Sounds Like Poland, Warsaw Cross Culture Festival, Varsavia, 25 Settembre 2013

Poland is a big country, with a complex history of expanding and shrinking borders and a wide spread of regional musical traditions of dance, song, fiddling, percussion, bagpiping, accordion playing and more. Some still survive in the villages, and young musicians and dancers from the cities have been seeking out and drawing on them, beginning gradually in the 1970s but now more than ever. Bands formed by some of these have already made an impact abroad - such as the Warsaw Village Band and the Janusz Prusinowski Trio. (The latter is central to Poland’s current boom in the dancing and playing of village mazurkas, and organises the All The World’s Mazurkas festival in Warsaw (www.festivalmazurki.pl). There’s much more to come. Not only is there an upsurge in interest in Poland for its native traditions, there’s also increasing enthusiasm for musics from other parts of the world, and the two phenomena are linked on the bills of the country’s two main world music festivals, Ethno Port at Zamek in Poznan (www.zamek.poznan.pl/news,en,237,1744.html) and Cross Culture in Warsaw (www.festival.warszawa.pl/1143_sounds_like_poland), which both feature leading names from across the world in concerts and workshops and encourage the developing Polish roots scene. 
This year the first day of the 9th Warsaw Cross Culture festival was devoted to Sounds Like Poland, an expo event for Polish-rooted music. There were daytime seminars from leading concert and festival programmers from abroad, followed by a big, expertly-staged evening concert showcasing just some of the Polish bands who weave music from various of these regional traditions into highly creative contemporary music. We – the international guests and a large, very attentive audience - saw impressive performances, unlike music from anywhere else: Karolina Cicha playing – simultaneously - accordion, keyboards and percussion to accompany her very attractive singing of catchy, highly melodic songs; quartet Kwadrofonik's stage-filling two grand pianos, huge marimba, vibraphone and other diverse percussion in exquisitely-judged music almost like an acoustic Kraftwerk; 
two different approaches to thrilling bowed strings in strong original compositions from string quintet Vołosi and the Atom String Quartet , and a set from Lublin’s Polish folk music pioneers Orkiestra św. Mikołaja (St Nicholas Orchestra, showing that 25 years hasn’t dulled their freshness or energy. All of these, and the aforementioned Warsaw Village Band and Prusinowski Trio, as well as many others including famous family fiddle band Trebunia Tutki from the Tatra highlands, Polish/Balkan band Čači Vorba, and singer Adam Strug, have featured over recent years in Polish Radio 2’s annual Nowa Tradycja festival (New Tradition, http://www2.polskieradio.pl/nowatradycja/). It gives awards for live performances and recordings reflecting the burgeoning creativity of Poland’s roots scene, and is well worth keeping an eye on for notable performers. 

Andrew Cronshaw