„Taratil 'id al-milad” – Christmas carols in Arabic
Barbara Kinga Majewska – singer
Marcin Masecki – piano
Marcin Masecki is known for his constant dialogue with traditional repertoire: classical, popular and folk. He performs Bach's concertos on a Wurlitzer electric piano and has recorded the monumental cycle Das Wohltemperierte Klavier in lo-fi on a cassette dictation machine. Similarly, Barbara Kinga Majewska, apart from interpreting contemporary music with Emilia Sitarz, has created her own interpretation of Schubert's Winterreise, and with Bartłomiej Wąsik, sings songs to her own lyrics. With their creative approaches, both artists explore the extent to which tradition can be valid to us today, what it means and what it says to us.
As the musicians have decided to work together on traditional Polish carols, we can expect a performance that is not yet another empty recreation of the Christmas ritual. The carols will not accompany us on our Christmas shopping at the supermarket and will not feature on a CD included in the popular newspaper. The carols will resound translated into the Arabic dialect from the Aleppo area. A change from major to minor mode and a slow tempo will make the Christmas songs rather like a lament, accompanied by the harpsichord, keyboard or piano. The new interpretation of the carol lyrics should not come as a surprise. After all, we have translated into Polish various foreign-language carols, with the prime example being Silent Night. We have also translated the evangelical settings into Polish reality, replacing the grotto in Bethlehem with a stable in which the Christ Child is affected by the harsh Polish winter. Even the Polish word for ‘carol’, kolenda, was borrowed from the pagan Roman January Kalendae falling on the first day of the new year.
In the history of Jesus Christ’s birth, we will find a lot of joy, but also sadness: no room at the inn, rejection, birth in a stable and the flight to Egypt from mass infanticide. In music, this duality is best reflected in the two functioning melodies of the carol Mizerna cicha (Miserable and silent): one slow and melancholic, as if focusing on the words ‘miserable and silent,’ and the other festive and elevated, corresponding to the subsequent words, ‘full of heavenly glory.’ In a minor key, the poignant renditions of popular joyful carols will remind us of the painful moments of the Nativity, whilst drawing attention to contemporary crises.
We sing ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth’ in the carol Gdy się Chrystus rodzi (When Christ is born). But it is difficult today to find peace in Jesus’ homeland. The Palestinian town of Bethlehem is surrounded on two sides by a security wall (a system of fortifications separating the West Bank from Israel), and the entrance to the city is guarded at a checkpoint controlled by the Israeli army, where riots regularly erupt. Even the Basilica of the Nativity was affected by the unrest when Palestinian fighters and civilians sought refuge within it during the Second Intifada in 2002. The siege of the temple lasted 39 days, and when the Palestinians left it after negotiations, explosives were found inside. When news like this reaches us, can we still honestly sing ‘Today, in Bethlehem there is joyful news’? As we listen to Polish carols in Arabic, it is hard not to think about the situation in the Middle East and the drama of the refugees. It is hard not to ask ourselves if we would sit them at the traditional empty place at our Christmas table? And would we welcome Mary, Joseph and Jesus on their flight to Egypt from Herod's tyranny?
There is no peace in the Middle East, but it is also lacking in many of our homes and families. Even on Christmas Eve. The Christmas carols interpreted by Marcin Masecki and Barbara Kinga Majewska can certainly bring about reflection and a search for the peace proclaimed by the angels, starting with ourselves.
Barbara Kinga Majewska is a singer, songwriter, writer and initiator of projects devoted to contemporary music. A graduate of vocal studies and music pedagogy at Hochschule für Musik Detmold, who also studied solo singing at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm and musicology at the University of Warsaw. She received several prestigious scholarships and took part in numerous master classes. Majewska has performed in the world premiere of Sławomir Wojciechowski's Zwycięstwo and słońcem (National Opera - Project P) and Paweł Mykietyn's Magic Mountain, in addition to the premiere performances of works by many other young Polish composers. She also won the main prize in the first edition of the Polish Music
Critics' Competition Kropka.
Marcin Masecki, born in 1982 in Warsaw, is a pianist, composer, conductor and activist, the leader of many different projects. His hallmark is his skilful merging of stylistically diverse genres and the crossing of boundaries between the so-called ‘high’ and popular art. As a classical artist, Masecki has recorded five albums with music by Bach and Chopin among others, whilst as a jazzman he leads the Jazz Band Młynarski-Masecki who play a dance music repertoire consisting of standards from the 1930s. He is also a member of the Pictorial Candi group. At times, he writes film music and discovers ragtime pieces with Jerzy Rogiewicz. For the past decade, Masecki has been recording on the Lado ABC label.