The Polish Muslims have been parodying pop for 35 years
The Polish Muslims were only supposed to play one show, but on Friday at the Magic Bag the local band will celebrate 35 years of pop-song parodies with a polka twist.
Guitarists and singers Ken Kondrat and Dave Uchalik and drummer Mike Miller founded the band in 1981 to play a single benefit show for Kondrat and Uchalik’s band the Reruns. Someone had broken into the Reruns’ rehearsal space and made off with guitars and amplifiers, so the new band played a show at Lili’s 21 in Hamtramck to recoup some of the losses.
Although the Reruns played new wave music, which was the rage at the time, Kondrat and Uchalik decided to do something different with the Polish Muslims. They wrote a couple of parody songs: a twist on the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” called “Bowling U.S.A.,” and “Love Polka No. 9,” a polka version of “Love Potion No. 9.”
The new band’s name made cheeky reference to the city of Hamtramck, where Kondrat, Uchalik and future Polish Muslims bassist Al Phife met in high school. (The word ‘Muslims’ was added purely for its oxymoron factor, band member said.)
The parodies and the polkas stuck — not just with the crowd, but with the players.
“It was too much fun to just say ‘No’ and stop it,” says Kondrat, who now resides in Clawson.
The band has remained a fond side project ever since for its fluctuating lineup, which currently consists of eight members but has numbered as many as 13. The band plays infrequently but is a staple at events like Hamtramck’s Labor Day Festival, where songs like “Paczki Day” — their reworking of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” — have a special relevance.
At 35 years old, the band is as wry and self-deprecating as ever — as evidenced by Uchalik’s response when asked why the band’s popularity has proven so enduring.
“It’s hard to say,” says Uchalik, who lives in Royal Oak. “I think when people come to see us, we’ve always been compared to the freaks in a circus sideshow. They don’t really like looking at us, but there’s just some primitive part of them that keeps them not wanting to turn away.”
Although the band may be irreverent, its members still have a deep-rooted love for the musical and cultural traditions they poke fun at. Kondrat, whose father was an organist and choir director for the Archdiocese of Detroit, fondly remembers learning to sing Polish Christmas carols with the choir at age 7 or 8.
Uchalik says he and his bandmates initially took some juvenile pleasure in recasting pop songs as polkas. But now, he says, “in a roundabout way it’s a tribute to our heritage.”
The shows now often come packaged with a nod to the band’s own heritage. The Redones, who will open Friday’s show, include Ken Kondrat’s three sons, Carl, Steve and Paul Kondrat, as well as his nephews, Tom Kondrat and Matthew Lorio. The band is partly a Reruns tribute act, playing Reruns songs alongside a variety of covers and original material.
Carl Kondrat recalls seeing the Polish Muslims, his first live concert, and says his dad’s band still puts on “a great show every time.”
“Even with three sets that are an hour long, somehow they still keep the energy,” he says. “Being this old, they still never slow down.”
However, Uchalik is making no promises about the band’s future.
“We’re thinking it might be our last show,” he says. “Then again, I might just be saying that so more people will show up after you print that.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
The Polish Muslims Christmas Party and 35th Anniversary Show
with the Redones
8 p.m. Fri.
The Magic Bag
22920 Woodward, Ferndale