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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 17, 2009
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Rooting for Roots
June 17, 2009   
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The Warsaw Village Band has been playing music inspired by Polish folk tunes for 12 years. This year the band received a Fryderyk, the most prestigious award in the Polish music industry, for its album Wymiksowanie (Upmixing) and released another album, Infinity. Since 2004, when the Warsaw Village Band won the prestigious BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music in the Newcomer category, it has given more concerts abroad than in Poland. For example, June 27 the group will perform at the famous Glastonbury music festival in Britain.

Piotr Gliński, who plays the baraban drum in the band, talks to Marcin Mierzejewski about the group's inspirations and the idea of returning to disappearing roots.

What is a baraban drum?
To put it simply, it's a big drum. In terms of percussion instruments, Polish folk music has used two kinds of drums: frame drums, including a popular small drum with jingles that resembles a tambourine, and big drums that may just as well be used in, say a firemen's orchestra, not necessarily in the countryside. And indeed, the instrument is sometimes called a fireman's drum, while people in the countryside call it baraban.

You perform at festivals alongside other world music stars. What distinguishes Polish bands from others?
Perhaps a combination of lyrical singing with a certain wildness. This seems most typical. If you listen to a Mazovian violinist, you may be shocked by the wild tunes he's playing. And on the other hand, you have very lyrical songs performed by village women that will hit you in the heart.

Did the band intend all along to return to roots?
That can be seen, for example, in the titles of our albums. Wiosna ludu (People's Spring) was intended as a reference to the struggle to encourage interest in our roots. We had the impression then that Poles are ashamed of their roots and music. When Latin American music became popular, we used a slogan for our concerts-"Not Cuban or Creole, but Polish."

In the countryside, you can still find traces of traditions that have disappeared from the cities. We wanted to remind people of them. However, the band was never interested in evoking tradition fully. We sought in it something that would be of interest to us so that we would be able to offer something new.

Is that true that you travel villages in search of authentic folk music?
These were the beginnings of the band- traveling across Mazovia, recording music on a recorder, meeting elderly people who might be missing most of their teeth but who can still remember how to play a wild oberek on the violin. We also visited producers of folk instruments. This is how we worked on the first two albums. Later, particularly with Wykorzenienie (Uprooting), we used the extensive Polish Radio archives, and later the excellent Muzyka Ľródeł (Music of the Roots) series with recordings from different regions of Poland. This is perfect material to use for a band like ours.

Which region of Poland is most important for the band?
Naturally, Mazovia is top of the list as we come from here. And it's easier to go on a bike trip with a voice recorder to Tarczyn [outside Warsaw] than to, say, Szczecin [several hundred kilometers away]. In our search, the Radom region had a special place, since it's rich in terms of folk art. For example, in the Rdzuchów village area, there are still several violinists who play authentic Polish trance music. This is unique. Our music also includes songs from the Kurpie region, a song from the Chełm area, and "Pada deszczyk" (It's Raining) song from the Suwałki area, one of our best known pieces. But in general, we focus on the Kurpie and Radom areas. You could say that the band plays the music of the lowlands; we do not take much interest in highlander music.

Is roots music dying out?
This is a fact, metaphorically and literally. Tradition is passing away with the older generation since no one in the countryside is interested in continuing it. For example, no one today is impressed by the fact that someone can play a unique stick-shaped violin. Meanwhile, for us, or for ethnographers or music experts, this is a very valuable skill.
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