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Czesław Niemen

Czesław Niemen (real name: Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki, 1939-2004), an eminent Polish composer, instrumentalist and singer, considered to be one of the major figures of the Polish music scene. He first played beat music, soul and later his music evolved towards rock, progressive, jazz-rock and electronic music. Niemen's musical output is rich and diversified, in terms of style and genre, from hit songs to ambitious and elaborate compositions, from big beat to rock avant-garde, from the so-called pure music to pieces written for the cinema and theatre. He cut dozens of records, and many of his songs became evergreens. Having technical and musical knowledge, he was also involved in record production. What is more, Niemen was an excellent columnist who contributed to the ?Tylko Rock? magazine, and a successful computer graphics designer.

As a person coming from the Eastern borderlands (born in Stare Wasiliszki, a village that used to be Polish territory before World War II, now in Belarus), he was an artistically sensitive person, and music was an integral part of his life. Niemen received education at the Music High School in Grodno and moved to Poland (1958) to study in the Music High School in Gdańsk. From the early 1960s, when he started to perform at the ?Żak? Coast Students' Club, he entered show business only to turn his interests to rock, avant-garde and jazz later on. He started to perform solo, however, later he joined the Niebiesko-Czarni band, and from 1967 led his own bands, including the Akwarele, Enigmatic, Grupa Niemen and Aerolit. In the 1980s, he pursued a solo career as a singer and instrumentalist.

Niemen's first long playing record Dziwny jest ten świat? [Strange is This World?] received gold album status and it was the first gold record in the history of the Polish phonographic industry); its title song was awarded a special prize at the fifth National Festival of Polish Song in Opole, becoming a milestone in the development of the Polish light music. Gold records were also presented for Niemen's other records, including Sukces, Niemen Enigmatic, Czas jak rzeka and the collection Niemen od początku I. Niemen Enigmatic features the unforgotten and emotive Bema pamięci żałobny rapsod [Mournful Rhapsody in Memory of Bem] after the poem by poet Cyprian Norwid. The song is considered by fans and critics alike as one of the most important compositions in Polish music. Niemen won many prizes and distinctions awarded by artistic circles (that often named him the greatest artist of all time), the music industry and various state institutions.

Czesław Niemen willingly drew on poems and books of various poets and writers. He composed music to the poems by Iwaszkiewicz, Tuwim, Herbert, Mickiewicz, Przerwa-Tetmajer and others. However, from the moment he recorded Bema pamięci?, Norwid became his major source of inspiration. Niemen used to point out that Norwid was a kind of a ?lodestar? for his music; therefore, he always drew on his poems. Pielgrzym, Marionetki, Larwa, Moja piosnka, Sieroctwo are just few examples of Norwid's poems to which Niemen wrote music. His two-record album Idée fixe featured pieces composed exclusively to Norwid's poems. At one point, he even confessed that ?as a result of reading, experiencing, sharing understanding and feeling, I do not have to search quotes from Norwid. They are searching me!?.

An uncompromised and independent artist, Niemen was unique not only in Polish music but also internationally. The listeners were always surprised both by his vocal ability and the scope of musical and instrumental inventiveness. In his artistic work, he continued to break the barriers and conventions in art. Niemen went on to search newer means of expression, which is why his art is not easy to follow. He demanded much from himself and also from his audience, but, in return, he offered exceptional experience in the form of artistically flawless performance.

Piotr Chlebowski