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“I’m from Poland. I came here in 2000. I was born on the German border, just ten kilometres from the Czech Republic. It’s a great spot for three cultures coming together; the fusion, integration came way before the EU came, so it’s a nice spot.
“I came for nine weeks to learn the Bodhrán; there was nothing better to do in Poland that particular winter. So I came over here, looked around and decided to stay longer. After three years, I stopped putting a date on going back and decided to stay. I’ve been playing music since I was 12; I play the drums and Galway is a great place for a musician; there’s music everywhere. I have many friends in Brittany and France and they hooked me up with musicians in Galway, so I landed fairly softly and the folks here took care of me. I ended up working with Sharon Shannon for a year playing drums.
“At the moment, I play with 4 Men and a Bass, a vintage rock and roll outfit and I run a Jazz session in Il Vicolo on Sunday evenings. I also play with the gypsy fusion band, Caravana Banda; it’s based back home, partly in Poland and partly in the Czech Republic.
“Back then, when I arrived first, it was different. There was maybe 20 or 30 Polish people in Galway -mainly academics working in the university or studying, or like myself, enthusiasts of culture. We all knew each other; we used to meet once a month, stay in touch and keep tabs on each other. Then in 2004, when the borders opened, it all ended – such a mass of Polish came over. We have a lot to offer. Irish and Polish are very alike in some ways and very different in other ways. Polish people are settling very well in Ireland, but mostly they’re forgetting where they come from.
“For me, I’d rather assimilate. When in Rome… I find that Irish people are very, very open straight away, but on a shallow level. They’ll be brilliant socially, but not past a certain point. To get to know them, you need to take your time. That’s what I learnt anyway. Irish openness is great, because it’s instantaneous. If you’re here two weeks, they’re like, ‘great’, but if they see you here past three weeks, they’re like, ‘right, now time to pay your dues’.
“It’s so easy to meet people from other countries in Galway. It’s very easy to make acquaintances and everyone’s super nice, but you need to work harder to make real connections. It’s very hard to find real friendships and it’s precious. The thing with Ireland is because everyone warms up to you so quickly, you get the illusion that you have tons of friends but it’s different. Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so. All those mates or going out buddies or acquaintances you make, they’re all needed in life. Everyone needs those as well. They should not substitute real friendship, but they’re just as important.
“It’s about doing your thing – people respond to it well. I very quickly sussed out who’s who and what’s what and I respected that and in the same way, I didn’t give in. For instance, there’s a lot of politics in traditional music, ‘this one’s playing with this band, but he doesn’t play with that’ and ‘you’re welcome to come to this session, you’re not so welcome to that session’ and you catch up quickly. I took it a little further and didn’t mind them, I just did what I wanted and played wherever I wanted and didn’t mind who was upset with who and who wasn’t. So people were like, ‘OK, he feels at home, we’d better get along I suppose’. That’s one aspect of it. I used to live in big cities in Poland and I got fed up with it. I found this tiny little bubble which is far more vibrant than many bigger cities in Poland so you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a warm and cosy place to live and just have mental carry on all the time. I hate crowds, unless I’m up on stage. Even the weather – I like it, it suits me. Even the mist!”
There’s more and more fusion going on, I think there’s still a lack of high art in Galway, but there’s plenty of low art, which is very, very accessible. Here, art may be not so demanding in terms of sensitivity of taste, but it’s far more accessible, which makes it easy to support, which in turn makes it easy for other cultures to experience. Even if you’re a stranger and you’re doing something completely different, still you can find recipients because people are used to art here; it’s a part of every day life. That’s why it’s very easy for me; there’s always support for it. You just go down Shop Street and with many busking bands, you can see straight away, that ok , this fella comes from this culture and this fella comes from this culture, this fella comes from Israel and this fella comes from Brittany. Each one of them plays their own instrument and and it’s all perfectly fine. It’s not turning any heads.
“From my own perspective, and I’ve been working at it for a while, I would really like to revive the jazz scene in Galway. There’s plenty of different genres here, but what Galway lacks in a really, really good and vibrant jazz scene. I’ve been trying to do my bit, working from the bottom to the top, so we’ll see. But also what I think Galway is missing is a regional music scene. There’s very little original music nights. There’s a few open mic nights, which is great, because you can definitely see there is a niche for it.”