It may not be everyone's taste in popular music but in Poland, Disco Polo is filling the clubs, blaring out of countless sound-systems up and down the country and drawing even some of the most ambivalent revellers onto the dance floor as the night drags on. With its roots in vulgarised folk tunes pepped up with jaunty refrains, memorable (and minimal) lyrics, earworm tunes and thumping rhythms, Disco Polo contains elements of Italo Disco and Euro Disco but remains, at its core, wholly Polish.
The genre developed in the early 1990s, in the early days after the demise of communism, and initially was known as piosenka chodnikowa (or pavement music) since it was only available for sale on old-fashioned tapes sold at roadside market stalls. The largest of the Disco Polo producers, Blue Star from Reguly near Warsaw, was part-owned by the Mafia.
Since then, Disco Polo musicians, producers and clubs which specialise in the genre have come a long way. 'We've been playing the same music since 1993 but the people's attitude to Disco Polo has changed' says Robert Sasinowski, a veteran performer and frontman of Skaner, a band from Bialystok.
Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski toured the country with a song called Ole Olek (Olek being the diminutive of Aleksander) during his presidential campaign in 1995. Like many other indigenous music trends, Disco Polo gives its listeners a feeling of being 'in tune with global trends' according to Anna Kowalczyk of Warsaw University.
These days, much of the awkwardness and poor taste associated with Disco Polo has disappeared and the music has become part of the mainstream, attracting some serious investors. Zbigniew Benbenek, the owner of ZPR SA, a company involved in casinos, publishing and radio, had the clever idea to include CDs with popular Disco Polo tracks with his wide circulation tabloid Super Express once a week. 14 million copies of the CD were distributed this way.
With Benbenek's investment in Lemon Records came another leap for Disco Polo leading to the multi-million zloty launch of Polo TV, a channel churning out Disco Polo videos 24 hours a day. Polo TV has now overtaken Viva Polska and MTV as the most watched music channel in the country.
Disco Polo used to be synonymous with the Sloikowcy, the 'jar people', a distinctly Polish expression referring to people from the countryside who go back home every weekend and come back to the city laden with jars of pickled foods. Nowadays, however, it has emerged into the limelight and is very welcome among the Doitowcy, the 'do-it' people, who will do anything not to return to their villages.
A full text by Wojciech Markiewicz of Polityke Magazine is available on request.