In recent decades there have been many projects that have invited us to travel through the land of our ancestors: through its forests and cliffs, through its villages and traditions. It’s great that we have more and more artists working with pieces of what we were to understand what we are and appreciate what we have. When I decided to review the first studio album by Daj Ognia (Poland) I expected to find folk music that would tell me about their land and their stories. However, by immersing myself in the project, I discovered a powerful narrative developed in both music and design/photography. The artists present a direct and forceful visual art, combining tradition and modernity. An invitation to start a fire today with the tools of our ancestors.
Before I get to pick apart the album, I would like to talk a little about the band. Daj Ognia (regressive dark folk) is an independent band originally from Krakow, Poland. Since 2018 they have been cooperating with the Museum of Krakow and taking part in the Wolin historical recreation festival of Slavs and Vikings with their music. On December 9 (2020), they released the video clip for Kir, a single from their first LP Wykrot, which they released on the 13th of the same month in a digital version through Bandcamp. With remarkable art direction, Kir builds Daj Ognia‘s imagery with wedding crowns, old wood, shadows and bones. Without intending to analyze the band’s videos, I find it very interesting to see how cinematic their work is, recalling the Horror Folk films by
or the classic of the genre, The Wicker Man. This spirit is also visually present in the art made by
for the physical edition of the album.
And it was not until August 2021 that, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, they managed to fund this physical edition. I could dedicate another long paragraph to talk about the rewards of crowdfunding (which are incredible) but we have come to talk about music, so I proceed with the review.
Wykrot (2020) is Daj Ognia‘s first studio work, and includes 10 songs. The album presents a journey across borders through the traditional music of Poland and Scandinavia, with some melodies and writings of traditional origin and others created entirely by the band. The origin of all the traditional material is well referenced on the album. The name Wykrot describes the exposed roots of a fallen tree, reflecting the cycle of life and death as these roots become the new home for numerous life forms; just as it speaks about natural as well as supernatural forces. The old gives way to the new, and absence gives way to fullness.
Daj Ognia builds a bridge between neighbouring peoples, embracing cultural exchange and showing their love for different musical traditions. The sound of the album is raw, without much ornamentation, direct and full. Through bowed string, percussion and voice (and occasionally bagpipe and plucked string) they create a rural, humble, honest, dark and, at times, very funny atmosphere. While some songs invite us to dance and celebrate, others lead us to reflection and contemplation. After numerous listenings, we can say that Wykrot is tree bark, bare feet on grass, broken bones and old wives’ tales.
The album opens with Midsommar, a song that quickly takes us to Scandinavia with the sound of Michał Górka and Wit Rzepecki‘s bow harps (tagelharpa and strakharpa) and their beautiful multi-string harmonies. The melody is traditional, as well as its lyrics, sung in Swedish by Anna Sitko. Agnieszka Oramus and Michał Biel perform the percussion with the tambourine / frame drum (bęben obręczowy) and the small percussion made with bones. The song grows brighter as it progresses, creating a contrast between the sweetness of Anna’s voice and the rustic, dry instruments.
In the next song, Halling efter Berglund, we continue the Swedish musical tradition by adding Wit‘s bagpipes to the set of instruments. They remind us a lot of the sound of
in their debut Forn, but even though this music is danceable, Daj Ognia brings a calmer and more primal sound. We continue with Kir, the song chosen as a single for the album. It is a song guided by the double strings of Michał and Wit, with the brilliance provided by Agnieszka‘s tambourine. This is a darker, more Polish song in which Anna tells the harsh story of a young woman who comes across a wedding crown.
Wykrot, the fourth song and eponymous to the album, is an instrumental theme with a very Pagan Folk soul within the rustic sound proposed by the band. It is a quite lively and danceable song, with the presence of syncopated rhythms and numerous changes throughout the song that invite us to go wild, reminding us of the versatile
In Oj nie pójdę we find another piece with a strong Polish essence also in the danceable line of the previous one. Here we highlight Michal Biel, who surprises by playing percussion in a truly organic way.
We move on to Andro de Wit, a song that may be more familiar to ears used to Breton or Galician music (from the Spanish region, not from the homonymous Polish-Ukrainian one). Daj Ognia merges some ingredients present in Pagan Folk, such as fast melodies of bagpipes accompanied by plucked strings (mandola) and percussion, creating a lively and funny song to dance to. The trip through Atlantic France and Spain is brief, because in the following song we dive again into the traditional music of Sweden through the polskas. Polska efter Pekkos Hanssen surprises when listening to Wit‘s bagpipes playing the role of a hurdy-gurdy or nyckelharpa in these traditional songs, maintaining the drone note throughout the song and exchanging the leading role with Michal‘s mandola.
The eighth theme is Radio Drakkar, a more casual song to party and dance to. It has a very Eastern European vibe with the mandola that, adding the main voice of the bagpipes, would delight fans of bands such as
It is impossible not to laugh when the kazoos sound!
Trupietany, the penultimate song on the album, is one of the most interesting offerings of the group. It is a musical piece built from numerous sounds of small percussion that, along with the bagpipe and the voice, invites us to a dark dance between bell chimes and bones. This mixture of popular tunes with ambient elements results in a rather dark and cinematic song, and it is surprising to find out that the lyrics of the song come from a baroque painting about the “Dance of Death” exhibited in St. Bernardine’s church, in Krakow.
Finally, the Poles stylishly finish the album with Po mojej woli, a fast, fun and highly danceable song that would easily make us all dance if it was played at our beloved summer festivals. An ending full of good vibes to an entire album, with plenty of shadow and light.
After listening intensively to the album we can say that Wykrot is an album of contrasts and cycles, of lights and shadows, about life and death, from dance to calm. Its sound doesn’t need many instruments or complicated arrangements to work. It embraces simplicity and scarcity, resulting as organic and authentic as the traditions of our peoples. Daj Ognia picks up these humble roots and weaves songs to talk about common and timeless topics, whether we are in Poland, Scandinavia or anywhere else on the globe.
You can listen to the album on their
page and follow them through their
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