Czesław Niemen (born 1939: died 2004) was one of the key figures in the development of Polish popular music and Dziwny jest ten świat (Strange Is This World) is among his best known songs. He started his music career in 1962 as one of the vocalists associated with Niebiesko-Czarni (Black and Blue) and his debut recording was a 1962 twist EP made with them. Further recordings and tours followed, including a prominent role for Niemen – alongside Ada Rusowicz, Wojtek Korda and Helena Majdaniec – on Niebiesko-Czarni’s self-titled debut LP.
In 1965, having developed into a key songwriter as well as vocalist, Niemen joined Akwarele (The Watercolours) with whom he made three LPs, including Dziwny jest ten świat (1967), an album containing a title-song whose Polish lyrics merged with a powerfully soulful delivery: an unusual combination in the Polish context at the time, though Niemen’s fellow Niebiesko-Czarni vocalist Stan Borys was another who had clearly been paying attention to Black American artists, and Ada Rusowicz had also performed versions of Aretha Franklin’s Respect and other similar material both live and on records.
Following the success of Dziwny jest ten świat (the recording is said to have sold over 160,000 copies at the time of its release and it has remained in the catalogue ever since) Niemen’s subsequent career was long and varied, with the progressive organ-based rock of Enigmatic and electronic keyboard-based projects like Idee-Fixe often winning attention in international markets: by the time of his death he was considered sufficiently important for members of Poland’s government to attend his funeral and it’s said that on the day every Polish radio station played Dziwny jest ten świat at the same moment.
While the lyric to Dziwny jest ten świat is very spare, perhaps even slightly generic in its broad sentiments, Niemen’s delivery gives the simple phrases enormous memorability and character when the song is heard in performance. The Polish lyric can be read here, and the song (performed by Niemen at the 1967 Sopot Festival) can be heard here.
Dziwny jest ten świat (Strange is this World)
(after Czesław Niemen, 1967)
This world is strange, home to evil people still.
It’s strange how man despises man.
It’s strange that wars are fought, people are killed.
Strange this world that lets the bad run free
keeps the good in chains. This world is strange.
Our lives make me ashamed, I’m ashamed to say.
But what else is there to feel? It’s too often seen
that words are drawn like knives or swords,
cut good men’s throats. There are good people:
I might believe in them. I must, with all my strength, believe.
For this world, strange as it is, should not end
just because some do evil while we forget the good.
And there are good people: I might believe in them.
I must, though it takes all my strength, believe.
For this world, strange as it is, shouldn’t be made to end
because some do evil: hold in mind the good.
The day has come for hatred to leave our sight.
It’s high time for these hatreds to burn themselves out.