Disco Polo: a real social phenomenon?

16 Jul

Disco Polo: a Polish phenomenon?

Can a common goat with a beard

become a prostitute?

But yes, of course, why not?

The goat deserves it, too.

 

Sha la la la la (three times)

the soap named Fa

 

 

Yeti, yeti, has a house in the mountain.

Yeti, yeti, what is he doing?

Yeti, yeti, he’s singing and dancing too

Yeti, yeti, what a funny creature!

Chorus: boom, boom!  Tsik, tsik!

Yeti: What does this mean?

Chorus: we’re playing cards for fun

Yeti: Oi,oi,oi, oi!

Chorus: Do you want to be your friend?

Yeti: Who wouldn’t like to be your friend?

Chorus: So cover your hands with glue.

 

 

 

    If the first set of lyrics is just plain weird, the others are the least banal lyrics I could find (roughly translated from the Polish) from songs that are the successors to what was once, amazingly, the anthems of an ‘underground’ movement, in the sense that that Communist authorities in old Poland did not officially approve of the songs or their practitioners. This is Disco Polo, these days a byword amongst urban Poles for astonishingly bad lyrics and equally empty music. So why is Disco Polo, a poppified folk music with platitudinous tunes and lyrics, of any interest at all?

   It’s not so much the music or lyrics as the social phenomenon and transformation of society that accompanied it that makes Disco Polo a subject of worthy of study. Disco Polo, with its roots in (more original) folk music,  has been around in this country  at least since the ‘seventies. Weddings and parties in the countryside then, as now, featured  Disco Polo musicians brought in for the occasion. The Communists in the seventies were aware of its existence, and the secret police disapproved of it as ‘rural kitsch’, too indulgent. So, in a sense, it was one of many types of music that represented freedom. The iron curtain was dismantled, and in the ’90s Poland enjoyed an unprecedented boom of freedom, political, personal and economic, and in the mid-nineties most town and city centres had large open-air markets. The stall owners brought Disco Polo in from the countryside, played it and sold it on tapes. At the same time,  clever well-connected business people saw its commercial potential in the anything-goes period of Poland. So the people who marketed it, and sometimes the performers of it as well, were from well-educated and intelligent families who emigrated earlier from the villages to the cities and brought the music with them.

    The ’90s was also a time when the music was played on TV and became a trend. Every music billboard and radio station had disco polo in their programmes. Even sophisticated urbanites who thought it was terrible, listened to it.  The texts and music were so light that, to translate a Polish expression literally, it “jumped into your ears very easily.”

    After two to three years in the mid-nineties, the trend in the cities was over and TV and radio were not running Disco Polo as much as they used to. I first came to Bydgoszcz, a large town in Western Poland,  in 1998, and Disco Polo was fading from the urban music scene, though it was still played on Polsat TV station. A typical video clip would  show the usual string of rural/fringe urban cliches: youngsters dancing in what was obviously a village hall souped up into a disco for the keyboard-led bands to play in; men and women danced in standard movements, like kitsch rhythmic gymnastics, on beaches; members of a band went down a river in a boat with a pretty girl at one end sitting in it and smiling.

    In Bydgoszcz’s bars, they rarely played Disco Polo even then, and the 10.5’s talent night, where drunk crooners attempted to do parodies of the latest rock stars and didn’t succeed in being bad enough to be funny or good enough to be impressive, only very occasionally did a Disco Polo song. This was unusual enough an event to provoke discussion about the style, and its videos were dissected by the talent show punters like a drunk surgeon putting the knife into its passive body.

    At the same time as the heyday of the Talent Night in the 10.5 bar,  the urban planners and civic-minded town hall politicians decided to move in on to the open-air markets and turn them into something more legal. The markets had become symbols of the black economy, and so the local authorities laid down certain areas where they could still run their market stalls, but now they started to build halls and overhead roofs. This meant that the market stall owners had to pay rent, register and pay taxes.   Most of the open-air market stalls were thus forced out of the centre and onto the margins of the cities. Because of its very strong connection with the people of the markets, Disco Polo did much the same; it, too moved from the heart of the cities to the outskirts and ultimately back to the place it had come from: the countryside.

   Villages in Poland generally have two important buildings; first the church and second, the fire station. The Fire Brigade in those parts is a voluntary organisation. The Fire station for about fifty years has been the main organiser in these villages of parties, and often they organise the musicians who come and play in parties in the stations. Discos in the countryside are very popular and people come in to them from miles around. They often play Disco Polo – especially in the Eastern side of Poland, where there is high unemployment and the people are poor and not well-educated.

  Disco Polo was both a marketing ploy and an attempt to bridge the gap between ‘rural backwardness’ and ‘urban sophistication’, hence its appeal to rural peoples, and those clever or ambitious enough to get away from the countryside and move into the cities. Unfortunately for Disco Polo, the music ended up being neither earthily rustic nor sophisticated enough to appeal to the urbanites, so in the cities and towns it was like so much pop music, here today, gone tomorrow.

 D.V.

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