Not Folkin? Around -Part 1- An Interview with Wojciech Krzak of the Warsaw Village Band.
The Warsaw Village Band- Uprooting
After a recent sold out show in Krakow, Poland, we sat down with Wojciech, violinist (and chief anthropologist) for the Warsaw Village Band. For the uninitiated, the WVB is a traditional Roots or Folk band that blends traditional Mazovian (the region of Poland to which Warsaw belongs) Beats and instrumentation with Dub Rhythms, trance Grooves and Punk Rock Energy. As you might imagine, this postmodern amalgamation is truly infectious and wholly original. The groups efforts have not gone unnoticed either. In 2004 they were the recipients of the prestigious BBC World Music Award for Best Newcomers. Since the Bands inception they have been vociferously performing and touring: turning heads, raising eyebrows and inspiring hoedowns wherever they go.
MM: The WVB have toured a lot in the west. How do western audiences typically respond to your music?
WK: Well this is completely different than the reaction we had tonight [uproarious]. For them [western audiences] this is completely exotic music like from India or Pakistan or even Africa.
MM: Really, it?s that dramatic?
WK: Well of course in the States for example, there were lots of people who had Slavic, Jewish or Polish Roots etc. so some of them are from these areas. But first of all the American guys are amazed because we play on acoustic instruments and we play this like hard core trance-dance music and it was a shock to them that something like this could come from Poland.
MM: Now probably western audiences are more familiar with Balkan Folk. So do they tend to lump you together in the same sack?
WK: Yeah sometimes, especially because there are a few compilation CDs like Balkan Beats or something like that, which we are included on where we are heard beside Boban Marcovic and other groups. But even though our sound and the origins of our music are quite different, from the average listener?s perspective, it is Folk Music from the Eastern part of Europe.
MM: In your opinion, can you find something in common with all European Folk Music?
WK: Well I could find something that is universal for all World Music. But as for European, this is hard to say. The Polish Roots, this is something that is very specific because there are influences from the East, from the South and North. So this is kind of a conglomerate. We [WVB] are working with the music specifically from the Mazovia region. Historically this area was very closed and so the music was not so eclectic as other areas. So you can find Mazovian Folk Rhythms as far back as the Medieval Age.
MM: So what is it exactly that separates Mazovian Folk Music from other forms of European or even Polish Folk Music.
WK: Well in the States for example, people sometimes call it Barbarian?. [chuckles]. Well, this is because when you listen to old Mazovian musicians, the first thing you notice is that this is trance music. It?s played on Drum and Violin- this is music for dancing. One tune can be up to 30 or 40 minutes so the most important part is the trance.
MM: So is it just this trance element that sets Mazovian Folk apart from other types European Folk traditions?
WK: Sometimes when you listen to Music from the Eastern Part of Europe, you can hear lots of different voices singing in Harmony. But with Mazovian Folk it is just Shouting, its very simple, its not complicated. The most important part is to be in the music and the artistic side is not so important. When you listen to Balkan Folk you can hear many different harmonies and different tempos etc. Here the most important thing is to be involved or inside of this music. That?s why people call it Barbarian because it?s like?.
MM: It?s Battle Music.
WK: [Ha ha] something like this. It?s very rapturous and wrathful. This is very simple music but there is a lot of deep emotion in it. This music must be experienced live.
MM: In your opinion, is there a future for real Folk Music in Poland?
WK: To tell you the truth I don?t really like the word Folk because somehow for me it is connected with the American Bob Dylan, Joan Baez tradition or the British counterpart. Folk for me in Poland is a movement and I wouldn?t like to be too connected with this because we are trying to be eclectic. We are taking elements from other styles and putting them into our music. So when people say?. ?But this is Folk?? or ?You are Folk?, I think they ought to just Folk-Off. [general laughter and hysterics?]
MM: So then the next question would obviously be do you consider the Warsaw Village Band to be a Folk Band?
WK: I prefer World Music. I prefer to be part of the whole net of Music in the World. That?s why the BBC Award was so important for us. It was not for Folk Music but for World Music. This means that Polish music is part of the net of general Earth beat, or something like this.
MM: You are open about the fact that you search for inspiration in the villages of Mazovia. What do you think about the current condition of Music coming from there? Is it still alive or was it really replaced by all of this Disco Polo stuff.***
WK: The problem is that the Folk music, if you call it that, lets say from the 70?s or 80?s, was connected somehow with an unprofessional musical movement. It was connected with village musicians or guys just walking in the mountains. So this movement is still developing.
MM: So what about the type of musician who comes home after working in the fields all day, grabs his fiddle and plays?
WK: Nowadays you can find only a few people like this. So we can call this Roots and we only have a few actual Roots musicians remaining. But the Folk musicians, I mean the younger generation whose searching for some tunes etc. For them it?s a completely new discovery. We can make this separation between Roots musicians because there are only a few alive. But young generations especially at the beginning of the 90s, they started to search for this, they were also traveling to the villages, searching for tunes. And so we have lots of young bands, which are playing folk music from different parts of Poland. But this kind of movement, in Poland especially, still isn?t very professional. In Krakow for example, by contrast we have Kroke.**** We [WVB] are in the same stream as them. The music that both of us play belongs to more of a post-modern thing which I can?t say is too connected with Roots music.
MM: This is a sad question perhaps, but do you think that when the old Roots musicians die, this kind of music will be extinct?
WK: From a musical perspective, yes, I am quite sure it will be dead. However from an anthropological perspective, because I?m also an anthropologist, I can?t say that this culture, this musical tradition is completely disappearing, but rather it?s just changing.
MM: Changing into What?
WK: Disco Polo for instance. Yeah so this is the change. It is not alive in the same form lets say, but just different.
MM: So, do you think like in twenty years there will be some post-modern Disco Polo bands, doing what you guys are doing today?
WK: [Ha ha] You never know. We?ll have to wait and see.
For more information about the Warsaw Village Band log onto:
***Disco polo is a musical genre unique and native to Poland, which in its present form exists since the early 1990s. It was derived from contemporary folk tunes (mostly the vulgarized ones played at weddings and feasts, not to be mistaken with genuine folk music) and italo disco. The name itself was conceived by S?awomir Skr?ta from Blue Star as a replacement for an older term, piosenka chodnikowa ("sidewalk music").
Traditional instruments came to be replaced by keyboards in the '90s, which contributed to the slight changes in style, due to which the songs became more similar to modern dance music. The Polsat TV station extensively marketed the style, although it finally decreased in popularity in the late '90s, when foreign pop music gained esteem.
****Kroke-The band KROKE (Yiddish for Krakow) was formed in 1992 in Krakow, Poland by 3 lifelong friends and graduates of the Krakow Music Academy,Tomasz Lato (double bass), Tomasz Kukurba (viola) and Jerzy Bawo? (accordion). Though known primarily as a Klezmer Band, Kroke create and play original compositions employing authentic ornamentation, modes and scales from both Klezmer and Sephardic music resulting in a sound, which is both completely contemporary and distinctively Jewish.
Wikipedia Online Dictionary
Ziemowit Szczerek and T.M. Chase