The danger of uniformity

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Overview and context

One of the most important and influential Polish rock bands of the 1980ʼs and 1990ʼs, Republika, emerged from another musical project called Res Publica in 1981. Grzegorz Ciechowski (1957 ̶ 2001)  ̶  a young, very talented student with a distinct personality has become a leader of this formation. In the previous period he also cooperated with other bands such as Jazz Formation or Symboliczna Lapka Misia[1], in which he played the flute and piano. But above all, Ciechowski was a poet  ̶  he started to write poems when he was very young and published a book of poetry in 1996[2]. Probably in connection with this literary activity, he always emphasized the importance of words and a ʽmessageʼ contained in lyrics of his songs. Ciechowski often mentioned that music is a way to communicate his own ideas and views, not only lʼart pour lʼart. He used to say: ʽMy lyrics act as African poison  ̶  long and successfullyʼ[3].

Republika achievements are closely related to the difficult situation in Poland in the 1980ʼs[4]. In this period the country was politically and economically dependent on the Soviet Union, which caused numerous protests among citizens, demanding a ʽbetter lifeʼ and freedom. The foundation of Independent Self-governing Trade Union ʽSolidarityʼ in 1980, consisting of ten million people at the peak of its activity, was an expression of this social discontent. Polish independence aspirations were suppressed by the imposition of martial law on the 13th of December 1981. In this oppressive period, however, the authority allowed the formation and performances of rock groups in order to mitigate the anti-communist revolt among young people. In such circumstances Republika had the opportunity to appear. The band debuted in Torun in November 1981.

The lyrics of the songs and scenic image of the group largely reflected the political situation in Poland. In addition to the provocative name (written in a special font, so-called republikaryca[5]), Republika used only black and white colours  ̶  all their attributes were maintained in these colours: costumes, flags, and even lighting in the form of very strong, bright light or total darkness[6]. This ʽlayoutʼ represented the division between the two ʽsides of the barricadeʼ and the inability to escape from the stand by one of them. On the other hand, white and black colours also symbolized the clarity of ideas proclaimed by the band.

Putting together all these elements: new wave, ʽcoolʼ music, intellectual lyrics[7] and suggestive stage presence formed an indivisible whole, a kind of a total work. In this context the significant fact is that Ciechowski used to call Republika live performances as spectacles.

Not surprisingly, the early songs of the band often deal with socio-political issues, the problem of censorship, propaganda function of the media in the 80ʼs and so on. A very important theme for Ciechowski is also an individual involved in the system (which was defined in one Republika song as a ʽconstant tangoʼ) from which he/she cannot escape[8]. In this context the singer used to refer to the patterns (thematic as well as stylistic) contained in the literary works by George Orwell or Franz Kafka[9].

The artist also analyzed the problem of love in his lyrics. What is interesting, he often used military and political metaphors to describe the relationship between man and woman, which was understood in terms of the appropriation of a person by another person[10]. Therefore, in his opinion sex was the key to manipulation, so typical for politics. Ciechowski was aware of the effect which is produced by this thematic inadequacy  ̶  his music evoked stronger emotions and became more suggestive:

 

                                   the Arctic lies I guess in you in you you-you-you

                                   the white Antarcticʼs settled down there too too-too-too

                                   and there is nothing but this howling wind wind-wind-wind

                                   the Arctic lies in you in you in you in you

                                   cold glaciers are already at the door

                                   and snowflakes glisten on your frosted hair

                                   so every morning I brush off this snow

                                   there are no warm zones now on our maps

(Siberia, trans. by Anna Baranowna)

In his works the leader of Republika also mentioned the existential themes such as death or solitude. These issues came to a particularly strong voice on the album Siodma pieczec (1993)[11].

The first album of the band  ̶  Nowe sytuacje (New situations), released in 1983, is one of the most important albums of Polish rock. The English versions of the songs (the lyrics were translated by Anna Baranowna, a friend of Ciechowski) were recorded in the same year and included on the album 1984[12].

Nowe sytuacje was a very successful record  ̶  there were sold 260.000 copies after only one month, despite the fact that the album was one of the most expensive records produced in the period of the Peopleʼs Republic of Poland. According to the leader of Republika, the songs create a story of a non-existent country and a non-existent group of people living in the world of Orwellian fantasy.

The title of the album suggests ʽfreshnessʼ, uniqueness of the musical and literary concept proposed by the band. So significant for the aesthetics of Republika qualities like ascetic sound, ʽcoolʼ arrangement confronted with emotional vocal part or post-punk intensity mixed with catchy tunes were present in these recordings. These features also appeared in a song called „=” Equals.

Themes and contents

The lyrics of this song can be seen as a critical metaphor for life under the communist system. Ciechowski  ̶  the eulogist of individuality and uniqueness of every human being, analyzes the effects of so-called equality politics, which only leads to uniformity and loss of self-identity. The tragic atmosphere of this song is multiplied by the apparent references to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell. A very important ʽcharacterʼ is the Central Equalizer  ̶  a substitute of Big Brother, who is responsible for the smooth functioning of all ʽpartsʼ of machinery. The description of the reality of martial law is imbued with bitter humour  ̶  everybody has to do, think, behave and even dream in the same way, otherwise he/she is excluded or punished. The appearance is also very important and any deviation from the norm can be a threat to the working of this ʽidealʼ system.

The influence of the Orwellian novel is also visible in a way of using language. Such qualities as: dominance of short, concise messages, many verbal repetitions (be the same, be equal in the English version) or syllabic treatment of words (particularly noticeable in the Polish version: ba-ba-ba…, ma-ma-ma…, by-by-by… etc.) imitate the elements typical for propaganda texts and Newspeak.

Another interesting feature is the identification of the author with the ʽmajorityʼ, ʽmassʼ by the use of the plural form (ʽweʼ). Of course, this trick has a rhetorical purpose  ̶  Ciechowski (just as the authority) allegedly criticizes the rebellious ʽminorityʼ who does not know how to adapt to the new reality. He tries to take on the role of an average citizen, blindly believing in the communist slogans.

In his lyrics Ciechowski pays attention to the dangers of homogenization of society and the destruction of individuality. He warns against the actions of leaders who want to enslave peopleʼs minds.

Style and aesthetics

Republika is considered one of the most important new wave bands in the history of Polish music. Despite the fact that many of these songs were inspired by the achievements of other bands and artists such as Talking Heads, Television, XTC or Jethro Tull, the group was able to create the unique, original and recognizable for everybody style.

In the song „=” Equals we can find many qualities typical for the new wave aesthetics. The post-punk influences characterize the sonic layer of this musical work  ̶  the sound is very intensive, complex and ʽfullʼ. A very important role plays the vocal part, which is performed in a special way calling to mind ʽshoutingʼ. The fast tempo and syllabic treatment of the lyrics multiply this effect. All these techniques help to emphasize the words, which were essential in the opinion of Ciechowski and the other members of Republika. On the other hand, the vocal part is very emotional and ʽnervousʼ (large interval leaps, for example octaves) what can blur the message.

Music  ̶  as well as the lyrics with repeated words  ̶  in this song is trance. Both rhythmic and melodic layers are characterized by homogeneity. The fixed and expressive rhythm is supported by the stable melodic line based on the scale. The impression of repeatability is also given by adding parallel melodic figures in the further part of the song. They are performed by the instruments as well as the voices (ʽpolyphonic harmoniesʼ are another characteristic feature of the new wave aesthetics).

„=” Equals is based on a continuous emotional gradation, forming a kind of accelerando. The band took the idea previously used in Bolero by Maurice Ravel. The song starts with a drum part only, then the other instruments and voice appear. The texture becomes more and more complex and ʽthickʼ. The sound is largely influenced by  ̶  typical for the new wave genre  ̶  the synthesizer and various effects generated by this electronic instrument.

All described music solutions help to create the psychedelic atmosphere of a horror movie. Probably it was one of the band purposes  ̶  to show the cruel consequences of total uniformity of society.

Conclusions and personal comments

The activity of the band was completed by the tragic death of its leader in 2001. Grzegorz Ciechowski was a true ʽrenaissance manʼ: except of his membership in Republika (1981 ̶ 86, 1990 ̶ 2001[13]), he had another important music project  ̶  Obywatel G.C. (1986 ̶ 1990). In 1996, under the pseudonym Grzegorz z Ciechowa, he recorded a folk album called OjDADAna, using the traditional songs in a new, contemporary context. This idea, of course, caused a lot of protests of music purists. Nowadays, however, Ciechowski is considered the precursor of such a way of thinking about folk music in Poland and some of his concepts were also adapted by the other persons.

A very important part of his activity was music production. He helped many Polish artists to appear on the stage and he cooperated with Kasia Kowalska, Kayah, Katarzyna Groniec, Justyna Steczkowska, Krzysztof Antkowiak and others. He also supported the project called Atrakcyjny Kazimierz i Cyganie. Aware of his mission, Ciechowski was a kind of mentor for these musicians.

It should not be forgotten that the leader of Republika was a literary man. He wrote poems, essays, lyrics (also for other artists) and he could handle the words in an efficient manner. In the context of privileging of verbal layer, he did not pay so much attention to his vocal skills and used to emphasize that he is not a professional singer.

It is worth noting that Ciechowski also composed film music, including his last work used in the movie Wiedzmin (The Witcher, 2001).

Ciechowskiʼs achievements influenced and still influence on the younger generations of musicians. His songs have inspired the artistic projects of Kasia Kowalska, Agressiva 69, the Silesian String Quartet and others.

Republika works helped to awake social and political consciousness of Poles. They showed how precious value is freedom, both realistic and limited to our mind. They also convicted that totalitarianism can be destroyed only if we destroy it first in ourselves. However, the function of these songs was much more important  ̶  in the lining of current affairs they hide the deepest truth about man and his existence in the world. They proved that there is a very thin line between love and death:

so let me touch you once my lady

I want to feel your cooling hand

Iʼm so afraid

Iʼm so afraid

that you will vanish in this sand

so let me touch you lady

even if only through this suit

just this one time

just this one time

I want to learn the touch of stars

bikini death

(Bikini death, trans. by Anna Baranowna)

I am sure that this band and its achievements permanently changed the face of Polish popular music. Because of their determination and consequence, the members of Republika could create songs fulfilling with the European standards, which were  ̶  and still remain  ̶  a good recommendation of our culture and country in general.

= EQUALS

we get up at the hour XT
leaving in bedrooms our equal dreams
today the washing programme number six
the central equalizerʼs given me

equal shoes and equal teeth and a nose
equal enthusiastic feelings and thoughts
with the same paint we keep painting grey
banners telling us to be quite the same

if you are pretty that is really too bad
the central equalizer will alter that
if you are fat then surely youʼve got to have
a bunch of red and green balloons in each hand

equal shoes and equal teeth and a nose
equal enthusiastic feelings and thoughts
with the same paint we keep painting grey
banners telling us to be the same
be the same
be the same

all those unequal donʼt want to be the same
they want to smell nice want to be fat and gay
the central equalizer will pick them out
and right away weʼll catch them all and apply

equal shoes and equal teeth and a nose
equal enthusiastic feelings and thoughts
with the same paint we will equalize them
for the banner says be the same
says be the same
says be the same
be equal be equal be equal.

 

ZNAK RÓWNOŚCI (ZNAK =)

wstajemy równo o godzinie DX
a przedtem wszyscy śnimy równe sny
pod kranem program mycia nr 3
Centralny Wyrównywacz nadał mi

równe buty równe zęby nos
równy w stronę baz produkcji krok
równą farbą malujemy wciąż
równe hasła w koło: równy bądź bądź

jeżeli jesteś ładna to już jest źle
Centralny Wyrównywacz zmieni cię
jeżeli jesteś gruby to musisz mieć
przy sobie stale baloników pęk

równe buty równe zęby nos
równy w stronę baz produkcji krok
równą farbą malujemy wciąż
równe hasło w koło: równy bądź
równy bądź
równy bą-bą-bą-bą-
bą-bą-bą-bą-bą-bą-bą-bą-bądź

Nierówni myślą że to źle Równym być
chcą ładnie pachnieć chcą być chudzi
chcą tyć
Centralny Wyrównywacz wskaże nam ich
i jeszcze dzisiaj założymy im:

równe buty równe zęby nos
równy w stronę baz produkcji krok
równą farbą wyrównamy ich

równym hasłem: masz równym być
masz równym być
masz równym być
masz równym by-by-by-by-
by-by-by-by-by-by-by-być
masz równym masz równym
masz równym być o-ja-ja-jaj
masz równym masz równym
masz równym być o-ja-jaj
ma-ma-masz równym masz
równym masz równym być o-ja-ja-jaj
masz równym masz równym
ma-
ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-
ma-ma-ma-
ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-
ma-ma-
ma-ma-ma-ma-masz!

 

[1] The name of this band can be translated as ʽThe Symbolic Bearʼs Pawʼ.

[2] It is worth mentioning that Ciechowski studied Polish philology at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun.

[3] Due to the greater emphasis on the ʽmessageʼ than on contact with the audience, the band was accused of inaccessibility.

[4] We can say   ̶  according to the title of a book chapter by William G. Roy  ̶  that ʽsocial movements do cultureʼ.

[5] This term was a reference to  ̶  used by the ʽSolidarityʼ  ̶  solidaryca.

[6] According to Zbigniew Krzywanski, an ex-member of Republika, the inspiration for this idea was the Joe Jacksonʼs single cover. Some people also indicate the relationship between this white-and-black, striped pattern and Russian constructivism. Referring to this famous pattern, this period in the history of Polish rock music is sometimes called ʽblack-and-white rock revolutionʼ.

[7] The members of Republika called themselves ʽwell-read amateursʼ. This intellectual attitude sparked numerous protests among young people oriented for ʽeasy entertainmentʼ under the banner of rock & roll (the famous riots took place in Jarocin in 1985).

[8] It is worth mentioning that Ciechowski highly experienced his powerlessness against an oppressive system when  ̶  against his will  ̶  he was taken to the army in 1984.

[9] These literary models are noticeable in many Ciechowskiʼs songs, for instance Odmiana przez osoby, czyli nieodwolalny paradygmat Jozefa K. or Jozef K.

[10] In this context the significant songs are: Prad  (The Current), Moj imperializm (My imperialism) or Arktyka (Siberia) from the album Nowe sytuacje (the English version: 1984). Such an approach could be also dictated by the desire to avoid censorship.

[11] The title of this album refers to Ingmar Bergmanʼs movie, The Seventh Seal. Ciechowski considered this work one of the best albums of Republika.

[12] This is evident reference to the famous novel by George Orwell. It is worth mentioning that this book was banned by the censorship until 1989 in Poland.

[13] The band broke up because of financial reasons in 1986. They returned on stage in 1990.

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