Not a lot of people know this, but during the militant, 'Solidarnosc'-fuelled days of 1980s, Poland encouraged a vibrant Reggae scene. Although this reviewer was vaguely aware of Punk outfits such as De Press and Dezerter (more from them later), he had no idea that dubbin'n'skankin' had penetrated so deeply behind the Iron Curtain. Conseqently, reading the press release accompanying this magnificent compilation album proved to be quite an eye-opener.
Accurately sub-titled “Beats, Dubs, Mixes & Future Folk from Poland”, 'Polska Rootz' isn't really a Reggae album per se (though it shares a hardline Political militancy with the Jamaican scene of the 1970s). It's more a fantastic genre mash-up and a crossroads where invective, intelligence, fun and an irresistible desire to dance thrillingly collide. Indeed, all credit must be given to industrious Berlin collective Eastblok/ Shellshock for opening this window on to one of the lesser-visited musical courtyards out there.
Thus, dipping its' toes into both the future and past, 'Polska Rootz' is quite probably the ultimate Polski Punky Reggae Party. You probably won't have a clue what either the lyrics or titles mean at face value, but stick around, because just about everything here has the spirit AND the feeling, even if it sometimes comes at you from the most unlikely of angles. Opening track (deep breath) 'Kolomyjka Jarocinska (Remix)' from STUDIO AS ONE VS. ORKIESTRA SWIETEGO MIKOLAJA gets you onside straight away with its' earthy and crazily immediate melange of fiercely strummed zithers, whistles and pepped-up beats and by the time you've experienced the Trojan-style Dub, Junglist beats and duelling fiddles of PSIO CREW'S 'Hajduk' and ZAKOPOWER'S 'Kiebys Ty' (The Levellers if they hailed from Zakopane, basically) you're totally hooked.
Elsewhere, the most unlikely of musical bedfellows not only co-exist, but bring bulging sacks of briliance to the table with them. 'Pierso Godzina/ Don't Betray My Love' finds the Tatra folk sound (TREBUNIE-TUTKI) collaborating with sweet harmonies and Maxfield Avenue-style Dub (TWINKLE BROTHERS) and being given a subterranean mixdown by On-U guru ADRIAN SHERWOOD. The end result is superb, as is MASALA (SOUNDSYSTEM)'S 'XX1.Wiek', which adapts a Punk anthem from DEZERTER, adds bouncy vocals from trad Folksters WARSAW VILLAGE BAND and throws in a wicked Eastern drum'n'bass slant. If Asian Dub Foundation hailed from the Mazurian Lakes, they'd quite probably sound like this.
Along the way, we're also treated to everything from Balalaika-fuelled Ska (KOSMOFSKI) through to, er, a Klezmer-meets-Old Skool DJ Scratchin' display (MERITUM), but another couple of diamonds are kept in reserve for the denouement with HABAKUK'S 'Mury' being based upon a Jacek Kaczmarski protest hymn from the 1980s and re-shaped like a militant Keith Hudson dub and the exotic, floaty Arabian vocals of KAYAH'S 'Nieznajoma (Activator Remix)' getting married to an irresistible ambient soundscape complete with crooked, Jah Wobble-style bass.
'Polska Rootz' is truly mindblowing stuff. Yes, it's dub'n'dance enhanced, but it dares to weave musical strands together in a seamless fashion which is often light years ahead of the kind of 'eclecticism' we feel we have the patent on in the Former West. It's one of the most unusual (and best) compilations this reviewer's heard in many a full moon and it's more than reason enough to break out copious amounts of Red Stripe and Sliovice and party like it's 1989 once more.