© Marti Pietraszkiewicz for the album cover.
© Justyna Steczkowska/Pomaton EMI for the music (excerpt).
© Per A.J. Andersson for the text. Written April 2004, updated November 2011.
The Polish rock scene is one of the hidden treasures of Europe. Politics and language barriers have played their parts in keeping a country in the middle of the continent out of reach for any international audience. Then size matters too. The 40 million strong population has managed to support a whole string of creative artists who continue to sing in one of the most difficult-pronounced languages imaginable. And the most creative of the bunch ought to be Justyna Steczkowska.
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She was born in 1972, in Rzeszów, as one of nine children in the Steczkowski family (father was a conductor, mother a music teacher). This was a musical family in the von Trapp sense of the word, performing together on many a festival. They toured western Europe with a mixed classic and pop repertoire.
Eventually Justyna was to become the real star of the family. She studied the violin at the music academy in Gdansk, ultimately concentrating on her voice aided by her perfect pitch. Her temperament also helped in forming a young rock singer. She formed her own group "Shoco i duet", performing at jazz clubs along the Polish coast. Music festivals and song competitions on TV soon followed.
Her solo career was launched in earnest via the Eurovision Song Contest of 1995, where Justyna Steczkowska represented Poland in the finals with "Sama". This folk song-like composition with melancholic chords, spiced up by Justyna's unusual range of voice was an omen of things to come...
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Her debut album the following year won an impressive amount of "Fryderyk" music awards. On "Dziewczyna szamana" (The Shaman Girl) Justyna further developed her interest in music with deep roots, played in a new way. Much like artists such as Björk, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush have innovated music combining the primitive and the electric.
"With the help of my family", one might say. Over the years Justyna's albums have often been co-produced by brother Pawel. While her sisters Agata, Magdalena and Krystyna have joined in with strings, backing vocals... and lyrics. Justyna Steczkowska may be a multi-talented artist, but she has never been keen at composing the words to her own songs. Her mastery is sounds.
In the mid- and late 90s a lot of new Polish musical talents could develop their owns styles and support themselves, thanks to a good national economy. In this period Justyna emerged as one of the best known artists on the prospering music scene. Her original style and ambitious compositions, mixing jazz and folk music with straight rock and pure instrumental pieces found its audience.
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Justyna's third album is maybe the best example of her personal, expansive musical style. "Dzien i noc" (Day and Night) brought together dance floor rhythms, ambient pop with French lyrics, jazz experiments sung in Igbo (a West-African language) and so on. The last four songs (the "Night" part of the record) showcased Justyna's voice, lingering without words over dreamy soundscapes.
This dynamic artist has been active on other arenas as well. In 1999 she played the leading part in "Na koniec swiata" (To the End of the World), a movie adaptation of Zola's novel "Thérèse Raquin". Together with co-writing the (hauntingly beautiful) score for the film. And the year before she played another part in the dark thriller "Billboard".
In 2001 Justyna recorded an album together with famous film actor Pawel Delag, sharing the vocals with him. Yet this romantically set sounded much like any other Justyna album, as she penned most of the music.
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Justyna Steczkowska is the kind of artist that doesn't like to keep any stone unturned. So in that respect "Alkimja" (2002) was only logical. Here she explored the Jewish music tradition of klezmer and beyond, singing both in Polish and Jiddisch. And next came a 180 degree turn with "Femme fatale", a study of chanson and western entertainment music. Just the thing to expect, from one ofthe most innovative artists Poland has to offer. //