Jacek Kleyff is a poet, composer, actor and painter. He was born on 1st August 1947 in Warsaw.
Bard, poeta, kompozytor, aktor i malarz.
He is the son of architect and academic lecturer Zygmunt Kleyff. In 1979, Jacek Kleyff graduated from the Warsaw University of Technology. Along with Michał Tarkowski and Janusz Weiss, Kleyff created Salon Niezależnych (Independent Salon). He was also a vocalist and musician in the band Orkiestra Na Zdrowie (Orchestra for Health). In 2006, Kleyff attempted to run for municipal commissioner of Warsaw as a member of the Gamonie i Krasnoludki (Losers and Leprechauns, trans. OT) party, without much success.
Jacek Kleyff is a legend of Polish music. In 1969, together with Janusz Weiss and Michał Tarkowski, he created the Salon Niezależnych cabaret. Over the six years of its existence Salon Niezależnych’s artists became extremely popular due to its intellectual style, which was preferred by audiences. The members of the cabaret had started playing a few years before. Jacek Kleyff recalled an amusing anecdote of how his friend Michał Tarkowski often practised by playing guitar in the bathroom.
Playing with Censorship: How Polish Artists Dealt with the Communist Regime
Salon Niezależnych was influenced by the defining moments of its generation, such as the 1968 Polish political crisis. A combination of international and domestic factors had given rise to a vicious anti-Semitic campaign which began a year before the crisis. Another factor of the social unrest was the cancellation of a Romantic play by Adam Mickiewicz – Forefathers’ Eve. The authorities claimed that the theatrical event contained Russophobic elements. Its cancellation triggered student protests and a violent response by the authorities. The ban of Forefathers’ Eve was followed by demonstrations which resulted in numerous police detentions.
The students protesting in 1968 were counting on help from factory workers from Żerań, as there were rumours that the workers would assist in the strikes. This help never came. Then, in December 1970, the students didn’t help the workers’ strike. It could be said that the communist regime first dealt with the protesting students and then separately crushed the striking workers. The situation changed in 1976 when the Workers’ Defense Committee was established to help those facing political repression. By 1980 it wasn’t possible to separate the two groups.
Polish Cabaret under the Communist Regime
Jacek Kleyff was a prominent activist during the events of the Polish 1968 political crisis. As such, he was a person of interest for the Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was interrogated in Mostowski Palace, as the Security Service wanted to get inside information from him about the student protests.
Salon Niezależnych was becoming more and more popular and due to this, it was mercilessly fought by the communist regime. Salon Niezależnych songs were created in contrast to the state propaganda. They were intelligent, ironic, and reflective. Kleyff and other projects by the artists of Salon Niezależnych were distinctively driven by their strong personalities. They were a group of determined, tough-minded individuals, who protested against communist oppression. They were perceived as the voice of a generation who hadn’t lived through the Second World War but still contested the state ideology.
In the Polish cabaret tradition, Salon Niezależnych was compared to Piwnica pod Baranami (The Cellar under the Rams) from Kraków. They were both similar to each other artistically and sometimes even collaborated on projects. According to Tadeusz Nyczer, author of a monograph on Salon Niezależnych, Kleyff was phenomenal. For him it seems quite obvious that without Kleyff’s songs there wouldn’t be a Salon Niezależnych cabaret, as he was one of a kind. Some said that Kleyff was often overlooked as he was connected to the student movements. He was also treated as part of Salon Niezależnych and not as a soloist. Additionally, Orkiestra Na Zdrowie was deemed as a niche band too, adding to his artistic marginalisation.
7 Polish Writers Banned by Censorship Under the Communist Regime
Kleyff has authored many unconventional songs which were hard to classify from the perspective of onstage performance. He wasn’t interested in gaining popularity and meeting ‘the right people’. There are also not that many people who sing his songs, outside of the so-called pop culture outsider Kuba Sienkiewicz. Perhaps his songs resonated best when performed by their author. On the other hand, due to the political repression that Salon Niezależnych faced, Kleyff was perceived as a controversial singer and wasn’t invited to perform on stage so as not to anger local authorities.
Additionally, he was part of student culture, which was quite alternative and did not have widespread popularity. Kleyff was also an erudite, and it showed in his lyrics; his songs were a generational code for selected listeners. Between 1975 and 1976 Kleyff signed the Letter of 59, an open letter signed by the Polish intelligentsia. The letter denounced the changes to the Polish Constitution, due to the new ideological clauses proclaiming an unbreakable alliance with the Soviet Union and the utmost importance of the party’s role in the nation.
From then on, Salon Niezależnych faced tough times. Kleyff tried to get into Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. There were only 12 places for 120 candidates. His application placed 12th in the rankings but with the same marks as a less political candidate, which is why he wasn’t accepted. At the same time, Salon Niezależnych’s Michał Tarkowski landed a place in Łódź Film School. Kleyff decided that he wanted to change himself before changing the world. He didn’t want to spread hatred, instead focusing on spirituality and meditation
The Story Behind the Experimental Music Haven that Escaped Communist Censorship
Kleyff had difficulties finding a satisfying job. Back in the days of Salon Niezależnych, Kleyff and Tarkowski, wrote extremely popular songs about absurd jobs, inspired by a book entitled Alfabetyczny i Systematyczny Słownik Zawodów (The Alphabetical and Systematic Dictionary of Work, trans. OT) The artists made fun of random and absurd jobs such as ‘intestiners’ and ‘gas dispensers’ but it seems they forgot about pine-tree arborists, which is the job Kleyff landed. Due to his political views, he was usually jobless and worked seasonally as an arborist. This job guaranteed Kleyff enough money to continue his artistic practice, as after the cabaret, Kleyff took up painting.
Between 1981 and 1985 he lived in the countryside near Lublin, where he started the band Orkiestra Na Zdrowie, which merged rock, folk, and reggae. At that time, Kleyff’s lyrics were a lot more contemplative and accepting, and alluded to Eastern spirituality.
On 5th December 1998, Salon Niezależnych staged a performance and in the autumn of 2003, after a 27 year-long break, the Salon Niezależnych’s artist wrote a play – Kino–Teatrzyk Jacka Kleyffa i Michała Tarkowskiego (Jacek Kleyff and Michał Tarkowski’s Movie-Theater). They also performed with Orkiestra na Zdrowie in the Warsaw Studio Theatre. From time to time, Jacek Kleyff hosts a radio programme on Polskie Radio III (Polish Radio Three). Currently, he lives with his wife near Warsaw and works as an arts teacher.
Grow Your Own Beetroot: Poland's Allotment Culture
Poland under communism
Originally written in Polish by Janusz R. Kowalczyk, compiled and translated to English by OT, Jul 2019
- 1983 – Dokąd To Obywatelu? (MC, CDN)
- 1985 – Jacek Kleyff– Live
- 1994 – Dziadki W Akwarium
- 1995 – Jest Los
- 1999 – Piosenki... Od Salonu Niezależnych Do Orkiestry Na Zdrowie
- 2004 – Już
- 2009 – Znaki
- 2009 – Jacek Kleyff & Orkiestra Na Zdrowie
- 2013 – Znalezienie