Last week Hazel Brown headed to Oxford Circus to have a chat with mutli-talented, musician-composer-producer-sound therapist, Luiza Staniec. We found a spot in a busy cafe and had an in depth discussion about her project Sounds Like Women and the path that lead her to start it.
Luiza moved to the UK from Poland ten years ago. In 2003, she wrote the lyrics for Zaluje, performed by Polish pop star Ewelina Flinta, which went to number one in Poland.
Sounds Like Women will bring together 12 international artists and their stories to create three EPs across the topics of inequality, domestic violence and racial bias. Luiza is crowdfunding for £45k on Kickstarter for the project and plans to release the first two EPs during the UNiTE 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign between 25 November and 10 December.
Luiza: ’20 years ago I was a victim of domestic violence, but for all of my life I’ve been a musician. When those horrible four years of my life were happening – I had my little girl with me because I had a child when I was very very young – I thought, “I’m going to kill myself.” I nearly jumped off a big building but the thought of my little daughter basically saved my life.
‘At age 25, I was already a musician so I thought “OK, I have my keyboard,” and I starting writing songs. It was like I was in a trance writing songs, expressing the pain, and… I stopped thinking about killing myself.
‘I was lucky that the songs were good enough to release them. I released a few albums in Poland, then I finally ran away from that relationship and went abroad as a pianist and singer. I started making my own money because that relationship completely possessed my whole life. I couldn’t work – I couldn’t do anything. Music saved me.
‘The music industry in Poland is also very male dominated and, at the beginning, many times I was told I was too young, then I was a mother so I wasn’t considerate, then I was too old – when I was 29 I was already too old for the music industry! But what could I do? I just loved doing it and I was pretty good, so I thought, “I’m going to keep doing it.”
‘For every pain and every situation like that, that put me down, music always helped me – I always created songs about it.’
Hazel: ‘You’re a composer as well as an artist in your own right. Can you tell me a bit about that?’
Luiza: ‘I would say I’m more successful writing for other artists than as myself as an artist – I absolutely I love it. It’s amazing when you write for somebody else and suddenly you see your emotions, your story, coming out of someone else’s mouth and millions of people love it.’
Hazel: ‘How did this lead you to begin Sounds Like Women?’
Luiza: ‘My husband now is an absolutely amazing Scotsman. In the last ten years, I started feeling settled down in my life – very, very happy – but the stuff from my past was always coming back to me. I met other women with the same kind of experience, and I thought, “if music helped me – including my stories in the songs – I can definitely do that on a bigger scale. My music will be heard… I will help so many other people, to hear about it, understand, and to face it.”
‘With Sounds Like Women, I would be so happy to spread the word for other women… We’ll be doing it in a peaceful and different way – we’re not going to go on the streets, we’re not going to go to Trafalgar square and manifest with our big banners, we will create songs, speak about the stories, raise awareness and maybe explain to other women who are in other situations, “hey, actually you are in deep shit.” I had a conversation with one woman who said “I didn’t think I was a victim of domestic violence until a friend of mine pointed it out.”
‘Many times I was also a victim of inequality at work. For example, I tried to collaborate with two male producers in London a few years ago. I thought that they really wanted to work with me, but in the end they wanted to use me to bring artists to the table. When I did, they tried to collaborate with this artist without me behind my back. They said it was about money, oh my god.
‘I’m Polish so there have been a lot of issues about nationality as well. You’re in the UK, you’re a woman, you are 50, you are Polish, you have to deal with all of this before you finally start doing something. I’m actually having fun, I am what I am, I love my music and this is my drive.’
Hazel: ‘When did you start the project?’
Luiza: ‘This part of the project started in November last year. The whole idea came to me two years ago and a year ago I started searching for these artists. It’s a long process because most of the things I do myself and I’m starting to build a team of volunteers.
‘The idea is very simple. I’m telling women’s stories, and a few of my stories, through songs and through that platform I want to show people, give a voice to those who really can’t speak or don’t want to be seen, don’t want to be recognised… to write songs about them, and to make some good of it. I didn’t make 12 depressing and terrible stories. Indeed, at the beginning they were very depressing stories but in my portrait – musical portrait – [I want them to be] very empowering and inspiring even coming from the worst things.’
Hazel: ‘Do you co-write all of the pieces?’
Luiza: ‘There was a very interesting process because the songs were half written and half produced. Normally when I write songs, I write music and lyrics at the same time. Music and lyrics is like a big picture that always comes together… I already know which way the production is going – they’ve got some atmosphere already and we know where we are, and I’ve left space for the women’s stories. I’m putting together the frame and I’m asking women tell me the stories that I will apply into the frame. I’ve never done this before. It’s quite a unique concept I think… We will make it and produce it and release it and it’s going to be amazing.’
Hazel: ‘Can you tell me a bit more about the other topics you will be covering?’
Luiza: ‘We know women are underpaid – globally they earn 23% less than men. In many countries, the pay gap is much bigger. I worked in Japan for a year as a pianist and singer, and when I came to the end of my contract a guy came from the States to play after me. He played on the same piano, played more or less the same music, in the same place, and he got paid double. He wasn’t supposed to tell me. He was a nice guy actually, he was shocked when I told him that I made half of what he did. [They told me] “first of all you are a woman and secondly because you are Polish not American,” which means Americans can be paid more, Polish can be happy with half of it. It’s not fucking around. It’s straight forward, it wasn’t even trying to be nice.’
Hazel: ‘On the Sounds Like Women website it says: “songs without violence and all colours”. What do you mean by this?’
Luiza: ‘These songs are inspired by sometimes quite violent events, whether inequality or domestic violence or racial biases, but they are speaking non violently about it. Turning these bad things into positive outcomes. Through these words we’re saying that we want life without violence.
‘Of all colours means that life in general isn’t just black and white. I came to Britain and thought that the majority of people would be very open minded and liberated, I was wrong… A lot of people in this country think that life should be black and white. There’s nothing in between. You are a woman or man, but if you are transgender you are seen as bad, if you are a person of colour you are seen as bad, if you are Polish not British and you live in Britain you’re bad, for example.
‘[Don’t get me wrong], I love the UK for many different reasons no matter what people think, you can still do a lot and no one would stop you.
‘You could be any colour, you could speak any language or eat any food or have a different lifestyle, what the hell, what’s wrong with that? All colours means that we wish everyone to have a very open minded life. To say to people, “open your eyes, life has got a lot of colours and try to look at all of them not just black and white.”
‘”Have your life without violence and of all colours” – I wish that on all of us, it would be amazing to have that kind of life.’