Poland is hard to imagine as the place of origin for a blues musician, but singer Magda Piskorczyk might change that impression this weekend.
The Warsaw resident is the headlining act at this year’s Blues Bash, which takes place in the courtyard at Taipei Artist Village on Sunday.
Piskorczyk, who possesses a low-pitch, smoky voice, is as comfortable singing on top of Chicago-style shuffles as she is grooving on West African rhythms or straight-ahead funk.
But it’s her “charisma” that keeps people listening, according to DC Rapier, head of the Blues Society on Taiwan and a member of local Chicago-style blues outfit BoPoMofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ). “Her music is enchanting — it’s really personal, and very engaging,” he said.
Rapier first met Piskorczyk in the US in 2005 when she represented a blues organization in Poland at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Rapier jumped on the chance when the Warsaw Trade Office in Taipei approached him about bringing the singer to Taiwan.
When Piskorczyk sings, her Polish accent comes through clearly, but her ability to hit a wide range of notes, coupled with her raw, powerful vocal style should be enough to convince concert-goers, especially in a live setting.
Her repertoire includes arrangements of pre-World War II American folk blues, electric blues standards and West African desert blues (a la the north Mali group Tinariwen).
Joining her on Sunday will be guitarist Ola Siemieniuk.
Piskorczyk, who declined to give her exact age but says she’s in her thirties, says she was instilled with a love for the sounds of African-American music as a child. At home, her parents always listened to blues, jazz and gospel.
“I remember when I was four, and I couldn’t fall sleep without listening to a few songs by [gospel singer] Mahalia Jackson,” she told the Taipei Times in an interview earlier this week.
Festival-goers aren’t likely to hear many songs sung in Polish on Sunday. Piskorczyk prefers to sing in English, finding it more “melodic,” but says she wouldn’t mind creating lyrics in her native language, given the right circumstances. “I prefer to cooperate with a good [lyricist], but there’s not so many nowadays in Poland,” she said.
The international take on the blues is a tradition of sorts at Blues Bash, which is now in its ninth edition and has hosted artists from Argentina, Japan and Slovakia. Since its inception, the Bash has been a labor-of-love operation for a small community of blues and roots music lovers, most of whom are expats (disclosure note: I’m part of that group, and my band regularly performs at the festival).
But Rapier, who founded and runs Blues Bash, is constantly looking for ways to reach out to Taiwanese audiences. That might be one reason Piskorczyk is a good fit for the festival: both are happy to reach more mainstream audiences.
Piskorczyk says she likes to play for people unfamiliar with blues music and enjoys playing unusual venues, which has included supermarkets in Poland, in addition to the regular touring circuit in Europe.
“If I have a chance to give people something different to listen to other than pop, then I’ll do that, with pleasure,” she said.
Other performers at the Bash include Japanese guitar ace Shun Kikuta, a veteran of the American blues circuit as sideman for the late Koko Taylor, Thailand-based American musician Ken Minahan and local rock band The Silence (沉默之音). For a full list of performers, visit www.bsot.org.