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‘The Eagle and the Lion’
Interview with Ragana

Jahga of Ragana

Ragana came to me in a dream in Brazil. Deep into a block of late morning/early evening music videos, MTV played a teaser clip for “A-A-A-A.” I was not-so-fresh off a bottle of White Horse from the night before, dealing with a sweltering climate quickly filling with cigarette smoke, but those 15 seconds made me feel a lot better. By the next day, I still hadn’t seen the entire video, and I wanted that feeling back, so to the Web I turned with oohs and aahs, and, of course, these precious words have been exchanged and reproduced, for your pleasure, with a little help from the artificial intelligence enslaved within my computer. Shall we set it free, you and I?

Who are the players in Ragana?
Jahga sings, Marek Piotrowicz plays on drums, Rastuch plays on keyboards, Kuba is a sound engineer, Rusek plays on guitar, and me, Tomasz Krawczyk, I play bass. We are still young people from southern Poland.

When, why and how did Ragana form? What are your influences? How did you get into reggae? Did you ever go through a death metal phase?
The band was formed in 2007. We wanted to make dub with a very minimalistic formula and dry sound. We decided to simplify as much as we can the composition frames and leave the rest for improvisation, to make it in a meditational, repetitive way. To give Jahga’s voice a steady background so she can sing her own ideas.

We were more into punk/hardcore music than death metal. We each played and play in many projects. Three of us play in Paprika Korps, which is punk energy with dub groove. Marek plays in Świetliki, the rock band which features famous Polish poet Marcin Świetlicki on vocals. So we have wide horizons, but we’re all reggae fans, and the reggae groove is always the main point of reference to all our music. Though, our promo photo looks a bit death metal.

Ragana by Krzysztof Skomski

Photo by Krzysztof Skomski

Ragana is from Poland. Can you tell us a little about the music scene in Krakow?
The Polish reggae scene is quite big and active since the ‘80s. There are many big festivals in the summer with lot of bands. Dancehall, roots, dub, all subgenres of reggae has fans here. Kraków isn’t the main pin on this map, but we are trying to change that.

Your first album, So Many Reverbs to Cross, came out in 2008. You also released a music video for “A-A-A-A” featuring animation by Antanas Skuatas. How are people responding, and where have you been playing to support the album? Have you been touring?
Antanas is a Lithuanian guy from the Academy of Arts in Vilnius. So our cooperation has been mainly through the Internet. We really like the video he made.

We’ve had quite nice feedback. Our album received good reviews, many journalists, thanks to our album, have finally understood what dub music is about.

Live is the nicest thing to make with the band so yes, we tour. We’ve played the bigger Polish festivals, some gigs in the Czech Republic and in Berlin. Although, all of us prefer playing in small clubs.

Tell us about Karrot Kommando, the label you’re working with, and how the relationship began.
Theirs is the one of most active labels and booking agencies in Poland. They release many albums and book shows for Polish and foreign artists (not only reggae). We know each other well, and we have cooperated in many other projects before Ragana. They are our friends and everything works on the plane of friendship. Everything is discussed in a smooth way. It is very comfortable.

The horns on your album were recorded by a British ensemble called Crispy Horns. Their arrangements add a soulful warmth to the Ragana soundspace. How did you hook up with these guys?
Activator, our record’s producer, knows them well, and asked them to contribute. We were amazed when we listened to it for the first time. What they played was really impressive, I agree.

Is there a legacy of Polish/Eastern Bloc reggae that Ragana is carrying on?
The climate here has for sure influenced our music. But i couldn’t point you any detail where you can hear it. Reggae renditions, be they from Poland or Eastern Europe, are so various and different, that it’s not an easy task to find the common denominator, but it is possible.

Do the members of Ragana hold day jobs? What do you do (or don’t do)?
We are trying to make it at least boring as it is possible. Jahga works in a Chinese medicine center in her hometown, Marek works in video game distribution and Rusek works as an animated video artist.

Does the band have any pre-performance rituals?
Before the show, our main idea is to chill out. Everybody does what makes him easy, drinks tea, smokes a joint, shoots vodka. Unstress is the idea.

A Long Delay Ago Ragana Karrot Kommando

What can we expect from your new album, A Long Delay Ago? What does the title mean?
The title is just a play on words. You can expect similar music [to So Many Reverbs to Cross], but better. I think that after the first album we became more confident. So this new album consists of more courageous rhythms and ideas.

I know a lot of Polish hardcore bands only release their records on tape. Did you guys grow up with tapes? Did Karrot Kommando ever put out tapes?
We grew up on the tapes and I still have plenty of them, since most often it’s the only medium in which the hardcore bands you’re mentioned have stuck to. I think the first Paprika Korps albums released by Karrot Kommando were on tapes. Now that has disappeared, but tape has some advantages. I am sure that it will come back just like vinyl.

Where is the best pierogi in Poloand? What goes in it?
Ha! It seems that best pierogi bar is in my hometown of Opole, and is called Pierożek. For me it’s just a regular pierogi bar, but everytime I go to Ragana rehearsal in Kraków (where there are plenty of pierogi bars, thanks to the tourists), the guys ask me to bring cold portions from Pierożek so they can heat them at home. They make pierogi with various filling (strawberries, blackberries, cabbage, mushrooms) but we usually choose the classic formula. called “Ruskie,” with potatoes, cottage cheese and onion. Necessarily, with cream on them.

Name one thing that each member of the band is really into on their own time.
Own time free of what? We are really into music.
That said:
Rusek – drawing
Marek – housekeeping
Jahga – yoga
Rastuch – touring
Tomasz – walking
Kuba – reading

Are you guys following the Winter Olympics?
Sure, especially our ski jumpers! We need those gold medals to rescue our budget.

What kind of stuff are you listening to right now?
Now I am listening to Swedish folk. At the moment, Garmarna, “Den Bortsalda.”

Any last words, or shootouts?
No shoutouts. Just chill out.

A Long Delay Ago dropped March 1, 2010.