Polemic (almost) in full glory...
photo: Ivan Kelement
"Outside Slovakia, when you write that a band plays ska, everybody knows to expect music that allows you to entertain yourself," said Miro Baričič, Polemic's leader and bassist. "It's a label for a band promising fun. But here, you have to write Polemic to deliver the same message."
The opportunity to have fun with Polemic's 10 band members - two guitarists, a bassist, drummer, tenor and alt saxophonists, a trumpet player, keyboardist and two singers - comes to Bratislava just before Christmas, December 21. While the first syllable of the concert's title Skackavé Vianoce suggests the band plays ska, the title literally means "jumping Christmas".
"Our concert repertoires are designed to let people jump to the music," said alto saxophonist Naďa Ďurecová.
Although Polemic struggled to win recognition playing ska in the 1980s, when heavy metal and glam rock were sweeping Czechoslovakia, it has moved to the forefront of the Slovak music scene in recent years, winning the Grand Prix 2001 prize two weeks ago for landing the most air time on Slovakia's three most popular radio stations this year. At the same time its 1999-released second album Yahman climbed to number two on the Slovak charts.
The band ascribes their new success not to the public's having warmed up to ska but to Polemic's development of a style that goes beyond labels.
...and making people jump to the music.
photo: Patrik Španko
A typical Polemic tune is the easy-going Trápny deň (Embarrassing day), which describes a person who wakes up and is immediately annoyed at everything. Refrains from other songs, such as Ja som to vedel (I knew it) or Ako to prežijem? (How will I survive this?) are sung by Slovaks of all generations. One of last summer's biggest hits, Komplikovaná (Complicated), a song about an imaginary girl, contained some of the bands most catchy and quirky lyrics: "brilliantly distinguished, a symmetrical case, sensitively hyper-active".
The success is a far cry from the band's start in the late 1980s, when four 14-year-old Bratislava schoolmates took up ska as its popularity was waning in the face of the heavy metal onslaught. Several Slovak bands were then imitating the English class-conscious ska bands Madness and Bad Manners, but only Polemic stayed together and stuck with the genre.
"We wanted to play what we liked, even if people shook their heads at us. They thought we were crazy. They considered ska a seasonal item. But we stubbornly continued," said Baričič.
Only after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 did Polemic realise that ska had not died out all over the world, that hordes of ska followers and newly-opened ska clubs existed in the West. Bolstered by the news, Polemic finally got its break in 1994, when Slovak pop singer Robo Grigorov introduced them to the country on a talent-search TV show. The appearance came at a crucial time for the band - no record companies were interested in releasing their first CD.
"We had saved money, paid for a studio, recorded a CD and were begging publishers to get it issued. They slammed the doors in our faces, saying 'guys, I'm sorry, but look at the sales charts, no ska CDs ever sell,'" remembered Baričič. Grigorov used his influence to get their first CD, Do Ska, released.
Another turning point for the band came in 1998, when three Polemic members travelled to Jamaica, ska's homeland, for inspiration. They say the sounds they heard there are reflected in their second CD Yahman. However, they cite just as many other influences, including folk music from Slovakia's many regions.
"Basically everything we have listened to since childhood is a part of our music," said Baričič. "We're a fusion of all of Slovakia's musical styles and all of the music our 10 members listen to. This separates us from bands that play purely ska."
What: Polemic - Skackavé Vianoce - ska concert
Where: Dom Kultúry Lúky (Lúky Culture House), Vígľašská 1, Bratislava
When: December 21 at 19:00
For more information on the band Polemic as well as chords for their songs go to www.polemic.sk