Everybody in the Balkans – and not only the Balkans – knows the band Bijelo Dugme (english: White Button) and its charismatic frontman Goran Bregović. Not everybody knows though about many cooperations abroad that Bregović have had. These cooperations resulted in multiple covers or variations of the songs of Bijelo Dugme and other of Bregović’s compositions, also in different languages. Did you know that Bijelo Dugme echoes in Polish, charming the next generations of Poles for already 20 years?
Exactly 20 years ago Goran Bregović and Polish singer Kayah released their album titled Kayah & Bregović, which is a combination of pop, Balkan music, Romani music and Polish folk from the mountain region. It was a huge commercial success back then and the songs from this album still resound. Kayah wrote the lyrics and Bregović was responsible for the music and production. What I would like to focus more in this article is actual meaning of the songs in Polish, especially in comparison to the Balkan originals.
For a start, let’s take something iconic – ‘‘Djurdjevdan’’, based on a traditional Roma song ‘‘Ederlezi”. This music masterpiece is surely one of the most recognizable songs around the Balkans. The background story of ‘‘Ederlezi” is focused most on celebration of life and welcoming spring, which brings new life and hope. ‘‘Djurdjevdan”, literally translating, is Saint George’s day which is connected with spring celebration, although in this version of the song we can hear a tearing sadness. The lyrics say that for the singer there’s no spring anymore, since his beloved is gone (‘‘It’s St George’s day and I’m not with the one that I love”). Polish version of the song – ‘‘Nie ma, nie ma ciebie” (‘‘And you’re not, you’re not here”) – is set in winter time. A part of the song refers to Polish Christmas carol ‘‘God is born”. While Christmas time is something that brings people together and warms up the hearts in the harshness of winter, the singer again is not the part of omnipresent celebration as she lost her beloved and her heart turned into stone.
Going on to a great hit of Bijelo Dugme – ‘‘Ruzica si bila” (‘‘Once you were a rose’’). In the original it’s sang from a man’s perspective, for whom a woman was once upon a time his rose, the only one in his heart, but she’s not a rose anymore. Kayah’s song is almost a literal translation from original, but since she is a woman she sings: ‘‘Once upon a time I was a rose for your heart, once upon a time I was your rose (…) But I’m not anymore”. Eventually a rose turned into a thorn, which is a symbol of dying love that started to hurt both of the lovers.
Another song from the album, which is a ballad with a huge emotional load, has multiple references. ‘‘She’s not a bird” (translating from Polish ‘‘To nie ptak”) has elements of ‘‘Ako mozes, zaboravi” (‘‘If you can, forget”) and ‘‘Da te bogdo ne volim” (‘‘To not love you, for God’s sake”). There are many interpretations of the song but one, which appears mostly, tells about a woman who cheated on her man. However, the song explains that ‘‘she’s not a bird”, she was suspected by her man to do so, he kept her in the cage to be sure that she’s faithful and devoted only to him. The song continues to tell the story that the man saw the wings appearing under the woman’s dress and we can interpret these imaginary wings as delusional proofs of unfaithfulness. This woman eventually turns into a bird, as she’s tired of suspicions, and she flies away. If you have seen the movie ‘‘Arizona Dream” (music was composed by Bregović), you’ve seen how the characters were dreaming to fly and trying to do that. That can be also something ‘‘She’s not a bird” was inspired on. One song from a soundtrack, written by Iggy Pop – ‘‘TV screen” – shares the melody with ‘‘She’s not a bird”.
There are more from the album of Kayah and Bregović that we can refer to their originals, like ‘‘Jeśli Bóg istnieje” (‘‘If the God exists”) with ‘‘Ako ima Boga” from Bijelo Dugme repertoire or ‘‘Ta-bakiera” (‘‘Snuff-box”) with ‘‘Ausência” performed by Cesária Évora, coming from the soundtrack created by Bregović for ‘‘Underground” movie of Emir Kusturica. For those who like compositions of Bijelo Dugme or solo projects of Bregović, it can be something interesting to investigate on. Polish and Balkan cooperation resulted in interesting blend of music, traditions, stories and emotions. It takes you from a wedding celebration to put you in the coziness of your bed and leaves you there thinking about all kinds of love – especially the lost one and the hard one.