Polish star vocalist Anna Maria Jopek will be performing at The Union Chapel in London with her project “Polanna” on Feb 21st. In this interview (*) with Tomasz Furmanek, she talks about the project, her artistic credo, her memories of previous London visits, and her work alongside artists such as Pat Metheny and Kurt Elling:
LondonJazz News: Is Polanna a particularly personal project?
Anna Maria Jopek: Yes. My project Polanna is a search for the essence of the typically Polish soul in music, and is dedicated to all those things that I, as a human being, am ‘made of’. The sources for my inspiration are broad, by virtue of the fact that I grew up in a family of artists, including members of the famous folk group Mazowsze, and then studied classical music for many years. When touring the world a lot, and playing improvised music with some of the best contemporary musicians, I always try to bring an ‘element of self’ to these interactions.
LJN: ‘Element of self.’ What does that mean?
AMJ: It seems to me that this ‘element of self’ is to do with an identity of Polishness. A sense of nostalgia, of the Slavic, a special kind of sensitivity. I think that this sensibility carries real value in the world, is an element that we Poles can offer, and is something unique – at least I see it this way. I believe it’s part of the reason for my regularly being invited to perform in Japan, in China, and even the United States – that is, everywhere where there’s already a lot of everything in terms of music and where a kind of ‘something else’, – this sense of self, carries a special attraction. I feel that this idea is a very important aspect of the wider question about what contemporary music is, worldwide.
LJN: The old saying ‘you don’t take wood to the forest’ springs to mind…
AMJ: Indeed. An important question is: what can I bring to improvised music from myself? I won’t ever be able to catch up with my swinging American colleagues or bluesmen, I won’t be able to catch up with them in the context of the purity of those genres, and in a way, I take comfort that this is not my purpose. I think that I have something else, my own thing to give, which is native to me. I don’t spend too long being conscious of it, because it’s simply my identity.
LJN: Are both the live project and the Polanna album inspired by the same source?
AMJ: Yes, that’s where the idea of recording that album came from. An album where I could reach for and use various subjects that have been important to me in my life. These subjects are often from very different historical moments in Polish music, as well as from various physical places. Therefore, not only does Waclaw from Szmotuly meet Karol Szymanowski, but hymns meet partisan songs, or even a scout ballad! All these musical influences worked together beautifully, and I managed to collaborate with some unparalleled artists from around the world, from very different musical provenances. It has resulted, I think, in something very unique, and has simultaneously given a glimpse of another culture to the public, which is something I show to the world with my head raised high.
LJN: You’ve already performed in London a few times, both at the Royal Festival Hall (as a guest of Nigel Kennedy) and the Queen Elizabeth Hall – what kind of memories do you recall ?
AMJ: Very good memories, and great experiences! I performed at POSK as well, and that was wonderful too! The audience at POSK was incredibly special and it’s thanks to them that I have such beautiful memories from that performance. Performing in QEH meant that I had a more international audience there, and I loved it very much too, especially as I was able to continue my ‘mission’ of sorts, that is, bringing Polish music to a wider audience. The reaction of the audience at QEH was wonderfully enthusiastic. It’s great to help my fellow Poles recall what they long for, but on the other hand it’s also wonderful to give the music a wider reach and to spread its message and energy. I think that Fryderyk Chopin is unrivalled in his universal appeal, and epitomises the Polish spirit. He proved that this trend of ‘Polishness’ could blaze a trail worldwide and and give an incredible universal gift. As expected, a typically Polish soul cannot help but be moved by his music, it being so deeply rooted in those lands, and yet any sensitive person will also likely perceive his music as perfect beauty. Therefore, Polish or not, there is a shared sense of understanding and sentiment.
LJN: What has made you successful, and what do you strive to do with your music?
AMJ: I play with the most wonderful musicians in the world and at the same time they are terrific human beings. I feel enormously supported, and furthermore, feel musically ‘featured’ too. Because of this, I feel a great responsibilty and I want to present something that will defend itself with its own quality. In other words, that the music will speak for itself. One of the greatest powers of music is the kind of freedom that it gives. It’s almost the only domain in human life where you can organise yourself into something of a perfect world. In music, you can surround yourself with people who are important to you, and with whom there is a mutual faith in each other to create something bigger. You can almost become some sort of better version of yourself. And as the communication both between the musicians and then with the audience heightens – especially an audience which understands you and feels a similar way to you – there arises a mutual creative exaltation, and the feeling of inhabiting some other space-time. For me, this is a kind of magic – that one can visit some world beyond worlds. I can’t think of a more wonderful or more free form of art than music.
LJN: And so abstract…
AMJ: Yes, and because it is so abstract, it becomes spiritual. It allows us to reach higher planes. Every concert is a kind of spiritual experience, which brings me deep happiness. As I said, it is the greatest kind of magic. A magic that gives you weightlessness and freedom from those temporal, mortal things.
LJN: You mentioned magic and happiness – would these be words that you’d choose to describe your experience of recording with Pat Metheny?!
AMJ: What can I say, apart from that it was an unprecedented honour and I still can’t believe that it happened! Pat Metheny was always some kind of transcendent guru for me. I think he is the Mozart of our times! He simply has such an incredible personality and brain – he is the music. The fact alone that he agreed to work with us Poles and to create this album, and that for a week we worked in a beautifully peculiar, almost sleepless mode – it all brought me to contemplate how much this man enters a flow, a sort of creative exaltation. He is incredibly dedicated to everything he does and always leaves a trace of perfection, an awareness of each and every note! This is the sort of lesson which I could never learn in any school, even from The Academy of Music in Warsaw. Nothing can match the amount of knowledge I gained in those moments, when I witnessed how he creates things and how he works.
LJN: The album which resulted from this extraordinary collaboration was Upojenie (trans. Rapture, or Intoxication), which to this day impresses fans with its subtle beauty.
AMJ: Yes, and it also brought about some very unexpected events! Can you imagine that 2 days ago Kurt Elling contacted me, to say that he will record my song ‘Me jedyne niebo’ (trans. ‘My Only Heaven’ or ‘My Only Sky’) from Upojenie, on his new album?! Kurt decided to record it in Polish – he sings beautifully in this language and I am just so very proud and happy that it works for him!
LJN:And Kurt Elling is going to sing something from your repertoire AND sing it in Polish?
AMJ: The album Upojenie has brought some amazing opportunities, and I’m so glad that I could get to know the incredible man that is Kurt Elling – he really is a great singer of our time.
I keep hearing from different people that the Polish language is becoming the Brazilian of our time – in the way that it once became hugely fashionable to sing in Portugese – perhaps Polish is about to have it’s time?!
This interview will also be published in Polish shortly.
Anna Maria Jopek will perform in London on Saturday 21 February 2015 @ Union Chapel.
Marek Napiórkowski– guitar;
Piotr Nazaruk-vocal, flute, zither;