Warsaw Village Band
World Village Music
kay, here’s the situation. Warsaw Village Band does traditional Polish folk songs in an avant-garde style, with chanted grrl-punk vocals and modern production techniques and tribal drums and Kronos Quartet-style strings. If this doesn’t make you sit bolt-upright in your chair and sweat…well, then join the club. I was skeptical too.
But it’s really good, I swear it is. There’s an energy and drive in Eastern Europe now that cannot really be matched in most places in the world, a kitchen-sink mentality coupled with respect for the music that Nana still cranks up at parties. And this band partakes fully in that aesthetic, hurling themselves simultaneously into the past and into the future at the same time on some crazy A Wrinkle in Time tip.
Let’s take the wonderfully named song “Matthew.” This is an old work song, say the liner notes, detailing “erotic adventures of the main character Mateusz.” What it sounds like here, though, is something completely different, some kind of violent rondelay by the three female singers, punctuated by the rhythmic scrapings of Wojtek Krzak’s violin and the occasional drum hit. It is pretty far removed from the ancient Polish harvest, and sounds much more like #1 in outer space. So, obviously, it’s genius.
Or take “The Owl.” Originally, this was a song about an owl warning some girl to not be taken in by a smooth-talkin’ guy; now, it’s more like a psychotic hoedown in 5/4 time meant to showcase the sexy voice of cellist Maja Kleszcz and the way artistic tension and drama can be created by human beings just by how they saw and beat on things. In both versions, however, the girl ends up getting knocked up and left, so maybe there’s no difference between then and now anyway.
Mostly, it seems to be the three women who lead this band—Kleszcz and multi-instrumentalists Sylwia Swiatkowska and Magdalena Sobczak—but one of the best songs here is an original written by Krzak, “When Johnny Went to Fight in the War.” It’s got a bop feel in the walking bass and the vibe hits, but the three singers find a whole new way to construct post-rock eeriness. Add in some martial drums from bandmember Piotr Glinski and guest turntablism from someone named FeelX and you have a very strange and wonderful new paradigm for where world music could go if it got the stick out of its ass.
I’d tell you more about the pro-worker “I’ve Slayed the Rye” or the very sexy “Fishie,” but I want you to discover them for yourself. Take a flyer on Warsaw Village Band—I think they’re going to be with us for a long time.
Reviewed by: Matt Cibula
Reviewed on: 2005-03-30