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

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


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.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.