Interview with Basia of Chłopcy kontra Basia

Tomasz Waldowski

Last month the Polish trio Chłopcy kontra Basia was named the winner of the World Music Network Battle of the Bands.

The trio is made up of singer and clarinettist Basia, double bassist Marcin Nenko and drummer Tomasz Waldowski. Basia talks about the announcement.

How did it all start? Did you always expect to be a singer and musician?
Thanks to my mum and dad it all started very long ago – as a child I used to listen to fantastic gramophone records, from traditional jazz to progressive rock and I believe these first years of a ‘passive’ musical education were incredibly vital for my further development. But I wonder if I ever seriously wanted to be a musician or singer… I was spending hours on practising passages on piano at musical school, but on the other hand I can’t remember if I ever had an idea how I can use these abilities for expressing myself. For a long time I felt like someone who can play, yet doesn’t have anything to say in a musical way. That is why I started to explore absolutely new things like theatre, dance, poetry, folklore – traditional music and traditional way of singing – and after four years of that research, I woke up and realised that I am finally ready to make my own project where I can combine all what I experienced. Then I decided to create “Chłopcy kontra Basia”.

How did you meet the other members, Marcin Nenko and Tomasz Waldowski?
In November 2009, when the idea of creating a band came to my mind, I was absolutely convinced that I had to find a double bassist. I always adored instruments with a low, dark sound. As I had just moved to Krakow, where I knew nobody, I decided to look for a musician on the internet. I met with a bassist and after playing a few notes and quickly realised we are destined to make music together. That was Marcin. At the beginning we were so devoted to composing that we didn’t think much about looking for anybody else. And then my boyfriend Tomasz, who is a drummer, visited me in Krakow and I wanted to see what drums would sound like in the mix. So we played and what I heard was so complete that Chłopcy kontra Basia was born at that very moment.

What does Chłopcy kontra Basia mean?
I have never supposed that our name would appear in the Songlines Blog, cause if I have, I wouldn’t have agreed on such a Polish name. Literally, Chłopcy kontra Basia means ‘Boys versus Basia.’ There is me, bringing ethnic influences, and the boys with a jazzy background. And there is a play on words – if you put together ‘kontra’ and ‘Basia’ you get ‘double bass’ (kontrabas).

You take most of your inspiration from traditional Polish musics. Do you consider yourself a ‘traditional’ Polish band or do you add other influences into the mix?
All songs we perform are written and composed by ourselves, but in a traditional style. When writing lyrics – I use old language and motives which appear in old traditional Polish songs. Although our arrangements are rather modern – we combine jazz, drum’n’bass, trip-hop, etc – we use some melodies or rhythms reminiscent of Polish traditional forms like oberek or kujawiak. All in all we are not ‘traditional’ Polish band, but we are highly influenced by Polish traditions.

What was the first album you owned?
It was Emergency on Planet Earth by Jamiroquai. Although there was a collection of CDs in our living room I remember that it was the first CD which I had on my private shelf. I’m glad it was Jamiroquai who was my hero.

What is your all-time favourite album?
There are many jazz and rock records which I’m devoted to like Kind of Blue by Miles Davis or Nursery Crime by Genesis. There were months when I was completely fascinated by Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom and recently released Weightless by the Becca Stevens Band. I appreciate these two ladies for their original compositions, subtle voices, charm and this ‘something’ that they have. And, of course, I spend hours on listening to old records of traditional tunes collected from various regions of Poland.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m listening to Portrait of a Singer by Stanisław Fijałkowski – a great singer from Chrzanów who unfortunately passed away a couple days ago at the age of 84. It’s a big sorrow he left us.

So now that you’ve won the World Music Network Battle of the Bands, what’s next for the band?
Winning the World Music Network Battle of the Bands was a surprise for us and we hardly believe it really happened. We realised that our music stands a chance to appear somewhere else and to be appreciated by listeners from abroad. I am glad that it mobilised us to work instead of spoiling us. We are working on our songs, writing new lyrics, melodies and dreaming about recording an LP.

For more details about the World Music Network Battle of the Bands and a list of previous winners:

This article originally appeared in Songlines.


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