Life as an Artist in Poland Is Not an Ordeal

Joanna Markowska and Michał Misztal form a musical duo and two distinct backgrounds. Joanna has formal musical training, while Michał is self-taught. This difference does not hinder their ability to compose together and inspire each other. In this interview, we speak with the duo Braska about music education in Poland and the life of an artist in the contemporary world.

Is it easy to be an artist? If we consider only musicians who fill stadiums and large concert halls, the answer is likely affirmative. However, major stars represent just a small fraction of the creative community. Most artists remain anonymous. Does being such a musician offer satisfaction?

The Braska Band

Mateusz Tomanek: You form the duo Braska – it’s more than just music for you. It’s also about exploring the world, including beyond music. Before we delve into what “plays in your mind,” let’s start with a simple question: where are you from and what exactly do you do?

Joanna Markowska: I’m from Bielsko-Biała. I’m a vocalist, lyricist, and co-founder of bands like Madame JeanPierre, Abouts, Braska, Swingin’ Train, and YOY. I also work as a session musician and participate in various other projects. While I mainly operate in the jazz genre, I enjoy diverging from this style and exploring other musical territories, as evidenced by my collaboration with Michał.

Michał Misztal: I live in Katowice and am an explorer of the world. Currently, I am involved in music and learning to play the handpan, as well as promoting this instrument. After many years of having only an amateur musical background, I discovered the handpan, focused on it, and it became my profession, which remains today. Together with Asia, we strive to popularize this instrument through our handpan school, Bramari Handpan School, which also operates in Bielsko.

I see that you are a quintessentially seeking artist. You co-create many groups and various projects, both large and small. Is that how an artist should be?

Joanna: Firstly, I think an artist should not be defined straightforwardly. There is no set of characteristics that make someone an artist or not. However, I believe an artist must be a seeker. This is not just a trait in the music world but also in life. I am very content where I am, but I am always curious about what lies beyond the horizon. Yet, compared to Michał, this is nothing. Michał is clearly a greater explorer than I am.

Life as an Artist in Poland: Joanna and Michał from the Braska band
Joanna and Michał. Photo: Klaudia Krupa

Life as an Artist in Poland Today

As the duo Braska, you are a true artists. What is life like today for an artist? For someone who has made a career out of art?

Michał: If you do something with passion, whether it is art or not, the recipe for life satisfaction is almost complete. With a bit of faith, self-discipline, and planning, it turns out you can make a living from it. However, I think you can’t be an artist half-heartedly. You have to live it.

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Does an artist dislike being put in a box?

Michał: Exactly. I believe that the most limiting factor for artists is confining themselves within certain boundaries. On the other hand, it’s about not following someone else’s path and replicating what they do, but rather riding your wave. An artist should also learn new things because they come in handy, especially when those boundaries blur and one embarks on a path of exploration.

That’s our aim. I didn’t graduate from any music school. I’ve been self-taught all my life and tried to play various instruments. There was a time when I regretted not attending music school. I compared myself to my friends who were graduates and felt that I was missing something. Over the years, I stopped regretting it because no constraints were imposed on me. Teaching music, I often encounter people who were, in a way, harmed by music school. Of course, I’m not saying this is a rule.

Musicians and Music Education

And Joanna, you graduated from a music school, correct?

Joanna: Yes, I completed music courses in piano and studied music education. I believe that an artist’s life is like anyone else’s. One simply has to find their path. We face the same challenges as any other profession. Each profession has its specifics, but fundamentally, the problems are similar. I don’t think the life of an artist in Poland is exceptionally difficult. Everything is defined by our choices, so I think everyone must take care of their life as an artist and as a person in general.

Michał, you mentioned the constraints imposed by music education, and that’s undoubtedly true. Much depends on the teacher you encounter. However, don’t you think that such education provides a certain foundation? Maybe it’s a good idea to learn the basics and then explore the musical world independently.

Michał: Every person is different, and for some, music school provides structure. But for others, it can destroy their passion right from the start. I’ve heard many stories about people who entered school with passion but lost it. There’s nothing worse than misjudging someone at some stage and destroying their passion, which is crucial in music. I believe there’s nothing more important in creation than having passion and creative freedom. Artists are mostly sensitive people, and many have lost their love for music because of the education system. Performing in front of an exam committee can cause immense stress even in adults. Imagine what a child must feel having to do the same.

Educated But Not Confined

So, is it better to level the playing field? Isn’t it worth going through music education but not being confined by the boundaries it imposes?

Joanna: Music education was rather beneficial for me. Six years of music courses with a great teacher were very valuable. Initially, music theory was like black magic to me, and it wasn’t until college that I had the chance to understand it better. However, piano lessons provided a foundation that later allowed me to navigate the musical world more freely.

The real fun began when I discovered jazz and musical improvisation. That opened up all other paths for me. It turned out that I could meet any musician and we could just play together without limitations.

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Between Mainstream and Popular Music

Musicians can be divided into two streams: mainstream and popular music on one side, and underground and alternative on the other. Where do you see yourselves?

Joanna: I think every artist wants their art to reach as many people as possible.

Michał: It’s also worth noting that the concept of ‘underground’ still exists today, but it means something different than it used to. I grew up on 90s hip-hop, and I have to admit, it had a certain magic. It wasn’t professional music, but it was authentic. And that’s the main difference between pop and alternative. The former tends to lose its authenticity.

Mainstream music has to cater to the audience because it’s a product. It needs to sell, which means it has to have a catchy chorus and a simple melody. This can clip the wings of artists, and you can hear it in the songs. However, I believe you can create great things in both mainstream and underground genres, but you have to be careful not to lean too far in either direction. If you create purely for the audience, there’s little room for genuine creativity. Conversely, if you go exclusively towards the alternative, your work may not reach many listeners. Music is for everyone, and you need to find a golden mean between the two streams.

Joanna: I absolutely want our music to reach a wider audience. However, I don’t feel the need to sell out and compromise. I’m happy playing the music I like in small clubs, even if it currently has a small audience. I feel fulfilled as an artist, but if someone asked if I’d like to have more listeners, I’d say yes. It would have to be in line with my values, though.

Life of an Artist in Poland: Hunger for Success

So what is more important? Fulfillment as an artist or feeding your ego?

Joanna: You have to cleverly navigate between the two.

What reward system do you use when creating? Many musicians like to reward themselves when they feel they have composed something good. How is it for you?

Michał: We truly lack time for free creativity, and time would be the best reward for us. I must admit, buying a new instrument or music equipment brings me immense joy. I treat it as a reward.

Creative Process and Commercial Success

Kazik Staszewski once wrote that “a hungry artist is much more productive.” Do you agree with this statement?

Joanna: This can be interpreted in two ways. In the literal sense, I’d say it’s a stereotype. If an artist is hardworking and creatively fertile, and their material status grows accordingly, I see no reason why they should stop being creative. There are plenty of famous musicians who haven’t lost their creative momentum despite their fame.

Metaphorically speaking, if an artist doesn’t have a hunger for practicing their art, sensations, or emotions, then the artist is finished. You need to have that hunger within you all the time, and it drives the process of composing. For me, fulfillment does not lead to the creative process. I feel much better during times of life’s difficulties, something that prompts inner reflection and analysis. Of course, emotions – in my case, melancholy and sadness – are the best inspiration and motivation for creative work.

Michał: It depends on how you interpret hunger. For me, hunger is musical growth, the desire to play with people, and explore new genres. As a musician, I know there are still so many things to discover and songs to write. Despite the thousands of songs already created, I believe there’s still a lot to do. That’s my hunger. Looking at it this way, I would agree with Kazik.

Life as an Artist in Poland: What Changed?

During the communist era in Poland, songwriters had no trouble finding topics because they naturally presented themselves: freedom, the fight against an oppressive system, and so on. Often, certain themes were cleverly smuggled into lyrics to bypass censorship. Now, living in a free Poland, we can sing about anything and everything. Is there still something to write about?

Joanna: Times have indeed changed, and certain issues are now in the past, but that doesn’t mean new ones haven’t emerged. Our era is far from being devoid of themes that can serve as immense inspiration for lyricists.

Michał: I’m not a lyricist, but for me, music is as much a form of expression as words. I don’t think lyrics always need to address specific issues. They can be a form of poetry, not necessarily seeking answers to contemporary problems.

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How do you find the right emotions to write lyrics?

Joanna: I usually try to harness inspiration whenever it strikes. When I feel that creative spark, I write. Those are wonderful moments. Of course, in a busy world, inspiration is precious and requires effort to cultivate. To find it, you need to be inspired, play with new people, go to the cinema, read books – in short, confront the world. Internal feelings are a huge source of inspiration, but they need to be fed.

Inspiration, Passion, and Working for a Living

Where do you draw musical inspiration from?

Michał: Nature is my primary inspiration. Its diverse sounds, rhythms, and harmonies are incredible. Nature embodies freedom and simplicity, often missing in music. Everyone can agree that natural sounds are soothing, universal, and genuine.

There’s a saying that if you turn your passion into a way to earn a living, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. How do you view this?

Joanna: That’s true, but the order is important. Passion and consistency must come first. If you focus on what you do, eventually, music will completely captivate you. There was a time in my life when I had to decide whether to pursue music seriously or work part-time. I juggled both for many years. Two years ago, I managed to fully embrace the “light side.”

Doesn’t focusing solely on music kill the passion for it?

Joanna: I’m involved in so many projects and musical activities that I doubt I’ll get bored anytime soon. The number of bands and musicians I play with keeps me continuously happy with what I do. The key is not to let yourself get bored.

It Is High Time to Make Hand-Pan Popular

In your band Braska, you use the handpan, as mentioned earlier. Where does your love for this instrument come from? It’s relatively unknown and one of the newer instruments.

Michał: The handpan is sometimes called the youngest instrument in the world; it was invented in 2000.

It contrasts with the didgeridoo, which is one of the oldest instruments in the world.

Michał: Interestingly, both instruments are often used together in arrangements because they share a certain organic quality in their sound. The handpan is amazing because, when you play it, you can feel the sound directly under your fingers. It’s a truly unique feeling. It’s a very versatile instrument, capable of producing melodies and serving as a percussion instrument.

Are you trying to promote this instrument in Poland?

Joanna: Yes, that’s right. We have a handpan school, and this year we are organizing the first outdoor handpan festival in Poland, PANTU, which will take place from June 27-30. We’ve invited top musicians who will perform before what we hope will be a large audience.

I wish you the best of luck.

Joanna and Michał: Thank you for the conversation.

Translation: Klaudia Tarasiewicz

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Published by

Mateusz Tomanek


A Cracovian by birth, choice, and passion. He pursued radio and television journalism, eventually dedicating himself to writing for By day, he is a journalist; by night, an accomplished musician, lyricist, and composer. If he's not sitting in front of a computer, he's probably playing a concert. His interests include technology, ecology, and history. He isn't afraid to tackle new topics because he believes in lifelong learning.

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