Czesław Niemen (Polish pronunciation: t͡ʂɛswaf ɲemɛn; February 16, 1939 - January 17, 2004), real name Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki, was one of the most important and original Polish singer-songwriters and rock balladeers of the last quarter-century, singing mainly in Polish.
Niemen was born in Stare Wasiliszki in the Nowogródek Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic (now in the Grodno Region of Belarus). Czesław Niemen belonged to a huge, strongly self-identified and culturally influential community of Poles, living outside the eastern borders of contemporary Poland, on the eastern lands of the historical Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (called 'Kresy' in Polish). In the dawn of World War II these lands were annexed by the Soviet Union and later became inter alia, a part of Belorussian SSR, according to Europe's post-war "reorganization" performed during the Yalta Conference. In the 1950s Niemen was allowed to move to Poland as one of many Poles embodied by the so-called Second Repatriation.
He made his debut in the early 1960s, singing Polish rock and soul music. He possessed an unusually wide voice range and equally rich intonation. He was also an ardent composer and a keyboard player.
In 1964 at Congress Hall, Warsaw, Niemen together with his group played as a support act to Marlene Dietrich in concert. She heard his song "Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz" ("Do you still remember me?") there. She enjoyed it so much and soon recorded her own version of it "Mutter, Hast du Mir Vergeben" ("Mother, have you forgiven me?") writing her own lyrics for the song.
Soon after his first successful concerts in France, he started to use the pseudonym Niemen instead of his real name, gaining wider notoriety in Poland and making it easier to pronounce by foreigners (Niemen is a Polish pronunciation for the Neman River and in this way he wanted to mark his birth country). His song of 1967, "Dziwny jest ten świat" (Strange Is This World) is commonly acknowledged to be the most important Polish protest song of that era (in 1972 an English version was also recorded). He was one of the first Polish performers to wear long hair and colourful clothes and introducing the style of psychedelia to communist Poland, which annoyed the officials. The first three LP album's Niemen recorded with his band "Akwarele" (Watercolours). Subsequently, he recorded with his other new bands: "Enigmatic", "Grupa Niemen" and "Aerolit". In 1969 he changed musical style to progressive rock while recording the monumental album Enigmatic. The most notable song from it was "Bema pamięci żałobny rapsod" (A Mournful Rhapsody in Memory of Józef Bem), based on the 19th century poem by Cyprian Kamil Norwid. The rest of Enigmatic songs were also in sung poetry form. Niemen played Hammond organ, later mellotron and Moog synthesizer on his records.
In the early 1970s, Niemen recorded three English language albums under the CBS label. In 1974 he recorded Mourner's Rhapsody with Jan Hammer and Rick Laird from Mahavishnu Orchestra. In the seventies, Niemen turned to jazz-rock fusion and electronic music (Katharsis album). In 1972 he also contributed with a song performed by him in "Wesele" (The Wedding (1972 film)) by director Andrzej Wajda, laureate of an honorary Oscar. Later, Niemen also composed film soundtracks and theater music. In the 1990s he showed interest in art, painting and computer graphics. He died of cancer in Warsaw.
Awards and recognitions:
Niemen won the Sopot International Song Festival in 1979.
Niemen's support bands:
Niemen cooperated with the following bands; some of them were support musicians, while others were independent bands: "Akwarele" ("Watercolours"), "I Niemen" ("And Niemen") (1969-1970), also under the name "Niemen Enigmatic"), "Grupa Niemen" (made of the members of Silesian Blues Band), Niebiesko-Czarni, "Aerolit", female vocal band Alibabki.
"Aerolit" accompanied Czesław Niemen in 1974-1978. Initially it was formed from young musiсians of the rock band Krzak: Jacek Gazda, Jan Błędowski, Maciej Radziejewski, Piotr Dziemski. The word means "aerolite" in Polish.