Music from Poland in ‘Nine Languages’

Karolina Cicha (Photo by Tomek Tarnowski)

Karolina Cicha (Photo by Tomek Tarnowski)

Polish singer and composer Karolina Cicha, and multi-instrumentalist Bart Palyga are coming to New York – a city that speaks dozens of languages and is a melting pot for a number of ethnic cultures – to perform their “Nine Languages” concert reflecting the beauty and ethnic diversity of the Polish culture.

Their concert is a reflection of the diversity that resides in Podlasie, a small region in the northeastern corner of Poland. The region, close to Russia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, is home to a number of minorities, including Ukrainian, Belarusian, Jewish, Tatar, and Roma people.

The languages of many of these minorities are still spoken there, while some, for instance Yiddish and Tatar, have fallen out of use by now. Karolina Cicha, who is from the Podlasie region, says that for her, using these languages again is like bringing back to life the old ethnic identities of the region. And that’s what she does in “Nine Languages.”

“I wanted to show how rich the world could be when all of these languages were spoken,” says Cicha, who studied many of them in order to be able to fully understand the lyrics and sound as close as possible to the original.

“It was my ambition to show that the variety builds one picture, like in a mosaic. There are many different parts, but as a whole they present a beautiful picture,” she said in a radio interview before starting the U.S. tour.

The concert “Nine Languages,” which the Cicha-Palyga duo will perform on Sept. 28 at the DROM music space in New York, consists of almost a dozen songs in nine different languages. Besides Yiddish and Tatar, she and Palyga will sing in Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Romani – the language of the Romani or Roma people, more commonly referred to as “gypsies” – as well as Belorussian and Lithuanian. The latter, Cicha says, can still be heard in supermarkets in the Podlasie region, while Belorussian is the most vivid minority language and is spoken by some 30 percent of residents of the suburbs of Bialystok, the biggest city of the region.

A “bonus” language in “Nine Languages” does not belong to any minority, but grew out of the Podlasie region. It is Esperanto – an artificial language created in the 19th century by Ludwik Zamenhof, a native of Bialystok. “Mr. Zamenhof’s idea was to create this unique, ‘democratic’ language that resembles many different languages, but that doesn’t belong to any of the nations,” Cicha says.

Bart Palyga (Photo by Tomek Tarnowski)

Bart Palyga (Photo by Tomek Tarnowski)

The diversity in “Nine Languages” is not only presented through the use of the various languages. The concert is a mosaic of different ethnic rhythms, which complement each other to create one common musical portrait of the Podlasie region. “Music is the universal language, understandable for people of all cultures,” Cicha said. However, while drawing on ethnic and folk rhythms both artists add their own modern touch and use unique vocal techniques that enrich the musical experience on stage.

The Cicha-Palyga duet uses some 13 instruments in “Nine Languages,” a number of them rare, traditional folk instruments. “We had to buy an extra plane ticket to be able to bring them to the U.S.,” the artists said.

Karolina Cicha, who plays a couple of instruments simultaneously and thus is often called a “one-woman orchestra,” plays the accordion, the keyboard and the drum sampler. Bart Palyga specializes in several ethnic, mostly stringed, instruments, from all over the world, such as the morin khuur, Jew’s harp, mandolin, and duduk.

Their Sept. 28 concert at DROM is part of the 11th Annual New York Gypsy Festival that runs through Oct. 4, and the last stop on their U.S. tour. Prior to coming to New York Karolina Cicha and Bart Palyga performed at a number of other festivals, including the Landfall Festival of World Music in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the World Music Festival in Chicago, the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as in Detroit and Madison, Indiana.

For information about the Sept. 28 concert, got to dromnyc.com. DROM is located at 85 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009.

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