“’I Could Live in Africa’: Cultural Appropriations in Alternative Music Scene in the 1980s in Poland”

In the 1980s in Poland there was huge growth of alternative music scene beyond official mass media, festivals and record labels. Many young underground artists turned into genres such as reggae, punk rock, new wave, ethnic and world music. This change was related to analogical turn in visual arts to new expressionism, action painting and performance art. Members of the underground communities were interested in religions and philosophies of Rastafari, Buddhism and Krishnaism, their symbols, icons and rituals, what found reflection in their live styles, fashion, practices.

The boom on punk, reggae, ethnic music, expressionism and primitive art was strictly tied with the ethics of authenticity. Searching for true spontaneity and authentic self expression in opposition to official, formal institutional frames of popular culture in socialist Poland, an alternative scene artists found as enchanting musical traditions of African, Asian and American indigenous cultures and strove to imitate styles of these cultures. The fascination of genuine, grass root and minor music genres and styles brought to Polish underground musicians new opportunities to create their images and identities as subjugated but endowed with the subversive power of authenticity of cultural minorities. Their scene images have been believed to be ‘spontaneous’ and ‘true’, however in fact they were merely constructs based on appropriations from really oppressed and marginalized nations and social groups. Therefore practices performed and seen by underground as a sign of transcultural solidarity and unity of the dominated, should be perceived as a manipulation of elements of the Otherness profiting with symbolic capital in local sociocultural circumstances.


Xawery Stańczyk (1985) – anthropologist and sociologist of culture, working as assistant in the Institute of Polish Culture, the Faculty of Polish Studies, Warsaw University. He received his PhD from the Faculty of Polish Studies at Warsaw University in 2015 (thesis about the alternative culture in Poland in the years 1978-1996). He holds master degrees in sociology and cultural studies. Member and co-funder of the Practices of Late Modernity Research Group affiliated to Institute of Polish Culture. His interests include history of popular culture, especially underground and marginalized cultural phenomena in Poland and Central Europe.

He published scientific and journalistic articles in Stan Rzeczy, Studia Litteraria et Historica, Res Publica Nowa, Kultura Współczesna, Kultura Popularna, Glissando, Lampa, Przekrój, Gazeta Wyborcza, Arteon and in numerous joint-publications. He edited urban section in journal Res Publica Nowa and co-edited urban studies anthology Miasto na żądanie. Aktywizm, polityki miejskie, doświadczenia (2013). He was awarded scholarships from Polish National Science Centre (2013) and the city of Warsaw (2015).

He is also an urban activist dealing with advertisements visual pollution in Polish landscape and a poet nominated to Nike award for his debut Skarb piratów (2013).