Traditional Polish singing from the sewer to the bedroom.

In Warsaw I was staying with Anastazja Bernad and her sister Zosia. I arrived by train and Anastazja picked me up from the station with her bike. She showed another cyclist I met on the train the way out of the station and then we took of into the busy street of the capital of Poland. The cycle ride that followed my arrival felt fantastically crazy: we raced down big streets lit up by neons and headlights, zig zagging through cars on roads not designed for bicycles – Anastazja and a friend in front, then me trying to keep up with my heavy bags and excitement. We finally got to her appartement not far from the football stadium where a couples of days later I was to see a horde of fans march back up into the center.

Upon arrival I didn’t realise that Anastazja sang or that she lived with her sister who’s also a singer – I was staying with her as she was friend of a friend. I discovered her beautiful and powerful voice in some sort of tunnel used for draining overflow from the city’s sewers into the Vistula river (the longest river in Poland flowing through several major cities). You might be wandering what we were doing in such an unappealing place? The answer is quite obvious – we were looking for interesting acoustic spaces! and this tunnel most certainly was one! It had a really cool complex reverb. It started with the usual diffuse reverb as the sound bounced around and, down the oval shaped structure, then it seemed to hit something in the far distance creating a distinct echo a few seconds after the initial impulse. Finally, the vibrations seemed to travel back up through the walls creating some weird wooshy sound! very weird. Also, this tunnel has a particular historical background as it was used by the Polish resistance during the Warsaw uprise in 1944-1945. It allowed them to access the old town from the river banks!

These traditional songs have different origins. For many of them, the melodies are older that the words and are written for rituals, ceremonies or are love songs. Unfortunately, Anastazja didn’t have much time to explain to me what each song meant or tell me much about this traditional music – after getting too excited by the reverb she was late for work! Most of what she told me was exchanged during a cycle ride going from the sewers back up into the periphery of the old town and across to her workplace. She told me that the songs she sang were mostly of the later category and were often about men leaving their pregnant women…

Zosia is also a singer of traditional Polish music. We recorded in a less exciting location, Anastazja’s bedroom, but had a little more time to talk about the meaning of the songs. She sang three songs and this is what they’re about:

Siwy Koniu is about a man talking to his horse asking it to leed him to his woman. He gets to her and asks her to come with him, she refuses because people from the village are talking about them. He answer that he doesn’t care what anyone is saying about them because he loves her (in the song he calls her ‘my rose’)

– Ktòrztam po kumorze is about a girl going to get married and is talking to the voice of her dead mother. The girl asks for her mother’s blessing but the mother’s voice answers that she can’t give it to her because of three locks imprisoning her: the Wood from the coffin, the Sand/Earth and the green Grass. 

– Nie jadzty do mnie is a women pleading her boyfriend to no come to her because she has another love. The man thinks she is so beautiful and can’t resist. The women then prays for the mountains and the plains to level so she can get to her love…

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