidewalk is full of people who gather every year at 5 PM to commemorate the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. After a short while, an ‘Uprising’ band starts to play Pałacyk Michla (Michel’s Palace).
Krzysztof B. Marciniak, author of the recording below
It’s difficult to find a single place in the city where the sound of the siren does not reach. Interestingly, what we hear is not officially a sound devoted to the memory of those who perished in the bloody uprising, but a civil defence drill. According to Polish law, sirens can be used only to inform the population about imminent danger. Yet, every 1st August at 5 PM, an uninterrupted siren signal sounds for a minute, although, officially the list of municipal alarms does not list a similar alert. As Bartosz Milczarczyk, the spokesman for Warsaw’s authorities explained it to the journalists of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza:
We shouldn’t care whether it’s a drill or just a simple functionality test. What matters is the symbol. And this is a symbol we use to commemorate those who took part in the Warsaw Uprising and the moment when the fights broke out.
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Hello, this is ‘Błyskawica’, the radio station of the Home Army in Warsaw, broadcasting at the frequency of 32.8 and 52.1 m. Warsaw’s spirit is admirable. Warsaw’s women are admirable. They are everywhere: on the frontlines with the soldiers or working as field nurses and couriers. Even children are animated by the wonderful spirit of bravery. Greetings to all freedom-loving people of the world! Greetings to Polish soldiers fighting in Italy and France! Greetings to Polish pilots and sailors!
These where the first words broadcasted by the uprising radio station operating from the PKO building on the corner of Świętokrzyska and Jasna streets. It narrated the fighting capital from 8th August until the end of the battles – its last broadcast taking place on 4th October 1944. The broadcasts varied in length and consisted of news stories from Warsaw, Poland and abroad, as well as a review of underground press and an artistic programme which included music and poetry. These were most often created by the insurgents themselves. Błyskawica (Lightning) did not only broadcast in Polish. The fighting city’s radio stations also broadcast English-language materials – comprising of a total 157 broadcasts.
Lechosław Gawlikowski, the author of the book Pracownicy Radia Wolna Europa: Biografie Zwykłe i Niezwykłe (Employees of Radio Free Europe: Common and Uncommon Biographies) and a former deputy director of Radio Free Europe, wrote:
Polish broadcasts were written by Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, while Adam Truszkowski ‘Tomicki’, a Pole born in London, who spoke English like a native, immediately translated the text into English and read it into the microphone Nowak-Jeziorański joined the ‘Błyskawica’ team when the uprising broke out on 1st August. Four days later, he proposed that he would create ‘something like a wartime bulletin’ everyday aimed towards the press and the allied forces, because he believed that military dispatches would not be enough.
In 2004, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the Błyskawica radio equipment was reconstructed and became a part of the exhibition in the Warsaw Rising Museum. One of the people involved in the reconstruction was Antoni Zębik ‘Biegły’ (1914-2009), the constructor of the original radio equipment and a ham radio enthusiast involved with the wartime underground.
He started work on Błyskawica in his workshop in Częstochowa (he repaired radios there, and most of his clients were German) a year before the uprising broke out. The new Błyskawica is an exact replica of the uprising-era original and all of the parts used in the reconstruction come from the wartime period. The frequency is the only thing that is different. Today, the waves used in 1944 are occupied by NATO radio communications.
'Warszawskie dzieci' by Panufnik & Dobrowolski
Since the band Lao Che released their album Powstanie Warszawskie (The Warsaw Uprising) in 2005, the number of new releases referring to or commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 have been on the rise. There are many differences, and more than a few similarities between them, and one of the most common similarities are the references to songs that were created during the uprising itself.
Pałacyk Michla (Michel’s Palace), Marsz Mokotowa (Mokotów March) and Warszawskie Dzieci (Warsaw’s Children) are quoted and paraphrased by many artists. The case of Warszawskie Dzieci, a song composed by Andrzej Panufnik to the words by Stanisław Ryszard Dobrowolski, is especially important as it was used by numerous bands, including Hemp Gru (classics of Warsaw’s hip-hop), Laibach (classics of Slovenian industrial) and Armia (classics of Christian punk-rock).
Warszawskie Dzieci is a marching-band-like tune in a 6/8 time signature. It was written on 4th July 1944, 4 weeks before the outbreak of the uprising, and after it was recorded on 1st August, it was broadcast by the Błyskawica radio station every day over the next 55 days . Its chorus adorns the statue of the Mały Powstaniec (The Little Insurrectionist) in Warsaw’s Old Town:
Warszawskie dzieci, pójdziemy w bój,
Za każdy kamień Twój, Stolico, damy krew!
Warszawskie dzieci, pójdziemy w bój,
Gdy padnie rozkaz Twój, poniesiem wrogom gniew!
Warsaw’s children, we will join the fight,
Dear Capital, with blood we’ll pay for your stones and plight!
Warsaw’s children, we will join the fight,
At your orders, we’ll direct at our enemies anger outright!
‘Powstanie Warszawskie’ by Lao Che
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I would like to welcome you in the name of the Government of National Unity
In September of 1939 the war was for Poland…
The narrative of Lao Che’s concept album begins in September 1939 with the archival recording of PM Stanisław Mikołajczyk suddenly interrupted by the musicians’ screams. Soon after, you can hear the words ‘Wolność ja kocham i rozumiem/ Wolności ja oddać nie umiem’ (I love and understand freedom / I cannot give freedom away).
Is it a quote from Uprising poetry? No, it’s actually a quote from Chłopcy z Placu Broni, a rock band performing at the turn of the 1990s. The Powstanie Warszawskie (Warsaw Uprising) album is a very eclectic and undeniably postmodern chronicle of a burning Warsaw. Next to classic uprising songs and poetry written by poets fighting in the uprising, you can hear lyrics by the band Siekiera (Czy Tu Się Głowa Ścina? [Is a Head Being Cut Off Here?]), Izrael (Wolny Naród Musi Być [The Nation Must Be Free]) and fragments of Pieśń o Żołnierzu Tułaczu (The Song of the Wandering Soldier) written by Adam Czahrowski in 1597:
Idzie żołnierz borem lasem
Przymierając z głodu czasem
Suknia na nim nie blakuje
Wiatr przez dziury przelatuje
A soldier walks through forest and wood
Starving at times, lacking in food
His clothes not yet faded are worn
The wind blows through them, torn
Lao Che’s work is more than just a regular concept album. It can be interpreted as a detailed audio drama telling an elaborate story about the entirety of the war and the fortunes of some Polish social groups. Spięty, the lead singer of the band, said in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza:
We were fully involved in this material. This experience really broke us down. At one point, we realised that we couldn’t go on much longer with these emotions. It’s way too difficult a topic to be performed over a period of ten years. It could’ve lasted at most two or three years, otherwise it would’ve killed us. During that time, we developed some distaste for this trend, to these attempts at tackling history. We got fed up with this theme and went in a different way.
To be fair, while creating Powstanie… we didn’t think about history at all. We looked at this subject from our own, contemporary perspective of people who listen to rock’n’roll, travel to the sea and have a great time. We imagined that this could suddenly change, that a war could break out. How would we act in this situation?
‘Pierwszy Sierpnia’ by WWO & Kapela Czerniakowska
The song Pierwszy Sierpnia: Dzień Krwawy (First of August: A Bloody Day) is one of the most popular uprising songs created after the war. Its lyrics were written right after the war by Irena Butkiewicz, who won the competition organised by the General Management of the Union of Rural Youth and the editorial board of the Nowa Wieś (New Countryside) weekly.
In 2007, to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the song was performed once again. The performance was a collaboration of the musicians from Kapela Czerniakowska, one of the most popular bands playing urban folk music (they previously collaborated, among others, with the legendary and beloved Mieczysław Fogg), and hip-hop artists from WWO (an acronym of W Wyjątkowych Okolicznościach – In Exceptional Circumstances): Sokół and DJ Deszczu Strugi.
Sokół’s rap and Deszczu Strugi’s scratches blend with the sounds of an pre-war Warsaw: the characteristic ‘warsiawski’ accent from Czerniaków and backyard instruments such as banjo, accordion and violin.
Pod czołg idzie z butelką dziewczyna,
By zapłacić im
Za zburzoną kochaną Stolicę
I za zgliszcza te,
I za trupów dziś pełne ulice,
Za powstańczą krew!
A girl approaches a tank with a bottle
To repay them
For the destroyed Capital
And for this rubble
And for these streets full of dead bodies,
For the insurgents’ blood!
‘Warschau’ by the band Marduk
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Not only Polish artists referred to uprising stories. One of the foreign bands interested in the history of the Warsaw Uprising is the Swedish black/death metal group Marduk, which specialises in war and religious themes (ranging from satanic to biblical). Their Warsaw-centred song can be found on the 2004 album Plague Angel, which contains other songs referring to Central-European history. These include The Hangman of Prague telling the story of Reinhard Heydrich, the organiser of Operation Tannenberg (which resulted in the murder of 20,000 Polish intellectuals) and of the terrifying Wannsee conference dealing with ‘all the necessary preparations for the global solution of the Jewish question on the European area under German influence. The Final Solution to the European Jewish Question.’
How did Marduk discuss the uprising? The lyrics can be translated like this:
Annihilation, obliteration, cremation,
Death declaration, genocide by the triumphant,
Crushing the resistance, inflicting pain,
Fierce sacrifice, rule of terror,
Draconian punishments sealing the fate,
Proudly presenting the moments washed down with blood.
'Morowe panny' by Majelonek
Dariusz Malejonek is one of the leading Polish alternative music artists of the 1980s, who performed in famous Polish bands such as Izrael, Moskwa and Armia, and later founded the band Maleo Reggae Rockers. Today, he is mostly associated with Christian music, like the rock band 2Tm2,3 and the children’s band Arka Noego.
In 2012, Malejonek released an album called Morowe Panny (Daring Girls) on which female artists paid tribute to women who fought in the uprising. The album is described as ‘a multi-layered campaign promoting contemporary femininity (…) It refers to the history of women heroes of the Warsaw Uprising.’
Among vocalists who contributed to the project were Jadwiga Basińska, Lilu, Mona, Marika, Anna Brachacek, Katarzyna Groniec, Halina Mlynkova, Paulina Przybysz, Anita Lipnicka and the hip-hop duo Paręsłów. In the song Idziemy w Noc (Going Into the Night) Marika sings:
Zabrałeś jakąś wodę, strasznie tu gorąco
Przysiągłbyś jak dziewczyna w tańcu na zabawie
Lecz oni idą w noc jak w bagno i na końcu
Zamiast się kochać z sobą – kochają w Warszawie
Did you take some water, it’s so hot in here
Like a girl dancing at a party, you’d swear brother
But they’re going into the night like into a swamp and in the end
It’s Warsaw the make love to – instead of each other
It is worth mentioning the discussion which recently took place in the press. In her book Płeć Powstania Warszawskiego (The Gender of the Warsaw Uprising), Weronika Grzebalska proposed a neologism that could underline the gender of the women fighting in the uprising – as a result, Polish gained a new word, ‘powstanka’ (the English equivalent could be translated as ‘insurgentess’). Ewelina Kaczmarek wrote for Kultura Liberalna:
When I first saw ‘powstanka’ when reading Weronika Grzebalska’s book, I frowned. But after I read the entire publication, this reference to the women fighting in the Warsaw Uprising no longer seemed unfamiliar and weird. I was surprised how easy it was to get used to it.
Krystyna Zachwatowicz, a professor of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, set designer and field nurse during the Uprising had a different opinion. She wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza:
Why can’t the women fighting in the uprising be full powstańcy [insurgents] but have to be ‘powstanki’ which sounds like a diminutive? Did they fight in a powstanko [a little uprising], not a powstanie [uprising]? The feminist word formation tackled a very delicate matter here: today, powstanki are elderly women, who are having their life reduced to somebody else’s – and not their – imagination. None of them had so far realised that she was actually a powstanka and everyone we spoke to was surprised by this fact, some even felt ridiculed. After all, powstanka is not that different from wańka-wstańka [a Polish word for roly-poly toys – ed.].
‘Głośniej od Bomb’ by Pjus
Hecatomb of the Polish Archives in the Uprising
The Wrocław-based raper Pjus was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type II, a genetic disease that attacked his hearing, in 2004. In the song Głośniej od Bomb (Louder Than Bombs), he told the story of the Deaf Without Speech Platoon which fought in the uprising. It consisted of 33 people, including three women.
This story was told by somebody competent – the only active rapper who understands what absolute silence means.
Nie musisz słyszeć, by walczyć z wrogiem,
Nie musisz słyszeć, by walczyć o swój dom,
Nie musisz słyszeć, by za innych skoczyć w ogień,
Gdy serce bije głośniej od bomb
You don’t need to hear to fight the enemy,
You don’t need to hear to fight for your home,
You don’t need to hear to save others from fire,
When your heart beats louder than the bombs.
In 2016, a fundraiser called All4Pjus managed to collect enough money to pay for several operations which allowed Pjus to regain 80% of his hearing.
'Zamknięcie' by Ten Typ Mes
The songs mentioned above described, praised or even glorified the Warsaw Uprising. It’s difficult to find a song critical of the tragic events, even though each of the anniversaries brings more and more voices criticising the cult of the 1944 uprising. Ten Typ Mes included some somewhat controversial verses in Zamknięcie, a song describing his difficult, but loving relationship with Warsaw:
Wkurwia mnie to miasto, niech się udławi sushi
w zagrodzonych osiedlach, niech się zacznie dusić.
Czy musi umrzeć bezdomny pod śmietnikiem na kłódkę
by pokazać srogiej zimy i tej mody skutki.
Sorry, mam odwagę i własne zdanie
i już nie zachwycam się przegranym powstaniem.
Sto pięćdziesiąt tysięcy, kto ich zastąpił?
im dłużej o tym myślę, tym bardziej w sens wątpię.
Zależy mi na tobie, to dojrzałe uczucie
WWA, twój oddany facet, nie zakochany głupiec.
I’m f***ing angry with this city, let it choke on sushi rolls
Let it suffocate in its walled-off neighbourhoods, knolls
Does a homeless man have to die near a locked trash shed
to show the consequences of a harsh winter and this stupid trend?
Sorry, but I got courage and my own opinions
and I’m no longer fascinated by this lost uprising dominion.
A hundred fifty thousand, who replaced them?
More I think about it, the more I doubt it made sense then.
I care about you, it’s a mature feeling of,
WAW, I’m devoted to you, not a fool in love.
‘Warszawskie Dzieci’ by Laibach
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Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 and quotes from the songs Warszawskie Dzieci and Serca w Plecaku (another Uprising classic). This is how the subject of the Warsaw Uprising was raised by Laibach, a pioneering band of the second wave of industrial music.
Their Warsaw song doesn’t have that much in common with their previous releases, even with the most popular tracks from the album Volk. This is a sweet melody accompanied by a pulsating groove, full of rhythm and gently whispering voices. Warszawskie Dzieci is suitable to being played in popular radio stations, shopping centres and cafés.
The Warsaw Uprising remains etched in the memory of the city – and its music.
Originally written in Polish, translated by Michał Wieczorek, July 2019
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