Music

felicita's 'hej!' (Re)Performs Diasporic Traditions

felicita's hej! demonstrates harmony through cultural hybridity, asserting a necessary post-Brexit statement.

hej!
felicita

PC Music

3 August 2018

With the uncertainty of the post-Brexit EU settlement and immigration policies, British Poles have begun to voice their concerns. For the Polish diaspora, the UK is not only a place to work but also a home. As the largest non-British EU citizen group in Britain, with two waves of immigration coming during World War II and the 2004 enlargement of the EU, British Poles have developed traditions that are as British as they are Polish. Hence, the protection of such transculturality is essential to Polish diaspora artists such as felicita.

felicita is the project of Dominic Dvorak, a London-based, Anglo-Polish, Mandarin-speaking, PC Music signee, music producer, choreographer, and costume designer. Surely, this winding title would read better with fewer descriptors, but the rejection of complexity is exactly what Dvorak's latest work is against. Rather, the felicita debut full-length hej! delves into the intricacies of diasporic identities. Its ten tracks embrace hybridity and demonstrate how diaspora art can harmoniously maintain displaced traditions through (re)performance — from the sounds of Polish lullabies to UK bass music; from the movements of Polish dance theaters to grimy London nightclubs.

To begin the transcultural experience of felicita, hej! opens with the title track. It is a humble piano introduction that is performed with the Mazury Dance Company, one of the largest Polish dance groups in the UK. On its music video, as the slightly distorted piano warmly wobbles in and out of tune like an ode to Boards of Canada, the troupe follows by gracefully twirling and leaping in their traditional floral embroidered garbs. However, as the dancers are displaced from their typically jubilant folk music, their movements are suppressed in slow motion and their smiles are painted red by the ominous light. Like the British Poles who are burdened by the looming possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the Polish dancers are weighed down. The group that once celebrated Poland's entry into the EU is now flipped upside down into a suspended handstand as the UK leaves.

Also collaborating with the Śląsk Song and Dance Ensemble, one of the largest folk groups in Poland, the album's two-part centerpiece is composed to reimagine the movements of the polonaise, a traditional Polish dance. While this processional dance style is typically accompanied by music in triple time, "soft power I" moves off-pattern. As the oneiric piano lulls with its swathing progression, its rolling hi-hats and deep kicks sporadically sputter. Following, "soft power II" replaces the percussion with the sampled vocals and heel clicks of Dvorak and Caroline Polachek, emulating the euphoric yelps, claps, and foot stomps of Polish folk dancers. First performed at the Unsound Festival in Kraków, Poland, Dvorak (re)preforms the polonaise for the homeland crowd through the diasporic perspective.

Polachek also provides her vocals for "marzipan" to sing Dvorak's rendition of the Polish lullaby "Był sobie król". On an interview with TANK magazine, Dvorak explains that the ghastly ballad recollects the childhood memories of a summer camp in North Wales for UK-based Polish children. Within the camp house that used to serve as an emergency hospital for wounded soldiers during WWII, the Polish lullaby was eerily recited as a communal goodnight. Hence, Polachek's beautifully haunting vocal performance retells a childhood tale that is unique to Dvorak and the British Poles. With every creaking keystroke and tensive synth crescendo, Dvorak conjures the collective diasporic memory of a king, a queen, and a pageboy.

Apart from the four aforementioned piano compositions, hej! gets quite abrasive. For every Polish-inspired nocturne, an abstraction of UK bass follows. "coughing up amber" abruptly disrupts the title track, throttling metallic synths before unraveling into an ambient close. Similarly, "shook" bothers "soft power II", slamming a bitcrushed synth line that bounces with as much vigor and heat as an open-air rave on a humid Summer day. Lastly, "night soil (fade out)" jumps miles away from "marzipan", erratically shaking with syncopated samples and ear-piercing explosions. While these transitions feel sudden, they display the variousness of Dvorak's cultural influences.

Accordingly, the album comes to an end with the appropriately titled "mosaic genetics". The closing song is as disjointed as the tracklist, but to this effect the intricacies of diasporic identities are reflected. Never settling into a single sound, never claiming a single culture, hej! speckles mosaics rather than idealizing purity. Like an oddly planned but beautifully bewildering night out, the album jumps from the delicate pianos of Polish ballet theaters to the thumping bass of London nightclubs. As if Dvorak frequented both cultural settings in a single outing, inspiration is found in both the composed movement of folk dancers and the primal flailing of local clubbers. So, the amalgamation of these seemingly contrary styles uniquely describes felicita: someone who is not solely British or Polish, but is rightfully a participant of both cultures. Hence, hej! articulates the changing meaning of tradition within the cultural mosaic; most importantly, Dvorak demonstrates harmony through hybridity, asserting a necessary post-Brexit statement.

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