Modern and archaic at the same time. Bands playing Polish folk music search for new inspirations and create a specific update of the old songs in order to smuggle them for the young generations. Neofolk or contemporary Polish ethnic music draws from many sources so it’s pretty hard to define a genre. In this post, I will show you 10 bands playing Polish ethnic music and world music which put new light on traditional songs.
Polish folk music
It was while the communism was about to collapse, when Polish alternative music exploded. People longing freedom needed change in every stage of life. There were many bands playing underground about reality they have to face every day. If you want to explore more Polish rock music during these difficult times, jump to my previous post, about Polish Protest Bands.
After communism, in 90’s globalisation opened Polish borders, shouted through media about pop culture from the west. In the global village the boundaries of culture started to blur. It was when world music genre developed in Poland, taking inspirations from Slavic music as well as the Balkans, Scandinavian and many other destinations. The world without war made a specific agreement in between the countries and bands started to mix Polish ethnic music with sounds from all around the world.
Cultural exchange, pop culture, consumerism as well as overwhelming plastic made society want to come back to the roots. Recalling the heritage and preserving it from being forgotten in the age of globalisation, started to be necessary. Fed up with pop stars with perfect bodies and corrected faces, people searched for minimalism and authentic experiences. Sounds of nature and hand made instruments started to be attractive again, when people got overwhelmed with artificial sounds.
Coming back to the roots and remembering heritage of our ancestors is beautiful, yet tough. Society dominated with pop culture doesn’t want to listen old ladies lamenting polish folk music in their old dresses. They want something more, experiments which would connect contemporary music with Polish folk, world music with punk rock and Slavic songs with jazz. Is that even possible? How this experiment works in Poland?
10 the most original polish folk bands
In my slow life, I love to have time for some good music, especially, when accompanied with a cup of tea. That being said, I appreciate all the bands which carry on the heritage of the past and try to preserve polish traditional songs for the future. I prepared a list of bands playing Polish ethnic music and world music in extraordinary way. I hope you will fall in love with folk music from Poland!
Dikanda – mix of cultures
What if you don’t understand and cannot translate the lyrics because they are in abstract, non-existent language? Since music is filled with energy and joy, does it really matter? This is what characterizes the band Dikanda, one of my favorite bands in Polish folk music genre. The group is super vivid, drawing inspiration from many parts of the world and lyrics are often in their own language – dikandish.
The name of the band was spontaneous and was not supposed to mean anything. After some time it turned out that Dikanda means FAMILY in the language of one of the African tribes. Destiny?
Music of Dikanda is in general inspired by the world music mostly from the Balkans, Israel, Kurdistan, Belarus and India. These are traditional songs in new, dikandish arrangements still keeping the folk ambient. You can hear a bit of jazz or klezmer music, as their style is a mish-mash. Their music accompanies energy and charisma, especially during the life concerts. A piece in dikandish:
Sutari – theater performers inspired by folk music
Three young vocalists took over my heart which is beating stronger with folk and Polish ethnic music having original style. The unusual sounds of typical folk songs from Poland or Lithuania as well as their own folk-inspired songs make Sutari unique and worth discovering. Besides, beautiful voices, Slavic beauty, creative theatrical experiments, all this merges into one inspiring image. The artists interweave folk songs with unusual bird sounds, screams, even experimenting with the use of traditional instruments. The trio brings out contemporary interpretations of traditional songs, maintaining the original rhythm, giving new life to simple rustic songs.
They describe themselves as “kitchen avant-garde”. Girls use basic kitchen items like bottles, wooden spoons, water bowls, graters, mixers, keys as instruments. It’s incredible that they are able to make music out of anything! They explain that this idea tells the story of their ancestors, reminiscent of the tradition of singing together while peeling potatoes or while working in the field, because singing was accompaniment of daily work. Songs refer to what was important 100 or 200 years ago: injustice, first love or unhappy infatuation.
Girls sometimes seem to sing with one voice, as if the audience doesn’t know which one is singing at a time. They feel good together on the stage and their voices make a great compose. “We are like a tightly knit braid, like a fabric”, explains one of the artists. The word “sutari” means the consonant sound. It comes from the Polish – Lithuanian songs called “sutartines“. These are polyphonic songs sang mostly by women. Each of them sings with a different sensibility, interwoven into a whole.
Hańba! – the village rebels
Another great performers are four Cracovian musicians from the band Hańba!, which means disgrace. They created a story that punk rock originated not in UK but in interwar Poland. The band is a musical fiction, a time-vehicle which transfers listeners and Time Travel Bee back to the tumultuous times of the Second Polish Republic. Period marked by extraordinary cultural and economic growth, but also time of destroying democracy, the authoritarian rule of Sanation and its imperialist aspirations.
As an expression of rebellion Hańba! is the voice of people, the heroes of democracy. Musicians armed with traditional Polish instruments shout out the words of the most famous interwar poets (Tuwim, Brzechwa, Broniewski). They come down to the streets singing about people, for the people. Hańba! screams about corruption, violence and iniquity of interwar Poland.
All these with connecting punk rock with polish folk music as well as klezmer to fit even more into this period of Polish history. Members of Hańba! previously played in various folk, punk, metal, indie-rock, and even electronic bands what reflects the mixture of styles they represent. The instruments of the street among others: banjo, accordion, tube and comb are combined with simple, energetic punk rock. In addition, vintage style clothes, flat caps and scenic expression make their performances worth seeing.
I would like to draw your attention to one instrumental band, which fascinates me for a long time. Thanks to their original music, band is appreciated not only in Poland, but also in many countries around the world. Kroke – a band from Krakow, which was initially associated with Klezmer music. Indeed, in Yiddish language Kroke means Krakow. However, the artists admit that they were still looking for something new. They started to add elements of Balkan music, jazz and ethnic music to their playing. In this way, their own style floats across the genres.
Enchanted by the KROKE concert Steven Spielberg, invited the band to Jerusalem for a performance during the Survivors Reunion ceremony. Thanks to Peter Gabriel, the group was sent to the UK for the WOMAD Festival. The song The Secrets of The Life Tree, performed by KROKE, is on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s film Inland Empire. The meeting between KROKE and Nigel Kennedy culminated in a joint work entitled: East Meets East. In recent years the band appeared at the most prestigious music festivals in the world. Below concert from the Etno Krakow Festival, the biggest ethnic music festival in Europe.
Dagadana – bending culture of Poland and Ukraine
A quartet which blends cultures of Poland and Ukraine showing the differences as well as similarities. The band mixes polish folk and modern genres such as electronic music or jazz. They research about the old, nearly forgotten songs and give them new life. Respecting the heritage of ancestors, they give tribute to the past and try to adapt to the modern audience with new arrangements. From Dagadana, I chose and old traditional song from Kurpie region:
Not to mention Ukrainian bands from Kiev, I wrote about before. Something really unique to watch and hear for sure.
Village Kollectiv – a positive mess
Village collective is a brave version of Polish folk songs, which got totally modern sound. Adding electo dub oraz drum&bass makes it a very interesting connection to listen. I am not a big fan of electronic music but Polish folk music in this happy rhythm sound really cool and I have to admit I listened to that album over and over. I think it’s because first of all the songs are quite hypnotising and secondly, they use real traditional instruments in connection with computer sounds of electronic music which makes an interesting merge.
Laboratorium Pieśni – songs from the forest
A group of Polish girls singing folk songs a capella or with shaman drums transferred me to the fairy tale forest. Even though, the band is not within a pagan folk genre, they do create this mistic atmosphere of medieval times full of fairies, witches and Slavic Gods. Their style, clothes, videos shooting outdoor in a beautiful natural surrounding. All connects perfectly with Polish ethnic music as well as Slavic songs or inspirations from Scandinavia. Laboratorium Pieśni means simply songs laboratory as they give the new light to the old songs. My favorite folk song in their realization is a Belorussian “Што й па мору” meaning “On the sea”.
Księżyc – mysterious story
Księżyc means the Moon in Polish, and the name of the band suits their mysterious music accompanied with woman voices. Listening to their first album from 90′ I felt agitation. The songs were psychedelic, full of mystery, crazy creaming and church voices. If I would listen it when I ate magic mushrooms, I would be freaking out. You will not hear polish folk songs in new arrangements, but totally new compositions inspired by folk, pagan sounds and contemporary music. The band is definitely interesting formation. In 90′ they performed in churches or abandoned places far from the regular concert areas, to connect specific ambient of the place with their music.
Unfortunately, shortly after realising the first album, they stopped to perform. Some of the band members moved away, some started to do something else than music. I read that Anna and Remigiusz did a research in ethnomusicology, trying to find old musicians and preserve melodies before they die. That’s beautiful!
Apparently, the first album of Księżyc from 90′ started to be more and more popular on YouTube and the band collected a huge number of fans. There was no other way to appreciate it, rather than reactivation of Księżyc. In 2014 the band came up with a new album “Rabbit Eclipse”, more trans and experimental but still unique.
Żywiołak – psychedelic experiment
I think this band is the most famous from all mentioned here. Żywiołak mixes folk with garage punk rock in a way not many could do. Adding psychedelic voices and pagan legends ends up with their own unique style. It started in 2005 and quickly became one of the leaders of Polish folk music as well as spectacle on the rock festivals. People love how they connect Slavic songs with rock music and even poetry of famous Polish writers.
Name of the band depicts żywiołaki – fantastic creatures identified with the elements: earth, fire, air and water. Their music is full of energy as the elements themselves, and fits perfectly to their psychedelic ambient.
Beltaine – Celtic music
Lastly, I introduce Polish band which differs from all the other on this list, as they don’t play Polish ethnic music. Instead, they admire musical heritage of Ireland, Scotland and Britanny. Musicians play Celtic music on a quality appreciated in many countries. Energetic rhythm is so positive. Highly recommended to listen to some of their songs.
Summing up, of course this list is not all what ethnic music from Poland has to offer. These are my favorite Polish folk bands that literally throw tradition out of the box trying to adapt to the modern times. Do you think connecting ethnic music with a contemporary sound is a good way of preserving musical heritage? Or it’s better to don’t look for an update and carry the musical heritage exactly how it was? Leave your thoughts in the comments, if you wish.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.
I have never heard Polish folk music and would love to see a band playing it live! Its interesting to read about Polish alternate music that came up during communism and that the people felt the need for it because they needed change, with the freedom. I find the music of Księżyc quite intriguing!
This seriously increased my knowledge on Polish folk music! Thanks a lot for putting this together, and letting me get a sense of what it’s all about!
I think it’s better to not update and just carry the Polish musical heritage exactly how it is. Preserve the original, it’s what makes it unique. 😉
It was really fun to learn about the original Polish folk bands through your post. I love listening to music and I find coming across locals singing folk songs so charming – it’s an amazing way to experience the culture during the travels. As you mentioned, even if one cannot understand the lyrics, it doesn’t really matter as music brings so much joy. I really like the performance by Sutari – their Polish ethnic music sung in their own original style is amazing.
Honestly, I have never any Polish music before but this article gives me a good idea of how it might be. It was so interesting to learn that Polish needed some change after the communism ended as it is true for most of the European countries. I personally got really fascinated by Sutari and I would definitely give it a chance for my next Poland trip.
Wow, I must say that you have an amazing list of folk bands here. This kind of music isn’t that popular to where I live, but I find it really interesting. Perhaps, the Polish folk music is something I should have to listen to in the coming days. I guess, it’s been long already since the last time I listen to a folk song. I miss the old days. Thank you so much for sharing this, and would be happy to hear more about it as well.