Bogdana Vynnytska (born on 16th March, 1983 in Ivano-Frankovsk in Western Ukraine, part of the USSR at that time) and Dagmara Gregorowicz (born on April 27th, 1983 in Poznań) met in July 2006. They were attending a vocals class together during the International Summer Jazz Academy in Kraków. As Dagmara Gregorowicz recalled:
I’ve always sang in a choir but my parents didn’t send me to a music school. Singing in the shower or while cleaning, that was it. At that time I was running the band Voo Voo’s fan club, and bass player Karim Martusiewicz convinced me to attend the workshops. I ended up in a vocals class. Everyone was rocking some solos, I closed my eyes and decided to sing what I sang in the shower – Summertime. After the classes Dana approached me.
I didn’t have to cheer Daga up. She sang passionately, even if she did it without a technical base, she did have an idea. That’s the most important thing.
One year later she ended up as a pianist in a band together with Mikołaj Pospieszalski (born on April 7th, 1988 in Częstochowa). According to Dana:
Back then we were only people who played together and got on. I returned to Lviv, Daga to Poznań, Mikołaj to Kraków. In December 2007 I received a 6-month Gaude Polonia departmental scholarship. Daga was in Lviv back then, so I told her that we could hang out more often, eat, drink, laugh and enjoy life. She replied: ‘Let’s start a band’.
Vynnytska returned to Warszawa, where, during her first rehearsal with Gregorowicz they came up with seven pieces. ‘We were sure that the world had not yet seen art as ingenious as this. So powerful, fresh and offbeat! The next rehearsal: we couldn’t repeat any of the songs because everything was improvised. The ingenuity disappeared. We needed to think of something we could actually remember.’
They played their first show after Karim Martusewicz, Voo Voo bass player, talked them into it. They played along with the film Godzilla – King of Monsters from 1956. Quickly they have realized that they need bass, so they turned to Pospieszalski. At first it was difficult because Vynnytska was still living in Ukraine. ‘During every trip to Poland to perform, I’d spent two to eight hours at the border, sometimes even the whole day,’ she recollects.
Today they are a quartet. Frank Parker Jr., a Chicago-based drummer known from Kurt Elling’s quartet, played with them for a while, but now Bartosz Mikołaj Nazaruk (born on 20th April, 1988 in Sejny) is on the drums. The musician raised in the Sejny Klezmer Theatre studied jazz in the music academy in Katowice, and is a member of Zakopower, Kayah’s band, the Transoriental Orchestra, and the groups Sztetl and Balkan Sevdah. ‘His drums can sound like a symphonic orchestra’, Dana touts.
Family and school
Dana knew since childhood that she wanted to be a musician. Her grandparents were sent to Primorsky Krai and spent over 15 years there. This is where the artist’s mother was born. After his return, Dana’s grandpa bought a violin and a course book, and he also learned to play the guitar. At home they sung lullabies, and they harmonised at the table. Parents sent Dana to a music school, after that she went to a high school and an academy, where she graduated from composition classes. For a few years she worked at a music high school in Lviv, where she taught sol-fa, music theory, instrumental knowledge, vocals and improvisation. ‘Now I am occupied mainly by my 2-year old daughter and she teaches me a lot.’
Daga picked up a love for singing from her grandma, who sung beautiful melodies from the 1920s in the kitchen. She dreamt of an acting career but at the last moment she gave up on her theatre school exams. She did sing a few shows together with The Ślub, and you can also hear her on Tomasz Gwinciński’s album Klub Samotnych Serc Pułkownika Tesko (2008). This musician from the Tricity-area yass scene showed her equipment for adding vocal effects, which today Daga combines with other instruments, although she states that she is not able to play any. After assembling Dagadana she graduated from Studium Piosenkarskie im. Czesława Niemena in Poznań.
Mikołaj Pospieszalski graduated from a music high school (violin class) and the Krakow Music Academy. As a child he sung in the original line-up of Arka Noego (the first album A gu gu, released in 2000, sold an inconceivable one million copies). Another success in the 90s was a family project, Pospieszalscy’s Christmas Carols. ‘We still get together every year to sing carols,’ says Mikołaj. ‘I’ve been in different bands but Dagadana was the first one in which we did everything on our own account. We were focused to develop musically together. Before we noticed, we had four albums already.’
His father is Marcin Pospieszalski, a jazz bass player, composer, arranger and producer, and Lidia Pospieszalska, a jazz vocalist. Mikołaj, aside from playing with Dagadana, is also a composer. He is responsible for a few songs and TVP’s Łowca smoków theme tune, directed by Witold Gadowski. He plays double bass and violin in a Wilczy Ślad project – Piosenki Niezłomnych. For three years he has been a double bass player in the Bester Quartet, he also performed with 2TM2,3.
‘Everyone in the band is a Christian,’ Daga says. ‘Even during the most far-off travels we try to attend church on Sunday, even if it’s in China.’
We differ from each other in terms of character, but we are all sensitive to other people and beautiful music. We try to make use not only of the similarities but also the differences.
When I ask him to tell me about what the other members of the Pospieszalski clan from his generation do, he makes a list:
My cousin Basia sings wonderfully. She has a brother, Frank, who’s a great double bass jazz player. My cousin Łukasz, from the same line, who’s composing theatre music, finishes classes in classical piano in Wrocław. Marek, a sax player, who graduated together with me from the Music Academy in Krakow, performs in Wojtek Mazolewski’s Quintet. Szczepan, a trumpet player, writes theatre music and plays for the Prusinowski Trio among others, when the band performs as a… quartet or a quintet. My brother Nikodem is a drummer, he plays in the project Wilczy Ślad – Piosenki Niezłomnych and in our Kolędy. A wonderful musician. We also have a duo of cousins in the States who are a lot younger than me, who are still studying – one plays the violin, the other the piano. Paulina, that’s Pola, lives in London now. She battles people and corporations who abuse animals, but a few years ago she released a record.
It’s still only my close cousins we’re talking about, it’s all my dad’s brothers’ children. Dad had five brothers and three sisters. Other than him, Uncle Karol, Uncle Janek, who is partly a journalist and partly a musician, and Uncle Mateusz, they were doing music. There’s also Uncle Paweł, who has been living in Chicago for many years now and is active on the music scene. Of course not all of their children are in the music business.
Poland and Ukraine
Dagadana’s musicians are citizens of two neighbouring nations that have different visions of history. Daga recounts:
Grandpa told me that I should look out for Ukrainians because they’re nasty. [He was born in] Berezowica, near Ternopil. In childhood it’s those closest to you who shape your world view, but after that you gather experience on your own accord. I’ve experienced a lot of good from most Ukrainians. Most of the good things in my life arose from the fact that I met Dana.
According to Dana:
In Ukraine the war with Russia is still going on. The politicians manipulate people and we’re trying to cut off from that and coax to be alert. Not to react strongly, be wise and kind, to love one’s neighbour. That’s the most important commandment for us.
The Ukrainian artist has been living in Poland for a few years already. She says that she has never met with discrimination. ‘A few times people have told me some not very pleasant things. For example, recently one taxi driver was very grumpy about me being here,’ she remembers. ‘Although maybe it was not personally directed at me? But a moment later I was riding with a different taxi driver who was very content. In Ukraine you can also meet people who will dote you, but you’ll find dissatisfied ones too. Poles are very close to us, Ukrainians, and in the recent years they have shown us a lot of support: spiritual, financial, on all levels. Central European countries are more conscious of the dangers that might come from the east than others. Even not as a country but as particular families.’
In earlier times the band avoided political topics. That has changed. ‘In April 2014 we received an invitation from Robert Bosch’s Foundation based in Berlin,’ Daga says. ‘We were supposed to play two pieces, they chose them themselves – they were neutral, upbeat.’
When I understood the manipulation, the contract lost its meaning for me. In 2014 in Ukraine a revolution broke out. A week passed and the war started, excuse me, the annexation of Crimea happened. In Berlin an event dedicated to Ukraine and bilinguality, was organized, this problem is a subject of political manipulation. Instead of a happy song we sang Pływa kacza po tysyni, a song which became a symbol of people killed in Kiev. You could see the emotion in the audience.
We’re no longer a merry band that uses toys in the songs. We are maturing. We want to react to things that hurt us. If we have something to say, we don’t want to be silent. Sometimes one has to reject the rules in the name of truth.
Travel broadens the mind
Dagadana’s music is often subtle, delicate, and there’s a place in it not only for improvisation, but also for contributions from new musicians. When asked about it, the band replies that the possibility of ‘playing with someone new’ is the most valuable part of travel. That is how their collaboration with Hasibagen from Mongolia or Aiys Song from China came to be, and also with the Beijing-based band North Lab recorded on the album Meridian 68.
What about musical goals? With which musician in the world would they most like to play? The most surprising reply came from Mikołaj:
What counts is the ability to be in a band. I wouldn’t like to work with a musician who’s haughty in any way. I like to collaborate with anyone who’s a good person and is ready to bring their initiative and experience, and can teach me something. I don’t know what kind of people the musicians I listen to are. Besides, there are so many different styles… Perhaps a person completely unknown to me could prove to be a brilliant teacher and mentor?
Dagadana, whose musicians met during workshops, now runs workshops as well. Not only in Poland, for example, during a stay in China it became possible to organise workshops for children, who they learnt wesnianki (Ukrainian spring songs) and children songs from Poland. It was new to them – the melodies, the language and even the dances.
Records, prizes, concerts
Dagadana is not strictly a folk band, from the beginning they have performed both folk pieces (‘we wanted to share what’s good in our culture’) and original ones. ‘Folk music is in equal parts a source of inspiration for us as is jazz or classical,’ Dana explains. ‘We take from it only what moves us. But our aim is the promotion of our culture in the world.’
From the start, keyboards were a part of Dagadana’s sound, and also electronic ones, which is Daga’s specialty. For the debut record Maleńka (2010) Dagadana has won a Fryderyk, a prize awarded by the Polish music industry, in the category of the best folk/world music album. Their next album, Dlaczego nie (2011), was a more song-oriented continuation of the first one. In List do Ciebie (2014) the group used the poems of Janusz Różewicz, who was executed by a gestapo officer. And on their fourth release, Meridian 68 (2016), Ukrainian and Polish cultures were mixed with Chinese and Mongolian, musical guests from these countries performed.
The list of countries in which Dagadana has performed are: Algeria, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Moldovia, Morocco, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden and Ukraine. The band has also performed at festivals such as: Open’er in Gdynia, Przystanek Woodstock in Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Sound of the Xity in Beijing, World Music Shanghai in China, Festiwal Ludów Pustyni in Morocco, Virada Cultural in Sao Paulo and at Czech Bohemia Jazz Festival or United Islands Festival.
2008 – Wygadana EP
2010 – Maleńka
2011 – Dlaczego nie
2014 – List do Ciebie
2016 – Meridian 68
Jacek Świąder, September 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, September 2017.