Warsaw Village Band

The Polish folk punk-funk ambassadors impress Joe Nawaz in a Spiegeltent performace

A professor of music, a punk gypsy violinist, a Polska blues purist – not the beginning of an obscure musical gag but some of the components that make the Warsaw Village Band such a compelling prospect. From the playfully ironic moniker to the use of decidedly non-traditional instruments, you know that the Warsaw Village Band are going to be no ordinary Polish folk ensemble.

The Spiegeltent is the ideal setting for the raggle-taggle array of laments, percussive grooves, oompah chic and outright party stompers that this defiantly modernist traditional outfit deliver with considerable warmth and charm.

They’re playing in Belfast as part of the Belfast Festival, and the Polska! Year programme, a timely nationwide celebration of Polish culture. The Warsaw Village Band are as brilliant a representative of Polish culture, old and new, as you’re likely to find on outside of, well, Warsaw.

The number of Polish people in the audience is a reassuring reflection of the increasingly diverse make-up of Belfast society and especially the city’s burgeoning Polish community, which pleasingly seems to have developed in confidence over recent years. Nothing says you’ve established yourself like your own food section in Tesco!

It’s also great to hear Polish banter, cheers or requests that mono-linguistic Michaels like myself can only wish they were privy to.

Renowned both in Poland and internationally, the Warsaw Village Band arrive at the festival to great expectations. As many a bearded cord-wearing muso in the audience will testify, they’re bona fide rock stars back home and duly have the veneer of glamour not normally associated with Warsaw village bands in general.

Their musical bedrock is, of course, Polish folk, but they also incorporate other sonic traditions from the region. With a lolloping double bass, fiddles and manic percussion holding the sound together, it frequently transcends its inspiration, especially with the sharp funk and blues inflections.

Singer Maja’s voice is a strange (to local ears) and wonderfully ethereal thing. Whether hollering dirge-like laments at the start of the gig or delivering an Amy Winehouse-style wail, it makes the hairs on the back of the neck prickle. The band have delivered five albums in twelve years of playing together, so the performance is first-rate. 

They have a funky groove to go with the eastern European traditionalism, and it’s no surprise to discover dance-club drive and trancey echoes in the songs. They also use recording studio techniques to heighten the central drones and eerie percussive quality of their songs.

At one point amidst the Weimar opulence of the Speigeltent, the Warsaw Village Band – crammed but stylishly uncrowded on the tiny stage – remind me of the house band to a particularly decadent but resolutely post-modern burlesque night.

The audience - be they Polish, folk aficionado, clueless hack or all three - are in rapture, clapping, stamping and by the end demanding not one but two encores. Polish-folk-punk-funk-blues has never sounded so good, or so vital. You Tube them now. You won’t be sorry.