Adam Mikołajczyk: How does Poland look like from a distance, from the perspective of New York or Stockholm, where you lived for a long time and often visit?
Urszula Dudziak: From the perspective of my experience I can say that we were most admired in the period of Solidarity. All the more is it difficult to grasp why Wałęsa, a true icon of the Polish transformation of the 1980s and 1990s, has been “beat up” so much by some of his countrymen. Abroad such an attitude is completely incomprehensible. People appreciate and respect Wałęsa; he is for them a symbol of peaceful transformations in Poland. We are after the premiere of Andrzej Wajda’s movie, for which – I must confess – I was waiting with a certain anxiety whether the historic events we had all taken part in would be rendered in the way we remembered them. I am glad that maestro Wajda created a work which honours Wałęsa.
AM: How does the world perceive Poles?
UD: We, Poles, are very emotional in our approach to everything; we are not able to find the balance between our judgement and our feelings, we pour out our anger, our complexes, our immaturity on whatever we can, while we should think constructively, we should respect the image of our country, our traditions and finally ourselves. As Poles we have an immense potential, we have extraordinarily gifted people, scientists, inventors and artists. We have distinguished individuals virtually in every field of life. Our nation should know how to make them stay in the country, creating favourable conditions for their further development, like for example Sweden, which I know so well.
Krzysztof Przybył: Don’t you think that most of all we must notice our own value and work on feeling proud of our country and ourselves? We are only just learning how to do it and we still need a lot of time for it. I am thinking about the generation of 40- and 50-year-olds, because the young are completely different – courageous and deprived of any complexes, they treat the whole world on an equal footing with their own environment.
UD: Borders have been brought closer, they have even blurred and now young people can’t see why they should not go wherever they could find fulfilment. They are mobile and self-realisation is their priority.
But I am worried about another Polish national trait – each of us believes that he is right. Each subsequent national or local government start their term of office with criticising their predecessors, everything is destroyed and started anew. We lack the habit of continuation, which makes us lose a lot of time, energy and money. I also get irritated by petty but important issues, as they concern all of us and our everyday lives. I am referring to, for example, badly timed traffic lights at intersections. Pedestrians have no chance to cross the street before the light changes! I am quite sporty, I play tennis (the third place in Poland among artists) and I barely manage to cross the street, not to mention older people, children …
But we are complaining right from the start of our conversation, which – incidentally – is very typical for us, Poles.
AM: Speaking of complaining, not long ago the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, responsible for promoting the Polish culture abroad, wanted to use this vice of ours in its marketing activities and commissioned a marketing campaign under the slogan “Poland. Come & Complain”.
UD: I am optimistic as a rule, so the next question, please!
AM: Let me ask you about our strengths then. We seem to be hardworking and creative.
UD: I will invoke the opinion of my daughter, Kasia, who was born, raised and is working in New York. She has been coming to Poland regularly for the some years now. She has noticed that Polish students, especially those at artistic schools: filmmakers, writers and visual artists, are very creative, open, genuine and have a great sense of humour. Contrary to Americans, who from a very early age are carrier and money oriented. And Kasia tells me, “Mum, I want to live in Poland!”
AM: And what led to your decision to return to Poland?
UD: Although I am as free as a bird, now I have settled down in Poland because I feel I have a lot to offer. I believe Poland needs national therapy in order to improve our sense of well-being. Whenever I can, I always try to talk about the correct state of mind, which is the most important. On the one hand the human organism is like the most advanced computer, but on the other – like a narrow-minded moron who will believe everything he is told. If we keep telling ourselves, meaning our organism, that we can’t do anything, that we are good for nothing, our organism will finally believe it and its capabilities will diminish. When we want to do something specific, our organism will protest, as if saying, “I’m not even going to try because nothing will come from it anyways.” A right state of mind is the most important – supported with exercise, love and respect for others. This year I am celebrating my 70th birthday, but I am not afraid that perhaps it is time for me to get packing; on the contrary – I am full of new ideas, creative power. From my time in New York I subscribe to the motto “What you pay attention to – it grows”. Such a simple principle, and yet so true and effective.
AM: Marketing specialists have been working their heads off about what message Poland should send to attract the world. I think you have grasped the essence of this issue – perhaps this creative unrest, constant state of agitation, could be this magnet attracting people to Poland. Here they can absorb creative tension and participate in the cultural and business unrest.
UD: Poles are more and more willing to come back to Poland after years of emigration and start to live their lives anew here. The human, intellectual and emotional potential of this place attracts like a magnet.
Let me give you the example of my friend, who has just visited Warsaw and Krakow after 55 years of absence. Many people had been trying to persuade her to come, but she couldn’t believe the stories about wonderful Poland were true, she was lingering, and finally she arrived and … she was so impressed! She remembered the country from the 1960s and she could not believe that Poland is so beautiful today. Emigrants returning to the country finally they feel they are in the right place. Just like a mother will always embrace her prodigal son, our motherland waits patiently for each of us and will receive us.
I felt this in 1985, when I came to Poland for the first time after 13 years of absence and I sang a capella in a duet with Bobby McFerrin in the Congress Hall during the Jazz Jamboree Festival. Even today I am grateful to the audience for their warm welcome. I was in a difficult moment of my life – a jazz vocalist, left by her husband, with two children, in Manhattan, destitute. I came to Warsaw with my heart in my mouth and the whole hall was chanting “Ula, you are great! Ula, don’t give up!” Thanks to this very moment I didn’t fall apart and I faced life with my head up high. Breaking up with Michał Urbaniak turned out to be not an ending, but a beginning of a new stage. This concert in Warsaw allowed me to move on to the next stage of my career.
KP: Your daughters, Kasia and Mika, followed in their parents’ footsteps. Did they have to become musicians due to your family tradition?
UD: From a very early age my daughters were surrounded with music and were raised in it. So naturally they started off in music. My older daughter, Kasia, wanted to become a violinist when she was four and she persistently practised in the music school until she went to her dad’s concert, Michał Urbaniak, and she saw what a great virtuoso of the violin he was. She decided she didn’t stand a chance of being such a gifted violinist. She lost her zest for the violin, but she became enchanted by the piano. Both my daughters started to play the piano, but only Mika acquired a taste for it. Kasia, on the other hand, changed her interests again – although she is very musically gifted, ultimately became a photographer. Mika would always sing and dance; at home for pleasure – Michael Jackson style, and at school – out of duty, to Grieg’s music. Journalists often ask me whether I and Mika compete with each other. Such questions are very irritating as we are completely different and we have our separate specialties. I have my “cacophony”, as Kasia says, that is my characteristic singing style. Mika is also unique and special in what she does.
AM: Are Poles a musical nation?
UD: Unfortunately they are not. Sometimes there are some exceptions, which may be seen in talent shows such as e.g. “Bitwa na głosy” or “Voice of Poland”. On a daily basis, however, we observe certain negligence in the musical education of young people and in the musical culture of all of us. I visit Sweden frequently as I have family there, so I will give you an example from this country. Sweden has a passion for singing; there are choirs and bands in almost single village; whole families take part in singing competitions. Polish families, on the other hand, sit in front of their TVs or computers. Polish school does not provide proper musical education. Children avoid PE and music classes because they are boring. I am sounding the alarm because the situation is catastrophic, and as a result we, Poles, are not able to sing in tune our anthem or even Christmas carols.
KP: Does jazz, dominated by men, provide any space for the development of women?
UD: Poland is lucky to have good female jazz singers. I am referring to Grażyna Auguścik who has recorded albums and performed with me for many years. I am also referring to Aga Zaryan, Ania Serafińska and Dorota Miśkiewicz. We must not forget about Basia Trzetrzelewska, who succeeded in developing a great international career, and this was in the period of late 1980s and early 1990s when American radio broadcasting stations would play her songs continuously. I am rooted in jazz, but I have also had my flirt with pop music thanks to “Papaya”. It is a jazz piece that you can dance to, and that is why it was noticed by pop artists. Jazz is generally believed to be dominated by men so much that it is difficult for a woman to succeed in it. I was lucky enough to be taken care of by great jazz musicians – Krzysztof Komeda and Michał Urbaniak and at his side I was able to develop for 20 years.
AM: So Ula Dudziak is all right?
UD: Very much so. Everything is fine, in accordance with the title of my last album. As I have said, I will soon celebrate my 70th birthday and I am a fulfilled woman. I am in good health – knock on wood, I have life experience, I know what I can expect from myself and how bold my dreams can be. Now I work as a mature woman, who knows my worth and reaching beyond what the eyes can see. As a Libra I live observing nature and in accordance with it.
Photo © Kayax
The Foundation of the Polish Promotional Emblem „Teraz Polska”