Interview: Kapela Maliszów @ WOMAD (July 2015)

It’s raining, but we don’t care! The first full day of WOMAD got into full swing this Friday with the wide range of global music we’ve come to expect. The BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage played host to probably the youngest band member this year along with her family band Kapela Maliszów, made up of twelve year old Zuzanna Malisz (vocals and percussion), her sixteen year old brother Kacper (fiddle) and father Jan (‘cello and vocals). We caught up with them backstage after their gig to talk about the state of traditional music in Poland today.

We began by asking about the history of the band, and whether this was the band’s first time in the UK. Kacper spoke up first.

We’ve played at festivals in Germany, Belgium the Ukraine -and Poland of course – but this is our first time in the UK. Until three years ago we were playing in a group with a double bass player playing a mixture of Balkan, Polish and other European traditions, but we decided to focus on our own traditional Polish music because it is much closer to our hearts. The music we play is mostly dance music specific to the regions of central and southern Poland – mazurkas, polkas and other dance forms. We also play our own new music that is based on the traditional music.

Indeed this extraordinary music is from his father Jan’s rural childhood. Jan and his uncle would whistle the cows out to pasture on a willow whistle, his mother would sing at haymaking time and his brothers would play for weddings and village dances. But because that way of life doesn’t exist any more Jan is re-inventing the lost music of his youth with the help of his two children. Because the son and daughter are so young we asked how long they had been playing together before they started playing professionally. Kacper replied;

We always played together at home. My uncle is also a musician, my grandfather and his father were violinists so I’m carrying on that tradition. There was always music being played at home.

Zuzanna chips in about how she came to be the band’s percussionist.

I started to learn the drum rhythms from a recording we got at a Polish music festival in Warsaw. I listened to the CD over and over again. I’m self-taught. Since then I’ve listened to many old drummers on recordings and copied bits of their style. The music has to be in a certain rhythm, but there’s room for improvisation to add some groove to the sound and to be individualistic. I also know the dances.

We asked what sort of events this music is traditionally played at and whether there traditional music is popular in their region. Father Jan responded by describing the state of traditional music in Poland at the moment.

Not many people play this music any more. Really we’re the only ones in Poland trying to keep this music alive. It was rural music – the music of the villages for weddings, dances or small parties once or twice a week. Nowadays some younger people in their twenties are starting to take an interest, but they tend to be from the urban areas, and it is sad but village people only use pop music at weddings now. There is a movement in Poland to get people learning to dance the traditional way. There are two events during the year where people can come together to learn the dances and go to concerts of traditional music. We are reviving mazurkas that were once so popular in our region, but because they’ve almost died out we are creating new ones in the style. That’s why I’m teaching my children, so they can use our rich heritage as inspiration.

We asked twelve year old Zuzanna whether her friends back home were into the music. Is she starting a trend?

Well no, not really. They prefer pop music, but now they can see I’ve recorded an album and been on the radio, and now I’m going abroad to do shows so they’re a bit more interested!

Kacper adds:

There is also the Ethno organisation where young people from all over the place come together to learn about one another’s folk traditions. That mean we don’t feel like we’re the only ones playing traditional music. You meet young people from many different countries doing a similar thing.

It is worth saying here that Ethno is a program that was set up by Belgian organisation Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) for young folk musicians. They have summer gatherings in many countries including Uganda and some touring projects for smaller ensembles. Young folk musicians can meet to teach each other traditional music from their cultures.

Finally the trio hand over a gift of their album Mazurki Niepojete, a fantastic collection of well-recorded songs and dances played with great skill by these intrepid youngsters under the guidance of their father. We hope that in ten years time there will be many more groups such as Kapela Maliszów bringing the wonderful folk music of Poland back to life.