Adam Strug is a singer and instrumentalist, songwriter, composer of theatre and film music, scholar, and promoter of traditional music.
A singer and instrumentalist, songwriter, composer of theatre and film music.
Adam Strug was born in 1970 in Pisz. In the 1990s, he co-created the group Bractwo Ubogich (The Brotherhood of the Poor); he was later associated with the Broda Band. He is currently the leader of a band called Monodia Polska (Polish Monody), specialising in traditional Polish songs from the oral tradition. Strug’s original songs have been covered by Stanisław Soyka and Wojciech Waglewski, among others. Strug also collaborates with Michał Lorenc and the Polish Dance Theatre.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes below originate from an interview with Adam Strug conducted by Filip Lech (Culture.pl) on 3rd April 2016.
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Childhood, Youth, Festivals
In my childhood, I was surrounded by traditional Polish music, predominantly in its religious aspect. The erstwhile small-aristocracy lands of North-Western Mazowsze have only recently lost the custom of singing religious songs of the entire liturgical year, including at funerals. These were very long musical marathons, a sensation so intense that later, meaning in the late 1970s, when all of my friends formed their rock bands, I did not follow that trend. My musical imagination was ruled by music of the oral tradition. I wasn’t very much into what was shown by the media.
At the age of six, Strug’s father sent him to music school, where he played accordion and other keyboard instruments. After three years, when his father was absent for a while, he dropped out.
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My father was annoyed when he learned about my decision and signed me up for private lessons. The teacher died a couple months later, which led my father to think that it must be a bad omen for me and that I would never become a musician. Then instrument stayed at home, however, and the more time passed since I left music school, the more often I played it.
Strug started writing songs as a teenager and decided to test his skills at various competitions and festivals. This brought him the first prize (the Lyre of Orpheus) at the ‘Let’s Sing Poetry’ Castle Meetings in Olsztyn in 1986, for his arrangements of poems by Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński. He later won awards at festivals in Kraków and Wrocław, as well as the OPPA International Bard Festival in Warsaw. He also performed in the Debuts show at the Opole festival, and even at the rock festival in Jarocin.
I wouldn’t call these performances the beginning of my creative career – it was my way of life. I’m not proud of those achievements, it was simply my way of making a living. There was a lot of events like that in the People’s Republic, starting with sung poetry, to tourism music, student music, and so on. I wasn’t happy with the situation, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m so exclusive. My message is lyrical and generally sad; I feel bad entertaining my audience.
Brotherhood of the Poor
Bractwo Ubogich (The Brotherhood of the Poor) was among the first initiatives taking traditional music in its raw state, without stylisation (in contrast to the adaptations of Soviet song-and-dance bands and their more contemporary variant, folk bands). The Brotherhood existed from 1992 to 1994 and was formed by Anna and Witek Broda, Alicja and Jacek Hałas, Agata Harz, Remigiusz Mazur-Hanaj, Janusz Prusinowski, and Adam Strug. They organised a recording session for the Polish Radio and performed in numerous cities in Poland and abroad (Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Wales, Morocco, Germany, Russia, Estonia, and Ukraine).
At first, our explorations were completely at random. We stopped our previous activities, I, for one, moved out of Warsaw. I sang religious songs in the countryside, a complete musical lunacy. Families watched us with horror.
The Brotherhood was significantly influenced by their encounters with Andrzej Bieńkowski, a painter and professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, who studied and documented Polish traditional music since the 1970s (mainly in the rural areas of the Radom region, and later in Belarus and Ukraine). The band used his experience, contacts, and recordings, backed with research at the archive of the Polish Academy of Sciences (instrumental music) and the Catholic University of Lublin (religious songs).
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We approached the music with the requisite respect, but without fetishising or mystifying the peasant culture. The Brotherhood gave birth to a plethora of initiatives, including festivals, dance centres, foundations, and associations. Right now, every academic centre in Poland has a group of traditional music enthusiasts, more or less according to the method we worked out in the old days. My contribution to this movement is the fact that religious songs are treated on par with other positions in the repertoire. Seasoned singers of traditional music have experience working with both a religious and a secular repertoire, regardless of their faith.
Wincenty Nasiadko, also known as Jan
When Adam Strug turned to traditional music, he stopped performing his own compositions. He kept writing songs, but he devoted his time entirely to Polish music. He claims he would have continued doing so for the rest of his life if it weren’t for a spectacular bankruptcy on the way.
In 1992, I joined a funeral singer in the Łomża region. I spent eight years with him, until his death: he orphaned me in 2000. I have never joined anyone after that, I am not ready emotionally to go through this kind of a separation again. Old people die, it’s a fact.
His name was Wincenty Nasiadko, and he was known in his community as Jan. He was a modest, good, and pious man. When I joined him, I had already learned those songs. I learned his variants and thus entered the world of funeral singing, which has had a long legacy. His skills and knowledge were so vast that he was asked to sing in towns across the entire parish of Nowogród (Łomża diocese). Sometimes, we would go several times in one week to spend nights singing by the deceased, and then to perform at the funeral. These were often long marathons, many nights in a row – Maundy Thursday to the resurrection mass, for instance, which is three nights.
When Jan grew weak, I stepped in to support: he began, and I continued the repertoire. I was aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to continue his work after his death, that I would never inhabit it. Jan was my only link to that place, which was not easy socially. I did what had to be done. And although I detest farm work, and all that involves digging in the soil, I was part of all the harvest and potato-lifting seasons in these eight years: I operated farm machines, and so on.
My repertoire consists of my grandmother’s songs, who inherited them from her father (he sang the old way; I met him before he died in 1976, at 98), Jan’s repertoire, and whatever I heard as a boy in church. That would be around six hundred songs, all sung from memory. This requires a memory for music, especially because these motives are often similar to each other. A layman would think that every song is the same, of course. But no, each of them is meticulously crafted and refined, both musically and lyrically.
A non-academic ethnomusicologist
I’m a practicing ethnomusicologist, not a theoretician. I don’t have an academic background in musicology. The difference between Polish ethnomusicology and the discipline in the bordering countries, such as Ukraine, is that while elsewhere they are practitioners, our musicologists are pen-pushers. Polish ethnomusicology is very open – both to itself and to completely ridiculous phenomena, like folk music – and, as a result, the great work that is being done is swamped by the mass of non-sense initiatives.
Let me give you two examples of behaviour: first, their work does not gravitate to practice; instead, it means writing very thick books which no one will read, except their authors and their families. Second, they are willing to approve of every non-sense that smacks of folk music. It’s a kind of marxist evolutionism: we’ve had folk music, and now we have its contemporary adaptations. But 99% of those adaptations are great at distorting and overshadowing the original.
As part of his ethnomusicologist work, Strug has led singing meetings, happening since 1999.
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The formula allows everyone to come, not only those who can sing. The goal is for everyone to be able to find the strength and colour of their own voice. The meetings are non-confrontational, no one is singled out. We come out to the public twice a year: every Great Saturday between 10am and 5pm we sing at Christ’s Tomb in the post-Camaldolese church in the Bielany district in Warsaw. On All Saints’ Day, we meet at 5pm at the Old Powązki Cemetery in the catacombs section to sing baroque mourning songs. The meetings bring people out in great numbers, we get up to a thousand singers on All Saints’. We usually have about eighty people come out to the monthly gatherings. The idea caught on in other university centres; I’ve visited many places with these songs.
The Polish Monody
Adam Strug leads Monodia Polska (The Polish Monody), a singing band bringing together Mateusz Kowalski, Piotr Piszczatowski, Szczepan Pospieszalski, Max Mucha, Krzysztof Napiórkowski, Jakub Korona, Wojciech Lubertowicz, Janusz Prusinowski, Jacek Zembrowski, Jan, Hipolit and Tymoteusz Woźniak, and Adam Strug.
Monodia is an a cappella, single-voice singing band (sometimes accompanied by old instruments, such as the hurdy-gurdy). The musicians seek out and perform baroque courtly and monasterial compositions, which accompanied the rituals of the Polish folk class. They sing in a non-just scale (not organised by the minor-major tonation), which has come to dominate European music with the advent of opera singing and keyboard instruments.
A Folk Requiem
In 2015, Adam Strug started a collaboration with Kwadrofonik, a quartet comprising a piano duet (Emilia Sitarz and Bartłomiej Wąsik, also known as Lutosławski Piano Duo) and two percussion sets (Magdalena Kordylasińska i Miłosz Pękala, a.k.a. Hob-Beats Duo). Their repertoire incorporates contemporary compositions, often written specially for the band, as well as arrangements of the great works of classical music. The collaboration led to Requiem ludowe (A Folk Requiem), where baroque melodies and lyrics from the 19th century Śpiewnik Pepliński (Peplin Songbook) meet 20th century music, as well as the minimalism and prepared quality of the piano. Jacek Skolimowski wrote in Newsweek:
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Ten compositions come together to form a coherent album, divided into three parts: Śmierć (Death), Wędrówka (Voyage), and Wieczność (Eternity). Each has its own mood and decorum, with no extraneous pathos; they are difficult music, but at the same time moving and understandable by anyone. The form of the requiem may bring to mind Mozart or Brahms, but it’s a topic that has been explored by Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen.
Paweł Tryba from wpolityce.pl noted:
I especially recommend Alfabet (The Alphabet), where children’s voices chant subsequent letters as Strug replies in a voice that grows increasingly more trembling and frightened. I have not observed such intense terror even in Nick Cave’s work.
Strug published his first original album only in 2012. Adieu is a grouping of fifteen songs, which he set to the lyrics by Stanisław Baliński, Yunus Emre, Bolesław Leśmian, and Emil Zegdałowicz, as well as some of his own texts. Strug’s voice and accordion are accompanied by many instrumentalists, including Janusz Prusinowski (mandolin), Wojciech Lubertowicz (darbuka, goblet drum, frame drum), Frank Parker (percussion), Piotr Piszczatowski (baraban), Michał Żak (clarinet, wooden flutes), Szczepan Pospieszalski (trumpet, flugelhorn), as well as the album’s producer, Marcin Pospieszalski (double bass, fretless bass, electronic organ). The recordings also feature guest performances by Mietek Szcześniak and Maniucha Bikont. Agata Kusto commented in Pismo Folkowe bimonthly:
On the plus side, I have to mention the interesting, well-paired sets of instruments; they give the music a good vibe which alludes, at times, to the early sounds of the Polish jazz school. Strug’s work is melancholic, and dark, and some pieces are true thriller-ballads.
Two years later, Strug recorded an album with Stanisław Soyka, devoted to the poetry of Bolesław Leśmian. The artists met through common friends and quickly realised that they cherish one another’s work. ‘I wanted to enter the role of the song author, that is – I wanted others to struggle with what I wrote,’ Strug says. ‘I showed him my songs set to Leśmian and he suggested we do an entire album. At first, I was convinced that this would be an album where he sings my songs. It turned out that he accompanied me.’ Paweł Tryba wrote in a review on wpolityce.pl:
Leśmian is the sole protagonist of the disc. The piano’s there to add a certain songfulness; the voice provides interpretation. There is no added value, a mere service to the word. At times, Strug plays some piano – and it works. In other places, Soyka sings harmoniously, luckily, without his ‘Black’ vocal mannerisms, which wouldn’t fit here at all.
Strug’s next album, Mysz (Mouse), came out in 2015 and was produced by Wojciech Waglewski, who also is featured here as a guitarist and vocalist. This time, the lyrics are the poems of Józef Przerwa-Tetmajer, Vachel Lindsay (translated by Robert Stiller), Jan Zacharasiewicz, Paweł Hertz, Leśmian (a sort of patron saint of the artist), as well as texts written by Strug himself, who plays the accordion, accompanied by the band (percussion, double bass, trumpet, and a mandolin). Wojciech Przylipiak noted in Dziennik daily:
Thanks to the Balkan influence, quite a lot of songs from the album invite one to dance – a special kind of dance, however, one that starts well after midnight, when sadness and nostalgia enter the dancefloor. The clarinet, double bass and trumpet go together really beautifully, with the addition of heavy, raw guitar sounds.
Kaśka Paluch from Onet.pl mentioned:
When it comes to melody, I have to say that the horizontal compositions in Mysz play out lightly, smoothly and nicely. I have never really seen Strug as a melodist, but it seems that I should.
Where does Adam Strug take the strength and inspiration to write his songs?
My focus is traditional music, which means I have a living source of music within reach, giving me a never-ending singerly liveliness. Traditional music does not age, it’s alive. I’ve seen people who, having spent years on stage, seem musically exhausted.
- Kapela Brodów – Pieśni i Melodie na Rozmaite Święta (Polish Hymns and Melodies for Holidays and Festivals, 2001) organs
- Kapela Brodów – Kolędy i Inne Pieśni (Christmas Carols and Other Songs, 2002) vocals, pump organ
- Janusz ‘Janina’ Iwański, Stanisław Soyka – Neopositive (2005) lyrics to Złe Sny (Bad Dreams)
- Kapela Brodów – Pieśni Maryjne (Folk Songs and Hymns to Virgin Mary, 2008) vocals, pump organ
- Kapela Brodów – Tańce Polskie (Polish Dances, 2008) vocals
- Monodia Polska – Requiem Polskie (Polish Requiem, 2011) vocals
- Adam Strug – Adieu (2012)
- Muzyka Źródeł - Polskie Pieśni Religijne (Polish Religious Songs, 2012)
- Adam Strug – Strug. Leśmian. Soyka. (2014)
- Adam Strug – Mysz (Mouse, 2015) – nomination for Fryderyk 2016 Award in Album of the Year – Music of the Roots Category
- Adam Strug, Kwadrofonik – Requiem Polskie (Polish Requiem, 2015)
- Adam Strug, Mateusz Kowalski (lyre) – Pieśń o Bożym Umęczeniu (Song on the Passion of God, 2015)
- Adam Strug – Leśny Bożek (2017)
Artist's website: https://adamstrug.pl/