BBC World Service
Now, most of us are nostalgic about the pop music of our youth. It was better then. But essentially, love, the lack of it, the pursuit of it, and the obsession with it – that’s the stuff of most pop music. And probably always has been. Occasionally though, superstar-singers and bands address major political themes, or profound aspects of human lives. And that’s the case of the Polish band – Trupa Trupa, currently on tour in the UK. The name’s slightly nonsensical, but can roughly be translated to “Troup of Corpses”, and they sing – in English – about subjects like 2nd World War and how it’s remembered, as well as the Holocaust and Holocaust denial. But are these really the themes rock music can and should address? Paul Moss went to meet Trupa Trupa as they prepared to go on stage in concert venue in Brighton. It’s not exactly a catchy tune, but then, Polish band Trupa Trupa never really set out to produce smash hit which people could sing along to. This track – “Remainder”, has the chorus line “It did not take place” – the sarcastic refrain to Holocaust denial. Trupa Trupa insist the exact meaning of their songs is in the ear of the beholder. But speaking before they went on stage in Brighton, singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski and guitarist Rafał Wojczal told me their music is very much a product of Poland and its turbulent history.
– Grzegorz Kwiatkowski: My family of mother and father side were both affected by history; my grandfather was prisoner of concentration camp, his sister was prisoner of Stutthof concentration camp, 30km from the city of Gdańsk. I’m a citizen of Gdańsk and I live in Poland so of course in a very natural organic way I started to write to find my perspective of this stuff.
– You’re taking on some very heavy themes here. Does it really work as subject for rock songs?
– Rafał Wojczal: Well, the message is to come to the venue and listen to some good music, you know. And then you come out of the venue and drink some beer and talk about what you just heard on the gig, you know, it’s good to talk about the world stuff rather than what a celebrity is wearing today.
The song “Never forget” continues that theme of history and how we perceive it today. This touches all sorts of raw nerves in Poland. The past few years have a bitter debate about whether Polish people share some responsibility for the Holocaust. The current Polish government has furiously defended the country’s wartime record. It has made it illegal to say any Holocaust deaths can be blamed on Poland. But for Grzegorz Kwiatkowski a better approach is to talk about it and other controversial subjects. And, indeed, to sing about them.
– Grzegorz Kwiatkowski: We are still working on these demons from the past. The demons of fascism and communism; the demons of human being. So we can’t be afraid of saying what is wrong. We have to protest, we have to talk about stuff. But because of that, because of the public debate, I think we’ve got a chance to make it better.
But there now just a few minutes till Trupa Trupa will come on stage here at the “Hope and Ruin”, the venue in Brighton. Quick chance for me to ask the members of the audience why they came here and what they think about these themes the band is singing about.
– I think for Polish bands it’s very bold, very daring. Rock music should have very political and intellectual caliber too, rather than sing about some facile musings and love songs and things like that.
– I was born in Poland. I’m here in England for years.
– But you’re still coming to see Polish rock bands.
– Of course, yes. We went through quite a lot during the 2nd War and all the history is, I think, quite important to Polish people to remember.
– This is still fresh history for us. I think everyone’s supposed to know that.
– And is rock music a way to teach people about that?
– Well, why not try this, you know. Maybe that’s the way to hear about this?
On stage Trupa Trupa combine sometimes frenetic playing with other moments of more subdued performance. And keeping with the mood of their songs. One that went particularly well with the audience in Brighton was the apocalyptic track “Wasteland”. There is a long and fine tradition of bleak Polish music – from Chopin’s “Tristesse” right to the 20th century superstar classical composer Henryk Górecki, whose most celebrated was called “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”. Trupa Trupa’s guitarist Rafał Wojczal does seem to be continuing this rather gloomy tradition. When I asked him how he sees the near future:
– We will be facing some major political issues because the countries are closing up; and also the climate changes, which will to refugee issue in five, ten, few years maybe – we don’t know, maybe fifteen.
– Do you think you will be singing songs about these problems in five-ten years time?
– Yes, if there will be a big issue, we will be singing about it, yeah.
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