/ 9 April 2019

The Week of the Festival: Gdansk, Poland

Sounds of Kashubia

The Album Of and From the Forest

A land of fairy-tale woods, fragrant forest floors and deep lakes, Kashubia is also home to an amazing community of proud and loyal people, who were not daunted by the harsh climate, poor soils and, most importantly, violent twists and turns of history. Among the many markers of their cultural autonomy, the most important one has to be the language, alive and present in everyday lives. The intense, powerful sound of Kashubian is completely different from Polish.

I’ve known this place ever since I was a kid – and loved it ever since I can remember. Although I grew up in Gdańsk, which is a large city, and moved to Warsaw as a young man because of the music, I’ve always felt driven to the woods. After years of never-ending touring and hectic life in the capital, I escaped the city for good, for what turned out to be more than ten years. I moved to the forest.

Enchanted with the countryside, filled with a sense of freshness, I felt reborn. The state I was in logically led to a creative tribute to my new chosen one: Nature.

When I decided to make my first album about the region, I chose to bring the vivid Kashubian language to the foreground. I wanted to emphasise that Kashubian culture doesn’t have to be perceived only from the museum angle, as a reconstruction of old sources. Consequently, there are no references to folk culture in either the music or the lyrics. All stages of work on the record – composing, rehearsals, the recording and publishing process – took place in the Kashubian forest, my home. That’s why I could say with full conviction that the record, the music it contained, was ‘contemporary art from Kashubia’.

The album was released in 2007 to considerable enthusiasm. It was one of the first Polish productions in the ‘new tradition’ vein.Interestingly, praises and concert offers mostly reached me from other parts of Poland, not Kashubia.After a while, I realised that the locals could have somehow felt threatened by this media buzz around their ‘home’.

Subsequent years in the forest revealed a different face of the region. As I became more rooted in Nature, I also entered deeper in the local community. My uncritical fascination with the countryside began to give way to a rational gaze that took in the dark sides too. I recall this time as a moment of adjustment and building a solid, healthy balance. This is where the idea for the second album, Kaszebe II, came fromI decided to show the place as it really is. The land of fragrant forest floors, woods and lakes – forests overflowing with rubbish, run down by quads and covered up with billboards.The loyal, tough, hard-working and proud Kashubians – alcoholism, violence, ignorance, theft. The unique Kashubian language and craft – beer, sausage, barbecues and disco polo.

To make the record, I founded an ensemble of poets, writers, graphic artists and musicians. The key was obvious: we have to like each other and know Kashubia enough to be able to write and sing about it (like Dorota Masłowska and Tymon Tymański, for example).

The album was released in 2014 and again garnered considerable attention – also because it debunked the idyllic image of the Polish countryside. It turned out that even if something seems obvious, saying it out loud is still necessary and resonates with a lot of people. Three songs were additionally accompanied by video works. We played at major festivals throughout Poland and, like several years before with the first album, most of this activity took place outside of Kashubia. This time around, though, it’s easier to guess why.

By Olo Walicki (b. 1974) who is a double bass player, composer and producer. He has composed film scores and music for theatre and has more than a dozen records to his name.A founder of ensembles and initiator of art events, Walicki also works as a lecturer.He frequently collaborates with visual artists, dance theatres, actors and writers.

Article edited and commissioned by Versopolis' guest editor Ola Halicka.