by Lisa Adamowicz Kless
Like the kitschy t-shirts I see every year at Polish Fest in Milwaukee, I’m not afraid to advertise that I’m “Polish & Proud”. Despite the stereotypes and jokes, it’s an honor to have roots in a country and people who have routinely stared down adversity but stay strong. I have some like-minded friends of the same nationality, so when I clicked on a link that one of them posted online the other day, I happened upon the wonderful mishmash of traditional and modern music that is Kapela ze Wsi Warszawa (Warsaw Village Band). My first impression was: "Whoa--not my great-grandma’s folk music!" Intrigued, I kept looking up video clips, drawn in by the way they intertwine the past with present day, musically. They use traditional instruments like fiddles, drums, and of course, vocals, but then turn convention on its head by adding elements like a DJ on turntables and even reggae beats.
Doing a little research on the band on their website (http://www.warsawvillageband.net/), I found out that they’re friends who, when they first formed the group in 1997, went out to villages in Poland, learning traditional folk songs from the elders. After a few years on folk stages at home, they began their international career after the release of their second album. 2004 brought them a win for the prestigious BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in Europe, along with a Grammy nomination here in the US that same year. Since then, the band has kept busy, making more albums (“Uprooting”, “Infinity” and “Upmixing”, a collection of remixes). They’ve also been a presence on stages worldwide, touring over thirty countries on four continents.
Band member Wojtek Krzak says, “…We have still to fight for our identity…beauty and identity is still in the roots.” While purists could argue that mixing folk songs with modern devices destroys their integrity, I disagree. For people (not unlike me) whose exposure to traditional Polish folk tunes has been limited to polkas, this band opens up a new avenue to explore. Somehow, even though it’s not “her” folk music, I can picture my great-grandma with a big smile, getting out of her chair and dancing along. The spirit of the Polish people will always be rooted in beauty, and music was, and still is, a means to keep that alive.