Emigrant jazz

What do Poland, Great Britain, Belgium, and Euro 2012 have in common with delicate music inspired by the poetry of Halina Poświatowska? Aleksandra Kwaśniewska, whose debut album Island Girl, recorded with her band The Belgian Sweets, came out exactly one month ago. Aleksandra talks to Sukces.co.uk about the defining moments on her road to success.


I listened to some of your songs on myspace and I’m sure that soon your name will be associated with jazz, and not with being the daughter of the former president of Poland. In other words, you’ve got a lovely voice. How do you feel about your first record? Has everything worked out the way you wanted it to?

AK: When it came to the reaction of the public, the media and the promoters, it actually surpassed my expectations. There are a couple of things, however, which I’m still learning. Working on the next record, I will know that certain things should be done in a different way and that some things may get delayed. Last month was really rich in experiences. 

What were the breakthrough moments on you way to success? Was it long and winding?

AK: Yes, it was. The preparations for the album lasted several years. Two years ago we started preparing for the recording; I rehearsed a lot, travelled to Belgium to discuss with the producer what this album is to be like. In the meantime I was writing songs. In August 2007 we recorded the album and throughout the last year I was looking for a record company to promote it. It turned out the record companies placed various demands on the record. As a result, I decided to do it myself.

How did it happen that a Pole from Bielawy, living in London, recorded a record with a Belgian group The Belgian Sweets? It’s quite a cosmopolitan mixture! 

AK: Six years ago I went to study in Ghent. It’s a beautiful town – I would compare it to Kraków. While there, I enrolled at a music college to study jazz. I went to jazz sessions, I sang. Then I met John Snauwaert, a saxophonist who is quite well known in Belgium, who suggested a project ‘Polish Folk Jazz-style’. This was my first major project. Along with the musicians who now perform as The Belgian Sweets, we played jazz standards in various clubs. Thanks to that I managed to get in touch with outstanding musicians, and working together on the ‘Polish Folk Jazz-style’ project initiated our friendship. This project evolved to the point where it truly became my own. Even back then it was a mixture of jazzy Polish folk music and my own compositions, usually with the poetry of Halina Poświatowska. Exactly. Poświatowska also studied and wrote abroad. Her life was full of tragic developments.

As an artist, do you identify yourself with her or is there another reason for choosing her writing? 

AK: What I like most in her poetry is the incredible way she plays with the language. Her poems beautifully describe meadows, beautiful August evenings. I miss the greenness, the nature, Bieszczady mountains – and her poems describe these things beautifully. (For the songs) I also choose love poems because, probably like all women, I like them very much. I’m also inspired by the lighter side of her work. Island Girl is a minimalistic, atmospheric and international album.

Where, do you think, will it be most successful? 

AK: I think that with the first album artists usually break through to the listeners; send them a message that ‘we’re here and we’re doing something’. I know of quite a big interest in Poland. There is also an increasing interest in Belgium, which I’m very pleased about as I like that country and I would like to visit it more often. I’m beginning to receive invitations to interviews; a lot of important things have started happening. To begin with, I set my sights on Poland. I would like to do concerts in Poland, Great Britain and Belgium, in order to connect these three countries which are so important to me. Is your second project, the one set in Britain, also a colourful mixture of jazz, folk, bossanova and Scandinavian elements – like the Belgian one?

Where did the idea of having another band come from? 

AK: I have recently started writing lots of songs and I realized that it would be much easier if I had another band here in the UK. It is much easier for me to play here with my London band, than to bring the band from Belgium. The musicians have all graduated from the Jazz Department of the Royal Academy of Music. This band is a little bit different though; a bit more funky. The new songs, which we also perform in Polish, are faster and although more funky, also a bit jazzy. 

Apart from singing, you’re also running a company… 

AK: Yes, it’s a translation service – Traductio – which I run with Tomasz Letniowski. We’ve been on the market for almost 3 years. We offer quite a wide range of services, therefore we’ve been involved in many interesting projects. For instance, we’ve done translations for UEFA when Poland and Ukraine won the Euro 2012. The Polish Embassy and Polish Ministry of Justice and Sport are also among the regular clients. Why, being an artist, you’ve decided to start a translation business? AK: Apart from financial reasons, obviously, I did it to gain more freedom. Previously, I had a regular job, I used to finish late and come back home tired. Thanks to the business, our album had a chance to be recorded. Without it, I probably would not have enough time or energy. 

What is your recipe for success? 

AK: First and foremost, great determination. Secondly, don’t give up in the face of difficulties, and when we’re trying to fulfill our dreams there are plenty of difficulties. Notice that the more you want to fulfill your dreams the more difficulties appear. The only way to overcome them is not to give up. It may mean crying in your pillow or yelling your frustration out when things have got to you, but the next day means starting anew and fighting day by day to do what you really love doing.  

In the interviews you’ve given you said that recording an album with your own resources, so that it is not compromised artistically, is financially and emotionally exhausting. However, after the Island Girl premiere and being involved in another musical project while running your own business, do you perceive yourself as a successful person? 

AK: I believe we’ve achieved a lot but it’s not only my success but the success of many people who helped me get here. These are first of all; Tomek Letniowski, who day by day helps me in resolving all sorts of problems; people from Rockers Publishing and 33 Jazz, who put an incredible amount of effort in to promoting and distributing the album; friendly graphic designers who oversaw the design of the album sleeve and promotional materials; the producer Pedro De Bruyckere and the band, who supported me throughout the last couple of years. I could go on and on… 

Best of luck in you artistic and business endeavors and thank you for the interview. 

AK: Thank you. 

Jan Redzisz

Interview for www.sukces.co.uk

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