Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 November 2019
A Warsaw street music band might not appear to be an obvious place for a Jewish historian to look for materials or inspiration. But this would be a mistake, and it took me some six years to realize it. Szlagiery starej Warszawy: Śpiewnik andrusowski by Stanisław Wielanek was published in 1994 and should have been acknowledged in the subsequent volume of Polin. Fortunately, the present volume on Jewish popular culture in Poland presents an ideal opportunity to make up for that omission.
Stanisław (Stasiek) Wielanek, born about 1950, is the leader of Kapela Warszawska, a street band that usually performs for tips in an underpass near the Hotel Forum in the centre of Warsaw. They play mainly pre-war Warsaw urban folk music: songs like ‘U cioci na imieninach’ (‘Auntie's Name-Day Party’) and ‘Bal na Gnojnej’ (‘Party on Gnojna Street’). This is the repertoire for which Stanisław Grzesiuk is known as the last original master; Jarema Ste˛powski later presented a watered-down version to the public through the mass media. In other words, this music is regarded today as lowbrow culture of questionable authenticity. Wielanek recorded more than two dozen records with Kapela Czerniakowska and Kapela Warszawska, yet none of them seems to have had lasting artistic value. Few people would suspect that he is also a serious, passionate, and versatile collector of urban folklore. His 500-page volume contains a richness of material that is not only musical—including both scores and lyrics—but also literary and iconographic: from cabaret monologues and vignettes, jokes, bon mots, and (not always accurate) biographical and contextual information, to drawings, posters, photographs, and postcards. Alongside old Warsaw songs and criminal or lumpenproletarian ballads, the book includes a separate section on Jewish folklore in Polish which is nearly 100 pages long, and another fifty-page section on Lwów.
In the Jewish section, among some thirty songs, we find classics like ‘Mein Yiddishe Mame’ with Polish lyrics by Julian Tuwim, ‘Bełz’ with lyrics by L. Frey and J. Roman, and ‘Yidl mitn Fidl’ (‘Yidl with a Fiddle’) with lyrics by Józef Aleksandrowicz. Some lesser-known songs include ‘Komorne’ (‘Rent’) by Mieczysław Miksne, ‘Balia’ (‘Laundry Tub’) by Moryc Gebaj, and ‘Rebeka’ with lyrics by Andrzej Włast (Gustaw Barmitter). Not long ago ‘Rebeka’ was a popular hit in a magnificent rendition by Ewa Demarczyk.
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