Zakopower have had one of the most brilliant careers in Polish music of recent years. All of their albums have achieved Gold status, and Boso even went triple Platinum.
Band with one of the most brilliant careers in Polish music of recent years.
Zakopower first achieved success a few years after the boom in Polish folk music. At the beginning of the 21st century, the most popular music on Polish radio and television fused folk elements into simple tunes, for better or for worse. In the underground music scene, the bands that linked tradition with a modern approach to music arrangement flourished and began to cooperate with representatives of cultures other than that of Poland. Groups such as the Warsaw Village Band had not yet emerged.
Zakopower was something else entirely when they debuted in 2005. They were accepted by the Polish mainstream even though the band doesn’t cater to the masses, or pretend to defend traditional music. Their music links folklore with the aesthetics of rock. This combination can be milked for years, which makes it admirable that Zakopower doesn’t linger in one place for too long. In their piece Droplet from the album Boso, they successfully manage to integrate elements of pop. Zakopower also integrates elements of jazz and African music and are often inspired by reggae and ska.
Sebastian Karpiel-Bułecka, the violinist and founder of the group, said in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza that:
Pure highland folklore can still be heard in Podhale, maybe at a funeral, in church or at a pub. But once it is mixed with other styles then it becomes folk. It has been changed. We do something completely different – we compose on a different scale, sometimes we sing in a dialect, but we have kept the highland mannerisms and spirit.
Karpiel-Bułecka’s group manages to balance the slightly grandiose style of rock with the melancholic tunes of Podhale without making the songs sound unnatural or insincere. This isn’t something often achieved by artists trying to do justice to musical tradition while attempting to break through to the masses.
ZAKOPOWER - Boso (official music video) from Dominika Podczaska on Vimeo.
Sebastian Karpiel-Bułecka was born in Kraków in 1976, but he hails from Kościelisko, where he grew up. He enjoys hiking and extreme skiing in the Tatra mountains. Although he is an architect by training, he sings, plays the violin, the Podhale bagpipes and the Slovak flute.
He is accompanied by Bartek Kudasik (vocals, viola); Wojciech Topa (vocals, violin), Józef Chyc-Scepon (vocals, Podhale fiddle bass), Piotr ’Falko‘ Rychlec (keyboard), Łukasz Moskal (vocals, percussion), Tomek ‘Serek’ Krawczyk (electric guitar), Michał Trąbski (bass guitar) and Dominik Trębski (trumpet). The latter are professionals who have worked together with Fisz and Emade, Kasia Nosowska, Mela Koteluk and Maria Peszek, among others. Bartłomiej Kuraś wrote about the first three in his 2005 report ‘Dzisiok my som trendy‘ for Gazeta Wyborcza:
Although they won the premier concerts at Opole and the TOPtrendy festival in Sopot, they still say that nothing has changed. Józek Chyc (55 back then) still rents out rooms in the Tatras and practices highland woodwork. Bartek Kudasik is the leader if the Communal Cultural Centre in Biały Dunajec. Wojtek Topa crafts violins which are sought by the greatest virtuosi. And Sebastian Karpiel-Bułecka sketches architectural designs.
Even before their debut, the members of Zakopower had recorded with the pop singer Kayah and Goran Bregović. When they decided to work on their own, they had the lyrics but not the compositions. They didn’t want to make traditional pieces, they wanted something new. They were helped by Mateusz Pospieszalski (with whom they had worked with for the past ten years).
Their debut album Music hal was the first of their series of golden records. It was nominated for a Fryderyk award in six categories. However, they didn’t manage to get an award until their second album Na siedem, which won album of the year in the category Ethno/Folk. This album included songs featuring the English violinist Nigel Kennedy. He compared what Zakopower did for highland music to what The Pogues did for Irish music. The lyrics to the album Na siedem were written by Kayah, Adam Nowak from Raz Dwa Trzy and Rafał Bryndal, among others.
After their latest album Boso, Zakopower were finally awarded the Fryderyk for song of the year, group of the year and album of the year in the category of folk/world music. Karpiel-Bułecka even won the Viva! Najpiękniejsi contest for the most attractive celebrities in 2008. Their artistic successes include concerts at the closing of the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and at the Hungarian Sziget festival.
In 2012, Karpiel-Bułecka and the soprano Aleksandra Kurczak recorded a selection of Christmas carols, the first album ever in Poland with the Decca Classics logo (Kurczak had a contract with this label). A year later, Zakopower achieved commercial success with a similar album. Richly-orchestrated Christmas carols contrasted with more minimalistic pastorales. The vocalist and violinist said:
These folk pastorales have always been played in the Podhale. This is completely natural for us. We played them in a quartet, with the same arrangement that we used even 15 years before the formation of Zakopower.
The artist is still involved with this music but he separates it from Zakopower. Karpiel-Bułecka’s folk interests are represented by his Sebastian Karpiel-Bułecka Band.
- 2005 – Music hal
- 2007 – Na siedem
- 2011 – Boso
- 2013 – Kolędowo
- 2015 – Drugie pół
Author: Jacek Świąder, June 2014, Translated by: Alexander Sikorski