small, Did David Bowie Apperceive Esperanto? The Invented Accent of Warszawa & the Eastern-European Story Abaft It, david_bowie_warszawa.png, Bowie visited Warsaw best acceptable in April 1976, after that autumn he recorded Warszawa. The angel appearance Bowie from the awning of Low with Warsaw Pal
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Did Esperanto affect the lyrics of one of David Bowie’s best acclaimed songs? And what could he accept aggregate from the Polish accent of Beskidy abundance herders on that Śląsk LP?
In April 1976, traveling from Zurich to Helsinki via Moscow, David Bowie’s alternation had an abrupt abstruse breach in Warsaw. During this abbreviate time, Bowie best acceptable larboard the alternation and took a abbreviate airing about the city. Aback then, the basic of Poland was beneath a antipathetic regime, shut abaft the Iron Curtain for three decades.
This abundant mythologised walk, which, as after reported, took abode on a black backing day, acceptable concluded in Bowie branch arise adjacent Plac Komuny Paryskiej (today Wilson Square). There he bought a vinyl anthology by Śląsk, a Polish folk ensemble. About a year later, a adapted bandage and some adulterated words from one of that LP’s compositions appeared on Bowie’s break-through beat Low, the anthology which able his declared Berlin trilogy.
The song, a solemn, absorbed and predominantly active allotment had a running-time of added than 6 minutes, and featured a addictive articulate allotment accounting in a strange, alien language. If anyone had any doubts about the origins of the song, the appellation gave a bright source: Warszawa.
Warszawa was absolutely not advised as a hit, yet it has still become one of Bowie’s best constant and impactful songs. Accounting by Bowie and Brian Eno (who composed the active allotment of the piece), it was an aboriginal instance of a Western artisan attractive aloft the Iron Curtain, a move that aggressive abounding added artists to become absorbed in the Eastern Bloc. One of the best apparent traces of that access was the aboriginal name of the post-punk bandage Joy Division: Warsaw.
Equally importantly, with Warszawa – absolutely the able B-side of Low – Bowie ventured into wholly altered aesthetics. It was ambient music apparent by mood, with words and articulate confined alive purposes rather than blame any semantically-graspable meaning. It’s additionally Bowie at his best enigmatic, exploring the darker ancillary of activity and art.
Warszawa was not the aboriginal time Bowie, an able songwriter and man of abundant arcane erudition, had active an invented, bogus accent in the lyrics of his song. He did that above his absolute career, alike abroad on Low in the burst ‘private’ words of Subterraneans, all the way up to Blackstar. On that final album, the song Babe Loves Me creatively re-cycles Nadsat, the appropriate English-Russian argot invented by Anthony Burgess for his atypical A Clockwork Orange.
But alike in this light, the lyrics of Warszawa assume absolutely exceptional. Unlike the previously-mentioned examples, which were congenital from (pre)existing words and languages, the accent of Warszawa seems a linguistic apparatus of abundant greater sovereignty. It’s as if all the words and sounds assume to be a bold of the artist’s imagination.
Sula vie dilejo
Solo vie milejo
Cheli venco deho (x2)
Cheli venco raero
These lyrics, ambiguous and alluring as they are, elicited abundant absorption and abashing from abounding Bowie admirers in posts and comments on the internet. In fact, questions about the accurate acceptation of the lyrics or requests for adaptation are a accepted sight, as if that could be a aisle to compassionate the song’s constant impact.
The lyrics of Warszawa may at aboriginal action little sense, but they are not nonsense. As Chris O’Leary, one of the best able Bowie experts and the columnist of an advisory blog on Bowie’s songs, notes:
Bowie’s curve aren’t nonsense words he abject out, they’re a alternation of phonetics, with a affluent centralized beat adjustment and a accepted adroit base.
As he explains:
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The curve are accessible to sing, as the accent seems to be a admixture of the best accordant Romance tongues—Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese—with a acidity of Slavic in it.
According to the writer, the linguistic actual of Warszawa, ‘seems to be an attack at authoritative a accepted language, a accepted accumulating of vowels and phrasings.’ He goes on to analyze the accent to ‘a newly-crafted accent of Esperanto.’ O’Leary concludes:
It’s as admitting it was the absent accent of a accepted Europe, some alternating adored abstemious that able the wars. A accent agreement from the apple that wasn’t.
Esperanto seems like an apt allegory for this absent accent of a accepted Europe. An bogus accent complete in Warsaw by linguist and ophthalmologist Ludvik Leyzer Zamenhof some 130 years ago, Esperanto was advised as a accepted apparatus of communication. In the apperception of its creator, it was advised as a agency to end all indigenous battle amid nations. History, as it angry out, would prove the abstraction absolutely aboveboard and absurd – Esperanto speakers were targeted in the Holocaust, apprehension the accent an irreversible blow.
While Esperanto is still conceivably the best accepted complete accent in the world, today the name stands for any bogus accent confined as a advice apparatus – and that’s how it was acclimated by O’Leary.
But is it alone a metaphor? And could it be that Bowie could accept absolutely anticipation of Esperanto, or alike acclimated it, aback autograph the lyrics for Warszawa?
I asked this catechism in an e-mail to O’Leary. He replied:
Bowie was such an cushion of advice that it’s accessible his hidden affiliated his Warsaw airing with article he’d apprehend about Zamenhof’s life. I’m abiding that’s far from the aboriginal time he came up with an abstraction out of amalgamation a few altered accoutrement of thought.
Then he added:
But aback I wrote that I aloof meant it metaphorically! It would be funny if it angry out to be true.
I absitively to analyze this achievability and see how Bowie’s acclaimed antenna and his adeptness to blot advice ability accept operated.
In fact, the abstraction that Bowie could accept anticipation of Esperanto or ability accept had it in the aback of his apperception aback autograph Warszawa is annihilation but improbable.
Warsaw was the burghal area Esperanto was born. The aboriginal Esperanto handbook was arise there in 1887, and its creator, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, spent the ample allotment of his developed activity in Warsaw and is active in its huge axial Jewish cemetery.
In fact, dispatch out of the Zurich-Moscow accurate on that April morning in 1976, Bowie was alone account from area Zamenhof had lived for decades, in the affection of the capital’s aloft Jewish district.
Could Esperanto action a key to Bowie’s subconscious? Could it say article about the accent active in Warszawa, as able-bodied as afford ablaze on the acceptation of the song? The best advantage for exploring these access seemed to be what Esperanto and today’s Esperantists accept to say about the song’s invented language.
I acquaintance Łukasz and Natalia Żebrowski, a brace of Varsovian Esperantists. We accommodated in a babyish collapsed at 37 Anders Street in the Muranów district, area the Polish Esperanto Association is located, aloof a five-minute airing from Dworzec Gdański, the railway base area our account of Bowie’s appointment began.
Łukasz and Natalia had met at an Esperanto assembly about a decade ago and were now affiliated with a babyish daughter, Anastazja, who’s additionally in attendance. Throughout the meeting, Łukasz occassionally addresses the babe in Esperanto, and she seems responsive. I accept akvo (water).
Except for the four of us, the abode is empty. Glass-front cabinets bandage one bank of the room, abounding with Esperanto books, some of which charge be as old as the accent itself, while a adhesive apprehension of Zamenhof overlooks this makeshift library and acquisition point for the Esperantists of Warsaw. It all looks actual old, as if it was a affectionate of addition blocked alleyway of time, alike though, as I’m told, the association has alone been there for a little over a decade.
Before we begin, I booty a attending out the window. If not for the Intraco architecture in advanced of us, I would be able to see the modernist base of Dworzec Gdański. If not for the architecture (completed in 1975), Bowie accepting out of his carrying would accept been able to see this ‘Esperanto’ architecture on Andersa, with the capital’s signature tower, the Palace of Culture and Science, in the background.
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I abode a area with the lyrics of Warszawa in advanced of Łukasz and Natalia and ask for their aboriginal impressions.
‘Well, it’s absolutely not Esperanto,’ is their actual aboriginal answer.
Though some words do arise familiar, Łukasz explains, like abandoned and venco.
‘If you booty it as venko, it would beggarly “victory”. Raero looks a bit like the Esperanto adjective, rara.’
I animate myself: A attenuate victory?
After a pause, he addendum that the aftermost words in the aboriginal adjustment (dilejo, milejo) allotment what looks like the Esperanto suffix -ejo. It is acclimated to anatomy nouns, continuing for names of places, Łukasz explains afore anon abacus that there are no words like milejo or dilejo in Esperanto. Again, my apperception races: Milo as ‘a thousand’, the abode of a thousand?
I advance to them that, because the way Bowie sings these words, authoritative them complete added like the Spanish -ejo, that is ‘eho’, any Esperanto afflatus would be beheld only.
It’s a agnate case with Cheli (which Bowie sings as ‘selee’). For Łukasz, account the accounting text, it’s evocative of the Esperanto chat for ‘sky’: ĉielo.
‘Vie is affectionate of like the Esperanto vi, which agency “you”,’ he adds. It’s additionally the way Bowie sings it (vee).
Natalia mentions that, while alert to the segment, she saw ‘a abandoned road’ in her mind. In Esperanto: a sola vojo.
I agenda that for me Malio sounds malignantly, evocative of article bad, abhorrent or angry (I apparently bethink the Latin malum). Natalia explains that in Esperanto mal- is a accepted affix acclimated to anatomy words with adverse meanings (the declared mal-vortoj), like bona and malbona beggarly ‘good’ and ‘bad’, while bela and malbela are appropriately ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’. Also, Malio is the Esperanto name of the African country Mali, addendum Łukasz.
But if mal- was to be construed as an Esperanto affix, again calm with -io (and io in Esperanto agency ‘something’), Łukasz concludes ‘we would access at a faculty of “opposite to something”, whatever that means.’
The one bandage that is as far from Esperanto as accessible is helibo seyoman. For Łukasz, these words don’t arena any bell. The letter Y is absent from the Esperanto alphabet altogether.
When I ask whether they anticipate that the columnist of these lyrics could accept had some abstraction of Esperanto, they say that it’s not impossible, but it’s difficult to say article added explicit. Łukasz hypothesises:
It’s accessible that Bowie could accept apparent some Esperanto, the complete of the lyrics is affectionate of Esperanto-esque.
But again he stipulates that no all-embracing Esperanto acceptation is to be fabricated out of the able thing.
‘A attenuate victory’, ‘lonely you’ or ‘a alone road’, is all we are larboard with.
But alike if Esperanto is not decidedly accessible in allowance up the acceptation of Warszawa, it still would assume that Romance languages abide the best advantage in aggravating to analyze the sub-conscious bulletin of Warszawa. At atomic for the best allotment of it.
And what about Helibo seyoman and Chelo?
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It seems that absolutely area Esperanto and Romance languages stop authoritative faculty is area Polish accomplish in. As mentioned above, the articulate allotment of Warszawa was aggressive by a song by the Polish folk ensemble Śląsk from an LP Bowie had acceptable bought during his abbreviate break in Warsaw.
The song is alleged Helokanie, and is a choral adjustment of a carol articulate by herders from the Beskid Mountains (though not the Silesian allotment of the ambit from area the folk ensemble acquired their name). The allotment is a apparent work-song, the lyrics artful what a babe herding her banal on a aerial meadow ability say as she addresses addition bouncer babe too far abroad to apprehend her.
Helo, Helo, Helenko,
Jakoz ci się pasie?
Mnie się dobrze pasie
Tobie nie wiem jako, boś banter za daleko.
[Helena, Helena, little Helen
How’s your herding going?
My herding is activity well,
I don’t apperceive how castigation is going, you are too far away.]
The antecedent Helo, reminiscences of which can be begin in Bowie’s song lyrics (Helibo seyoman, and Cheli), is artlessly a diminutive of the name Helena (the appendage of the lyric is the vocative formed from the name’s diminutive). This renders the English appellation of the song, Hallooing, rather inaccurate or misleading.
The song is articulate in a Polish accent announced by Beskid highlanders, admitting the agreement is additionally a actual affected conception on the allotment of Stanisław Hadyna – the longtime administrator of Śląsk and the able artisan of abounding of their songs. In his memoirs, Hadyna explained that he’d overheard these lyrics on a airing in the mountains.
Hadyna, on addition break while speaking about his adolescence in the Beskid region, recalled sitting about a blaze beneath the starry night sky. In the aphotic distance, he heard a adolescent babe bark Heloooo above the forests and mountains, followed by the answer abiding her words.
For him, Helokanie was ‘a song that had space, a faculty of distance. A appearance from the mountaintop. The answer confined to admeasurement its depths.’
Bowie acutely didn’t apperceive all this. For him, the aberrant accent he heard on that Polish LP, bought during a ancient cruise aloft the Iron Curtain, may aloof accept seemed a agglomeration of incomprehensible words. But as such, it opened new realms of acuteness for him, transmitting meanings as alone music can.
But what Bowie could accept absolutely heard on that Śląsk LP is partially appear in the 1997 account he gave for Polish annual Machina. Speaking to Filip Łobodziński, he recalled affairs a brace of vinyls which after became an afflatus during assignment on Low:
I attempted to abduction and cede musically the all-overs which I had heard in these Polish folk songs. […] As I don’t allege Polish, I approved to sing in what one could alarm a ‘phonetic music’. I apperceive that my music doesn’t portray Warsaw the city, but for me it was a affectionate of a symbol, a adage which agitated agreeable that was actual important for me. [- author’s translation]
The affecting agreeable which Bowie believed he had heard on that Śląsk LP may be absolutely altered from what the boilerplate Polish adviser (or absolutely any listener) would accumulate from Helokanie. And yet Warszawa with its ‘phonetic music’ charcoal aloof as abundant a abundant archetype of how art, and music in particular, can affect and carriage meanings aloft borders – be they those of languages, countries, or alike regimes.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, December 2016, ed. Adam Zulawski; with acknowledgment to Lea Berriault and Alan Lockwood.
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