Czesław Niemen Bookmark and Share


16 February 1939 - 17 January 2004

Czesław Niemen (real name: Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki) was one of the most important and original Polish singer-songwriters and rock balladeers of the last quarter-century, singing mainly in the Polish language.

Niemen was born in Stare Wasiliszki in Grodno Province. After the World War II it became a part of Byelorussian SSR and in the 1950s he was allowed to move to Poland. He made his debut in the early 1960s, singing Polish rock and soul music. He possessed an unusually wide voice range and equally rich intonation. He was also an ardent composer and a keyboard player. Soon after his first successful concerts in France, he started to use the pseudonym Niemen instead of his real name, gaining wider notoriety in Poland and making it easier to pronounce by foreigners (Niemen is a Polish pronunciation of the Neman River and this way he wanted to mark his birth country). Legendary actress and singer Marlene Dietrich was so astonished by Niemen's performance while visiting Warsaw in 1964 that she asked him for permission to sing his song 'Czy mnie jeszcze pamietasz' ('Do you still remember me'). It was later re-titled as 'Mutter, hast du mir vergeben'.

His song of 1967, 'Dziwny jest ten świat' ('Strange is this world') became the most important Polish protest song of that era. He was one of the first Polish performers to wear long hair and colourful clothes and introducing psychedelia style to communist Poland, what annoyed the officials. The first three LP album's Niemen recorded with his band 'Akwarele' ('Watercolours'). Subsequently, he recorded with his other new bands: 'Enigmatic', 'Grupa Niemen' and 'Aerolit'. In 1969 he changed musical style to progressive rock while recording the monumental album Enigmatic. The most notable song from it was 'Bema pamięci żałobny rapsod' ('A mournful rhapsody in memory of Józef Bem'), based on the 19th century poem by Cyprian Kamil Norwid. The rest of Enigmatic songs were a sung poetry as well. Niemen played Hammond organ, later mellotron and Moog synthesizer on his records.

In the early 1970s, Niemen recorded three English language albums under the CBS label. In 1974 he recorded Mourner's Rhapsody with Jan Hammer and Rick Laird from Mahavishnu Orchestra. In the seventies, Niemen turned to jazz-rock fusion and electronic music (Katharsis album). In 1972 he also contributed with a song performed by him in the film 'Wesele' ('The wedding', 1972) by director Andrzej Wajda, laureate of an honorary Oscar. Later, Niemen also composed film soundtracks and theater music. In 1980 Niemen said goodbye as a public musical performer. In the 1990s he showed interest in art painting and computer graphics.

In 1999 Niemen was voted the most influential musical figure in Poland by the newspaper 'Polityka'. He shared his position with the Beatles who were most influential international act. Unexpectedly in 2002 his song 'Pielgrzym' ('The pilgrim') was re-mixed and used in 'The test' by British breakbeat act Chemical Brothers. He died of cancer in Warsaw in 2004. In 2011 Radio Polska releases a double album with unique radio live recordings under the title 'Pamiętam ten dzie' (remember this day) spanning a period from 1962 to 1980.

On the web:

- http://www.polishmusic.ca/skok/cds/polskie/grupy/n/niemen/niemen2.html
- http://niemen.xt.pl/
- http://www.ostbeat.de/Niemen.htm

If you like this, you probably like... / european counterparts:

Bijelo Dugme (FRS Yugoslavia)

Boudewijn de Groot (Holland)

Gerard Manset (France)

What do we think:

DB: Niemen’s got the blues, the polish blues that is. To be honest, Niemen originally slipped through when we shopped for Polish music in Poland. Acts like Break-Out and SBB were recommended by the shop owners but somehow Niemen was not. It was when writing the Polish music history that his name came up repeatedly. Interested who he was I quickly bought his first three albums. And rightly so because although fishing in the American blues traditions Niemen made some beautiful music with the Polish poetry as a main lyrical theme. His Enigmatic album is epic!

Recommended albums:

♪♪♪♪ - Dziwny jest ten świat - 1967

♪♪♪♪ - Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz - 1968

♪♪♪♪♪ - Enigmatic - 1969

♪♪♪ - Niemen Vol. 1 (aka Marionetki) - 1972

♪♪♪ - N.AE. (aka Niemen Aerolit) - 1974

  ♪♪♪♪ - Katharisis - 1975

♪♪♪♪ - Idée fixe - 1978

Further listening:

Russische Lieder - 1973; Postscriptum - 1980; Przeprowadzka - 1982, Terra deflorata - 1989; Sen o Warszawie (1995, compilation of early 60's works); Spod chmury kapelusza - 2001; Pamiętam ten dzie (live radio recordings) - 2011

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided