To use their own words, the Warsaw Village Band (WVB) are barbarians. Their vibrant and unabashed playing style can be felt in every note, especially if you are lucky enough to catch them performing live. Not many groups can match the passion they bring to traditional Polish folk songs. The rambunctious performances they have brought to the stage over the past two decades have made them one of the most talked about bands in world music.
Birth of the Band
Established in 1997, the Warsaw Village Band started as a group of friends with a passion for traditional Polish music. After playing in local folk venues for many years, their international breakthrough came in 2002 when their album, People’s Spring (2001) was re-released by German record label, Jaro. It was received with unprecedented success in Germany and soon their fame spread throughout Europe, bringing Polish music to brand new audiences.
2004 proved to be the year that the Warsaw Village Band’s international reputation was secured, collecting the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in Europe and just falling short of an official Grammy nomination. They have, as of 2018, released five studio albums with an additional remix version of 2004’s “Wymiksowanie” released a few years later.
Bringing the Suka to Modern Audiences
The Warsaw Village Band have introduced several traditional instruments to their ensemble. The suka in particular is a instrument rarely played in contemporary music but has seen an increase in interest brought by exposure through WVB. Related to the Bulgarian galduka, the suka is played vertically, balanced on the knee or hung by a strap around the neck.
The suka reportedly disappeared entirely for almost a century and it’s said that all existing instruments are based on a single drawing exhibited in 1888. Reconstructions began in the late 20th century with reference to the Indian sarangi which shares the wide neck and certain playing techniques. The suka is played with an unusual ‘fingernail’ technique, involving stopping the strings at the side with the fingernails.
Another leading suka player, other than WVB’s Sylwia Swiatkowska, is Maria Pomianowska who has pioneered the resurrection the instrument. This once extinct instrument is set for a great future.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Warsaw Village Band’s sound is their use of white voice, an ancient ‘open throat’ singing style of Eastern Europe. The technique uses resonance within the pharynx to create the sound as opposed to the focus on controlling the sound through the shape of the mouth, which is typically of Western singing styles.
More recently WVB have collaborated with a range of world musicians and woven other traditions into their distinctly Polish sound. Contemporary folk is always in danger of contrivance. The Warsaw Village Band have consistently reinvented traditional music for modern audiences without ever resorting to lazy fusion. Creating an extraordinarily rich and original sound out of traditions so ancient is a feat, one which they achieve with an honesty and energy that warms the soul.
For more information about the Warsaw Village Band
Warsaw Village Band – Facebook Page
For more information about the suka
Suka – Polonia Music
Eastern Europe and the Gypsy Fiddle – Fiddling Around