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    40th edition of the “Rawa Blues Festival” took place in the capital of Polish blues – Katowice

    “It is obvious that in today’s world full of technology and focused solely on beauty, there is a place for the blues. Because blues is also beautiful! I understand it broadly, from jazz to rock n’ roll. I hear ‘blue notes’ all the time. Blues is the basis of all music, (except classical). And for me, it is a serene one. It’s not just a black man walking down the street alone and playing, but also a person who dances cheerfully to rock n’ roll,” Ireneusz Dudek, the originator and director of the 40th anniversary “Rawa Blues Festival”, which took place on 8 October in Katowice’s “Spodek”, told Niezależna.

    “This year, we should have had the 42nd “Rawa Blues Festival” (the first edition took place in 1981), but we were hindered by a pandemic. Two years ago, there was a “Rawa Blues Festival Warm-up” on “Radio Katowice” I played with the “Big Band”, without audience participation. Although we connected to the internet and were listened to live – by 15,000 people. That year, there was the “Rawa Blues Silesian Sound”, I showed the most interesting bands that used to form the “Silesian blues trail”. This year, I took a risk. Some people said we would be hindered by the pandemic again, but that didn’t happen. Fortunately. There were about 5,000 spectators. The interest was great. We also gave away a lot of tickets in competitions to instil the idea in people. It’s a family festival, if the parents bought tickets – the children could enter for free, and every child is our regular in the future. We had over 20 bands on the main stage; and almost 10 more on the side stage,” explains Ireneusz Dudek, director of the 40th jubilee “Rawa Blues Festival” in Katowice. He is also a singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, who could be seen on stage during this edition of the festival in the “Irek Dudek Big Band”.


    In Poland, singing the blues in English is forbidden


    Let’s go back to 1981. In the socialist system, even though there was Solidarity fever, singing the blues in English was still forbidden.


    “We could do it in clubs, but we couldn’t release records, or go on TV or radio. Then, it warmed up a bit, but it was hard to do your festival. I couldn’t say, I made it up, so I’ll do it in my name and at my own risk, I didn’t do it until 1994. We were being fed music that was separated from the origins of American blues. It was nonsense. Only Polish bands and only Polish music were supposed to play. Only that they still couldn’t play well at all, apart from, for example, Czesław Niemen and underground artists,” the artist recalls.


    Today, the “Rawa Blues “Festival” is the largest blues festival in the world, organised “under the roof”. In 2012, it was honoured with an extremely prestigious award – the largest international blues association, ‘The Blues Foundation’, awarded ‘Rawa’ with the ‘Keeping The Blues Alive’ award in the ‘Festival International’ category. The title aims to honour people and organisations who have had a significant impact on the development and dissemination of blues music. 


    “We’ve had everyone playing. Over the past 40 years, many musicians and bands from America, but also from Poland, have passed through here (in fact, every Polish band started at “Rawa Blues”). Thanks to our enterprise, we also have almost 50 minor festivals in Poland,” explains Ireneusz Dudek. 


    Blues is all about simplicity, that is why it gets to the core


    “Blues is played first and foremost by people who want to play this music. It is a very simple form. Here we have triads already known in classical music, which are suitable for harmonising all melodic lines. Even a man who is not too familiar with harmony can thus quickly start playing and start singing about his plight and misery. It’s simple lyrics and simple music, but it gets to the core,” the artist notes.


    The popularity of the blues has also been influenced by the marriage with Hollywood cinema (documented by Scorsese, among others) and films such as the Blues Brothers, for example. Young people do not realise that virtually all popular music of the 20th century has blues roots. Sometimes people who come to ‘Rawa’ say: ‘Oh, I know this stuff, I’ve listened to it!’. The listeners are often people who were already here 40 years ago. They came as students, and now they are here with their grandchildren. There is a rule that” 


    “Once someone has attended “Rawa”, they will do it again” 


    “The Rawa Blues Festival was born in Katowice because from Silesia there was “Dżem” and Rysiek Riedel, Józef and Jan Skrzek, Ireneusz Dudek.


    “In Katowice, there was the “Ciapek” Club on Kościuszki Street, which existed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I couldn’t go in there because I wasn’t yet a student, but my friends were playing “Rhythm and Blues” (R&B) to dance to it. I stood outside the window and heard 17-year-old Jozef Skrzek being welcomed as he played the organ, he enchanted me. The critical point for Silesian blues was the late 1970s. We moved around the world, but in the 1980s we returned to tradition. Today, Katowice is the Polish capital of blues. It has become. There is the “Rawa Blues Festival”, people from all over the world come here and they are delighted. The “Spodek” hall, the apparatus. The concerts were documented by public television, but I conclude that it’s better when people listen live. Television is not a solution. You have to feel it, touch it. Musicians and listeners need to establish a relationship. That’s what gives. It’s the one-off performance that counts. I had a rehearsal today, and everything seems to fit, but I don’t give it my all, I know that only when the audience can hear will the whole thing come into being,” explains the musician.


    Why is the 40th edition special? Firstly, the festival’s headliner, Macy Gray. A black artist who grew up in the States and performs at jazz festivals. Her music oscillates between R&B and soul. She presented a longer concert in Katowice. 


    “She came to Poland with very good musicians. Then there is Mike Zito. I was at his rehearsal, I know him from recordings. He limited the composition of the band, he put on a trio, but he showed so much energy. The concert of our “Big Band” was attended by many guests. Next up was Chris Cane. He charmed me. He sings like B.B. King. No, he’s not faking it. He has such a natural sound and plays great blues. He combines traditional melody lines and blues riffs with lines that are characteristic only of him. He teaches improvisation at a university in the States, by the way. Macy Gray is magnificent, has honed every sound, and creates a new space. Last but not least is the “Kris Barras Band”, 5 years ago he was an unknown, and now he plays with world leaders such as “ZZ Top,” enumerates the festival director.


    It was energetic!


    The festival was accompanied this year by many additional events. In the music competition on the small stage of the “Spodek”, the best turned out to be “Coffee Experiment”, (such a competition accompanies “Rawa” every year and promotes young artists). As a reward, the group performed during Saturday’s concert on the big stage. As usual, the concerts on the big and small stages were hosted by Jan Chojnacki and Marek Jakubowski.

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