04 February 2011

Czesław Niemen

Czesław Nieman (muzyka.gery.pl)
Poland is getting some extra attention this week, thanks to my friend Paweł.  I guess when I posted an OSTR song ("Po drodze do nieba") on my Fbook wall, it inspired him to introduce me to some older Polish musicians. He introduced me Czesław Niemen, whose proper Christian name is Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki.  This musician couldn't be cooler if he tried.  He broke onto the scene in Communist 1960s Poland and upset good comrades by introducing rock and soul music to the repertoire.  He grew his hair long, wore super funky clothes, and embodied the general psychedelia Americans were very fond of at the time. 
In 1972, he wrote the song "Dziwny jest ten świat" ("Strange Is This World"), a very important protest song. While I am not so surprised a Polish musician musically protested, I find it fascinating that Poland really liked him at the time.  The Monks, a band of American GIs that performed in West Germany in the 1960s, were very experimental and ahead of their time, but hardly anyone paid them much mind.  Look them up, they're fantastic ("Monk Chant" is the best).  If the West didn't pay much attention to such experimental music, it's a bit surprising that Poland took a shining to Niemen, despite his apparent godliness. 

Naturally, I am all about Communist era history and while I was aware that communism had a very tenuous grasp on Poland, this just takes the cake.  I was reading in the book "Europe, Europe: Forays Into a Continent" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.  He writes that a Scandinavian correspondent stationed in Poland said, "The Russians long ago accepted the fact that socialism doesn't have a chance in Poland, and that they have to put up with the traditionalist, conservative, clerical neighbor.  They have accepted that freedom of opinion exists here to a degree that is unparalleled in the Eastern Bloc, including Hungary" (203).  The protests in Poland are what sparked the 1956 Revolution in Budapest, so this connects the cultural and historical dots.  Czesław is fascinating because he is so ahead of his time and almost light years ahead for the Eastern Bloc.

As my friend Paweł described him, Czesław is "a bit like Hendrix, like Freddy, like Pink Floyd...some of his songs are out of this world."  And I will no longer tease you with descriptions.  I'm including the lyrics to the song "Dziwny jest ten świat", thanks to Paweł's translation:

Strange is this world

gdzie jeszcze wciąż miesci się wiele zła

where still there is so much evil

i dziwne jest to że od tylu lat

and it is strange that for so many years

człowiekiem gardzi człowiek

man has had so much contempt for one another

Dziwny ten świat świat ludzkich spraw

Strange is this world of human affairs

czasem aż wstyd przyznać się

sometimes one is ashamed to admit it

a jednak często jest ze ktoś

but it happens often that somebody

słowem złym zabija tak jak nożem

with a bad word kills like with a knife

Lecz ludzi dobrej woli jest więcej

But there are more people with good intentions

i mocno wierzę w to że ten świat

and I strongly believe in it that this world

nie zginie dzięki nim

won’t perish thanks to them

nadszedł już czas najwyższy czas

it is the highest time

nienawiść zniszczyć w sobie

we destroyed hatred in ourselves




{Edit : I realize the embedded video no longer works. Visit this video instead for his televised performance.]

2 comments:

  1. Song "Dziwny jest ten swiat" was written somewhere between 1966 and 1967, and first recorded in 1967. It was a huge succes at the polish song festival in Opole and it had a huge impact afterwards. First version can be described as soul and you can trace some similarities do James Brown or Otis Redding style. '72 version is harder, stronger, jazzier one, recorded with differend band. And this version wasn't that popular, people didn't actually like the new sound of Niemen. But he didn't give up with his experiments leading him to i.e. "Katharsis", where he didn't sing and used only synthesizers. For further reading: http://culture.pl/en/artist/czeslaw-niemen

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  2. Thanks for the comment! The linked article is really great. He's a fascinating musician and person.

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