Warsaw seems a long way away now! I’m in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia! I had a tumultuous train ride down from Krakow, thus bypassing Vienna and Prague, to surprise my lovely mama who was visiting the town for her birthday. Originally, I was going to take the train back up to Vienna but I want to cycle! So tomorrow I’ll head out to Rijeka in Croatia! (I’m desperately looking for contacts there!). After that I’ll slowly make my way down to Greece.
The last update from Warsaw is a special one! During my time there, I was invited to record a project called TerenNowy (which literally translates as NewLand). They are a band that have no songs and no definite line up. They improvise live ambient music with an always changing set of instruments! When I was there they had instruments ranging from Djembe to Dulcimers to Analog Synthesisers! It definitely was an interesting mixture! They performed in a very cosy café called HerbaThea (it was so nice, that I ended up spending the whole next day there working on recordings). To listen to the recordings I think you should chill out, maybe drink some tea and/or lie down (if you go for the ‘and’ be careful not spill your hot drink on yourself!) and open your ears!
On the first morning I spent in Warsaw, I set out with Doppler to go and explore the city. We had a nice ride through the old town, down to the Vistula river then back up and through the capital. After lunch, whilst cycling through a little road close to the central station we heard some music. As we progressed down the road we came across what looked like a nice little parc from where the music seemed to be coming from. We approached and found the parc to be fenced off but from there we could see two musicians and children dancing and playing around them.
So I stayed by the fence listening to the music. Turned out that what looked like a parc was actually part of a kindergarden which explained why the women looking after the children kept looking at me in a strange way… Anyways, the musicians finished playing, packed their stuff up and as they were walking out I went up to talk to them. The teachers, relieved to see I was after the musicians, finally smiled at me as I asked the duo if they wanted to record something for the project. They did.
They are from Hungary and were on their way to a small province in Russia to perform at a folk festival. They play traditional Hungarian dance music and had come into Warsaw for a few hours in between two flight just to visit. They’d been looking for a parc to sit down and play and, just like me, had thought the kindergarden was one. Luckily they were spontaneously invited to play for the children. The kids loved it and were jumping up and down fascinated by what they were hearing!
They were playing a large variety of tunes issued from the peasant folk tradition which in the 1970s resurfaced in popular culture. This revival is know as the Hungarian Dance House Mouvement. During the same period, many other cultures were exploring their folk cultural background but the Hungarian revival had a particularity as it also revived many traditional dances. (If you are interested in the movement I found this great article which is an cool read)
They performed their pieces on a Cobza (Koboz in Hungarian) and several different forms of Kavals and overtone flutes. Several centuries ago the Cobza was the poor mans luth and had spread from the Turkish empire across to central Europe. By the 20th century it had almost entirely disappeared and was only surviving in poor countries like Romania. With the folk revival of the 70s, it resurfaced through dance house music.
Anyways, this what I understood from our conversation and being frightened of talking nonsense I’ll let the music speak:
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…