By Björk Óskarsdóttir
On April 5th, Hania Rani (short for Raniszewska) released her 10-track debut album Esja on Gondwana Records. Growing up in the country of Chopin, where the standards of piano music are high, Rani aimed initially for a path in classical music before getting introduced to jazz and electronic music at school.
Can you tell us a bit about the writing process for this album? For how long has it been in the works? Was it always supposed to be solo-piano based?
I didn’t plan to record the solo album. I started recording three years ago and I accomplished at that time loads of other compositions, not only for piano solo, but including strings, choir, voice, electronics. But two years ago I met a sound engineer from Iceland - Bergur Porisson. He invited me to finish the recordings at his studio in Reykjavik. I didn’t think twice and booked a flight to Iceland. There, somehow spontaneously we recorded a lot of new piano songs. I really liked the vibe of the compositions and thought that I should release the piano solo album as my debut album. My record label - Gondwana - also encouraged me to do so. I feel like this minimalistic, instrumental album is a nice prelude to all the other music that I am planning to share in the future.
Coming from a background of classical music, was it always easy for you to envision your own musical creations outside of the curriculum?
No, it was definitely not - that’s also why, I suppose, my debut comes so late. For a very long time I was strongly convinced that I would become a classical pianist; I was very focused on this path. But there was always some inner power that pushed me to start getting involved in some non-classical projects. When I said “yes” for the first time to make some arrangements I really felt wonderful and was happy about the outcome. New proposals began to show up and I couldn’t resist them. I was feeling better and better in this new area and realised that this is way more natural and easy for me, compared to classical music.
One might debate that your album falls into sort of a male-dominated genre of music. Have you felt like you’ve had to work harder to prove yourself and be taken seriously, in comparison to your male colleagues?
Yes and no. I never felt that being a woman is a problem, or a limitation. But when I started to compose and perform at less classical venues than concert halls I met many unkind reactions to my knowledge and opinions about my approach to sound system or technical requirements. But it is getting better and actually I only had to deal with it in Poland, where I guess the music business is dominated by male composers and producers. I never felt upset about it, it motivates me to improve and learn more. Also I was always surrounded by great male musicians, who are also my close friends and who are always ready to help me and explain issues that are still new to me.
You are quite an active live-performer. Would you share with us which factors are the most important to you in your live shows?
I feel very good on stage and I like the atmosphere of the live concerts. It is also very challenging for musicians to keep the set fresh and interesting, not to give in to routine.
Not everybody realises that touring is kind of a repetitive activity and hard work in the end. That’s why I try to keep a place for spontaneity and improvisation in my live shows, and I change the set as often as possible. I am also lucky to perform in other bands which gives me a lot of joy and keeps the balance, and a feeling of not being overwhelmed just by performing alone all the time.
Which past live performances of your own do you particularly treasure? How about shows of others that you’ve attended?
One of my most treasured performances ever is one of the first ones I did with my duo partner - cellist Dobrawa Czocher. That was our second non-classical show ever, with my arrangements and composition. The situation was pretty stressful because the concert was supposed to be streamed live on the Polish Radio Station. Me and my friends weren’t even nervous about performing and playing but about… talking on stage! When you are a classical artist you almost never talk to people during the concert.
But when the concert started and we began to play, all the stress had faded away. We felt wonderful playing this new repertoir on stage and were able to communicate with the audience in a new way. The concert turned out to be a great succes and shortly after we decided to record our first album. That was year 2014. And since then, things started happening.