Not much can captivate a room like music; with its rhythm and beats and swing that it shares — it doesn’t even discriminate against those who don’t move or groove or feel its power, it simply keeps on being. In 1960s and early 1970s Poland, music was being threatened.
Producer and DJ Darek Mazzone was born in the port city of Gdańsk, Poland during a time where grey and drab filled the memories of many. Sitting along the Baltic Sea and the River Motlawa, this now quaint and colorful hub of culture was still in the grips of censorship through the Communist Party during a time of revolution around the world. However, there was a shift that Darek remembers that informed the rest of his life.
Adorned on the covers of vinyl records that began coming in were dazzling images of people from different cultures. With a communist cultural exchange driving this exposure to new music, Darek says that was the moment he “got really intrigued [about] all cultures. And finding music from those cultures was really a powerful way for me to feel what people were about [in] those regions. It’s never stopped.” Now living with his wife and 2 kids in Seattle by way of Boston, Darek Mazzone runs Wo’Pop on KEXP, a 3-hour show that dives into modern global music with international musicians who share a passion that has changed history.
Darek’s journey with multiculturalism was just starting when he got his vinyl records from Vietnam and Mozambique. Arriving in the segregated, working-class city of Boston knowing only the “thank you” he’d learned on the plane ride over, Darek had his first experience with racism. Being a blonde, pale boy with an accent and different clothes got him noticed quickly, “I got beat up my first week there so I had to learn how to fight really quickly. I didn’t understand the culture and I completely tried to submerge my identity, especially as a young boy. As I grew older, I fought back both emotionally, physically, and intellectually and totally embraced my Polishness.” Despite the rough neighborhoods with proud immigrant roots, he liked Boston’s vibe, “There was no passive-aggressiveness in Boston like you’d find in other towns, like on the west coast. It was my first set of friends from different parts of the world.”
Although Boston was a greatly divided city — with Italians sectioning off in one area, Irish in another, and more throughout — Darek made friends with people from all over and he knew “immigrants tend to strive. But I find sometimes the children of immigrants are the big strivers.” When he and his friends took a road trip to Seattle, they set off to begin a new chapter of their lives.
Where Darek and his family have now settled brings together a fusion of cultures, “we have a bit of a Central American population, there’s pretty close to a significant Korean population, we also have Japanese. And one of the oldest Polish homes is here.” Despite all the different backgrounds surrounding him, he is happy taking his daughters back to his motherland and seeing their faces as they grow enamored with the churches and food, “They love it. They love learning about it. But not as a ‘this is who I am’ but as in ‘this is a really interesting part of me and I want to learn more about it.’”
While the thrill of traveling energizes Darek between the sights and connecting with people, it is the thought of returning back home to Seattle that he looks forward to at the end of each trip, “You know you go to a huge urban place like Bangalore or Beijing and you’re amazed but then it’s really nice to come home. I could drive a half an hour and I’ll be in an old growth forest in the mountains. So that connection to nature is really, really wonderful.”
With the pandemic, Darek has had to cease traveling but knows the music that connected him to the world as a child and brought him to the United States still holds magic for people around the globe, “[I love] being able to influence people to make them feel better about themselves, to give them a sense of hope, to be able to craft a playlist and put it out and have people reach out to me literally from all over the world, thanking me for doing that, that these songs are making them feel better about themselves, giving them hope for their lives to be able to pivot on.”