Modes & Codes Making of

The Crop

The melody was overheard at a harvest festival that we played at in 2013. The words come from a book source on “peculiar oral folklore”. They tell anecdotic descriptions of people and situations in some village. It can be guessed that they were made up by an inhabitant of that village for the local audience to create a sympathetic but funny collective portrait of local community. For example there is a passage about Ms Jadzia who is so “humble that she even does not have bad dreams” and another one about a pot tinker who was supposed to mend a broken heart with wire (as they did with pots) but “he had fallen in love before he managed to mend it”.



Hosadyna means as much as hi-de-ho although in Polish it sounds much less obvious than it means. Anyway, it is a well-known traditional pop hit. It tells a very blues-like story of a boy whom parents refused their daughter. Somewhere in cultural hyperspace a village boy from Kraków region and a Negro from the South met in a roadside inn. After a few glasses the boy begins to tell his story. The idea to repeat obsessively only the first stanza of the original song without finishing it is the outcome of this encounter. It is like bluesmen often do: “Man, I' am coming down from Kraków to far-away, foreign lands, 'cause they didn't wanna give me… 'cause they didn't wanna give me…  'cause they didn't wanna give me…  my beloved Mary”. Such an echolalia reflects emotions much better than the narrative Polish full version.



This song was the first one edited in our new repertoire. We began from the most well-known traditional folk standard often sung at family parties when people are already in a good mood. Mazureczek is a diminutive of a name we call inhabitants of Mazury region in north-east part of Poland: “Mazureczek is coming, coming, and my wreath is carrying, carrying, a rose!… rosemary one!”. Something like that. We looped the first phrases, went from major to minor, and from triple to simple meter. In this way there appeared a completely different mood. We found it in a different song text about a mother killing her child, which is a popular traditional theme and at that time was also a popular topic in the media.



The story of this song began with a well-worn refrain associated widely with Mazowsze (Masovia) folk song and dance ensemble. We took only two verses from it: Mother is asleep, father is asleep… when he wakes up he will be angry”, and put them away for some time like leavening in pastry. Why will he be angry? What is happening out there? The answer was brought by a compilation of themes catalogued by ethnographers as “Seducer of numerous lovers kills a girl”. But we added that his real aim was getting money, i.e. food, which we expressed in a word play: Kasia-kasa-kasza. It translates as Kathy-cash-groats so as a word play in English it may be Kate-cash-corn. Additional dramatic sense comes from the fact that the melody of the song was inspired by an old wedding song “Śrataj mnie mamuniu” (“Bless me Mummy”) from Lublin Region. As a warning.



Krakowiak is a popular Polish folk dance which everybody in Poland associates with a refrain “Laj, koniku, laj" well-know from kindergarten. Lajkonik (laj-little-horse, where “laj” is just a form of „lah”) is a figure of a horse rider (a bearded man with a horse body attached to his waist). It probably refers to Tatars' onslaughts on the region of Kraków in the 13th c. We picked up one of such krakowiaks with a story of three lads who visited one girl. Two of them feasted and one made love to her. At one of our rehearsals we played the main melody not with the cords CG but CB. It sounded Swedish but the whole was still too banal until we found a different version of the story as if retold from man's point of view. Thanks to it we could make a dialogue between both: female version (romantic and idealistic) and the male one (mundane and realistic) according to which the lover poops out on the girl. If so, the refrain “Laj, koniku, laj” can be interpreted as a partial transliteration of “Lie, little horse, lie”.



Maciek is a Polish male name. It would be difficult to find a more clichéd Polish folk motif: “Maciek has gone, he is lying on a plank, if they played music to him, he would dance anyway” (in Polish it rhymes). Ethnographers call this theme "Death of a drunkard”: our mate died, who will entertain us and treat us with vodka? Many layers of inspiration overlap in our interpretation of this song. They transformed under high pressure and temperature of our rehearsals as metamorphic rocks. The catalyst of the accompaniment was a hand made guitar that harmonised at the 12th fret which is not usual with guitars. It made our guitar player so happy that he played E cord – which is that strongest for a guitar – on the 1st and 12th fret on and on. Spoken stanzas with the choir repetition are inspired by a recording of an original funeral song and the solo vocal “o dede, o boga” is an interpretation of a unique archival recording with a sung version of an oberek dance. Here it fits the context as a kind of merry lamentation.



Oberek is a Polish dance in triple meter. In its more or less original form it is played at the beginning. The text is about so-called “the world up-side-down”. It is a popular theme of children's rhymes but was used also in the Beatles' “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”. The hero of such songs in the Polish folklore is usually a young man called Kusy Janek (John Short?). But we found yet another version with an „old grandfather” who walked with an axe, used a walking stick as a waist belt and a bag as a walking stick. That let us leap from oberka to balladi rhythm, as if we moved many years later when Kusy Janek is an old man. Not only did he change but also his musical world and the world in general.


A Song from Roman Kumłyk

A song from our master of Ukrainian music Roman Kumłyk, who died in 2014. It has a very interesting text. Young bachelors ask a married man if they are to marry and if so how to choose the right woman. He answers that marriage is not like picking a pear which we can throw away. If your wife is “distasteful”, you are done. Therefore he discourages them from marring a woman who likes to giggle (has too many friends), is a noble person (constantly entertains herself), is from the city (does not like countryside), a widow (mentions her former husband too often), a divorced woman (threatens with another divorce). The best thing is to marry a woman who is angry and unfriendly because she stays at home and sees to her work. In the long run it is the best idea. The refrain is a quotation from a completely different story, a Polish comedy on World War Two. It is not connected with the above topics, it is simply well-known among fans of old Polish films: “Come here, come here, we need you”. We used it because in the above context it sounds like a siren's calling of all the nubile young women waiting for the verdict.


A Jew

It is probably the most intriguing traditional Polish folk text, taken from the father of Polish ethnography Oskar Kolberg. Mockery of Jews but through deriding and laughing at “Jewish Jesus”. As if Jews had their own Jesus just like we have ours. It should be understood as a case of eponym. In Polish we call it “thought shortening”, e.g. if pope Francis is an Argentine and John Paul II was Polish, so from the Polish point of view Argentinians have now their John Paul II. However, the text about “Jewish Jesus” comes from the times when its authors thought that every religion had its Jesus but “ours” was of course the best one. They evidently did not realise that Jesus Christ was a Jew, as well as that Jews did not have “their own” Jesus Christ. This is how easily it is to go from defending one's faith to transgressing it.



The most mysterious song on this CD. During composing its final part, we came across a paraphrase of “Malovaný džbánku” by Helena Vondráčková (1977), which we eagerly embraced as a relic of the past and added an adequate choir to it. The text begins with a banal motif of wandering but then it becomes gloomy: “Who will wake us up, if there are no people?”. Decoding this text with a key of traditional symbols, it is a nice folk erotic song with a clear punch line: the expedition was sexually consumed. She appeals to him for some activity but he does not care because he has already realised his objective. Se la vie. And if someone is disappointed with this simple meaning there is another one, added by current events: “How shall I go with you; people will wonder” - this is how immigrants might talk. But the conclusion is also simple: are there any people out there?


Short Songs

Short folk songs frequently sung in turns by many performers e.g. during dancing. These ones however are quite unique because they are nasty and prickly. Scholarly speaking, they are Teases on maids and bachelors”. For example: “How can nice clothes help you? No garment will help you if you are ugly / Our girls wear long dresses, when they take them off, they have crooked legs” and: “When I rode through the village, there were boys standing; they had such faces that my horses got scared / Half a pound of hair or ram's horns: listen girls how expensive man is”. The melody comes from Lublin Region. The refrain is a variation of a Polish song “A red apple cut across, why are you frowning at me, girl?”, as well-known as “Laj, koniku, laj”. It appeared at a critical moment during one of our rehearsals when we did not know what to do with these “teases”. Then we began to play the “red apple”. And again we succeeded in creating a nice male-female dialogue. Advances at high voltage. At last this over-sweet couplet “You will kiss me, I will kiss you, you won't give me away, I won't give you away” for “red apple” sounded authentically so that it can even give you the shivers if you try to imagine the whole situation. Play is the best remedy for all invention blocks – our recommendation!