Name: Bison Rouge / Ashia Grzesik
Occupation: Composer, cellist, and vocalist
Current Release: "Cathedral of Trees".
If you enjoyed this interview with Bison Rouge / Ashia Grzesik and would like to find out more about her work, stay up to date on her work by visiting her insightful website.
Ashia Grzesik: "My ambition has always been to connect with a singular person, an audience, and change how they felt and thought. In some ways, I wanted to change their world, at least for a concert, and hopefully into their lives. I was also very interested in doing things differently. As a teenager I was learning to play and sing on the guitar and I came upon the idea of playing and singing on the cello, even though I had never seen anyone do it before. So I began to write songs playing and singing on the cello, as well as starting to tinker with music tech and plugging my cello in.
Being a womxn and Polish, what's happening in Poland deeply affects the core of where I come from and who I am. I feel compelled to raise awareness and support organizations doing critical work like Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike), Constellation of Liberation, and Ciocia Basia.
It's also not just about Pro-Choice Rights, though it's an important part of it for me. It's a piece of the larger puzzle of what the current government, PiS, is doing to gain control of Poland. They already control a great portion of the media to perpetuate their agenda, marginalize the LGBTQ+ community, cut sex-education for teens/children, and now further oppress women with the new Constitutional law.
I know this sounds like a lot, but PiS is purposefully creating unrest, oppressing minorities and marginalized groups, stamping out liberal ideals, with its goal of systematically building a fully controlled authoritarian Polish (white) Catholic Nation. That’s my take on it, but if you ask many people in Poland, they would more or less agree, depending on how you spin the previous sentence.
For about 50% of the Polish population, that doesn't oppress the Catholics, and wants to live a free and open life, it's becoming a horror. It's difficult for me to think that the children of my friends and relatives will grow up in the country with that level of oppression. I want to be there to support them and do what we can to change the course, whether with my art, going to Poland to vote, raising awareness of organizations doing critical work on the ground, or sharing information with a broader international audience.
I created and posted a video on Instagram - “Hold and Fall - in Support of Polish Women” where I directly relate my art to the cause of women's rights and what is happening in Poland.
View this post on Instagram
I also painted a lightning bolt on my sternum, the main symbol of Poland’s pro-choice marches and women’s strike. The video raised a bit of money which I’m donating to Strajk Kobiet, Constellation of Liberation, and Ciocia Basia and I was super happy to see the video reposted and shared further by friends, fans and activists.
I'm also hopefully already achieving the goal of building awareness through this interview, something I wasn't expecting as part of releasing my single 'Cathedral of Trees'. I hope enough people have seen my video and read this article to feel inspired to get involved as well. I'd like to create more work that is directly related to the causes I care about and to have the courage to do so.
A lot of the time it seems like just being onstage, or online as a womxn in music with the use of music technology is a form of activism. I have performed in parts of Germany where women come to me after performances and tell me how impressed they are of my use of music tech and they want to encourage me. Live sound engineers are pretty impressed that I've worked hard on my end to produce sound that they can soundcheck easily. Once a Bavarian journalist in an interview said "Our 'Bavarische Mädchen' Bavarian Girls could never do what you're doing" - I just about exploded!
I'm not writing this to sound impressive, but to ask - why should it be impressive? Why is it so out of the norm? It does feed me to continue, since I hope that by doing what I'm doing, more womxn feel safe and encouraged to try to go forward - especially those who are just too nervous to do so, but burn with the passion to get out there.
But, as a child, I had horrible stage fright. I knew I wanted to reach out as a performer. With classical cello, I found this very challenging and so much of what one wants to express has so much do with having perfect technique. Later in my teens I began to take Beta-Blockers. It was incredibly liberating - finally I could speak through my music and cello playing. But I didn't see it as a sustainable long-term solution for me --when I didn't take them, it was strange and sometimes terrifying and the stress led to inflammation and pain in my arms.
So, I had to learn the hard way. During the time I was performing at Cirque du SoleiI's production of "O" I was near quitting music. Then I started to perform little by little my solo cello and vocal pieces to intimate audiences as well as to perform with larger groups to bigger audiences. There were phases where a bit of alcohol was involved for liquid courage, and phases where I would dive into Yoga before a show and breathe it out, or both!
I began truly allowing my voice to lead in writing and composition and also found how working with music technology can be an incredible tool or composition and connecting with a person, an audience. This use of technology, such as effects, sound design, and loopstations are now becoming a driving force in how I approach composition. My new song 'Cathedral of Trees', in a collaboration with Frederik Theyssen from Orchestral Tools, is a realisation of my ambitions, in both music tech as a tool and expression with the voice and cello.
As we both know, music is a part of the driving force of change and it's been connected to many movements in the past. For me it's mostly about bringing awareness to a topic. I feel it is important to have many facets to a movement, and art, or music is one of them. It brings attention in a different way, so people remember it specifically and can relate to it. In that way it's an improvement in bringing attention. For example, perhaps an internet or television viewer could begin to tune out images of demonstrations and could become disconnected to what’s happening where. It takes a piece of a performance to hone in the attention again and focus it. Music also provides an emotional space for those involved in the movement and invites, or welcomes, those in who are interested.
The voice of an artist should carry beyond their artistic output. I think the best way is to stay consistent with what you believe in and find a way that connects to your listeners that you know they can relate to. Be it donating a part of earnings, sharing information, creating art, writing letters etc.
During the Black Lives Matters protests I saw an incredible amount of artists donating parts of their earnings to organizations, but when the protests were over, the donating was too - or at least there was not as much posting about it. A movement doesn't just happen overnight and then it's over, it happens because people have been wronged for years, generations, and are asking for help with change and a commitment to be an ally. Find a way you know you can commit to, and continue to be there."
Books, websites, articles or other sources of information recommended by Bison Rouge [All Links open in the same window]:
The Guardian regularly covers the updates for example - This article includes a minute long video.
This New Yorker article has great coverage and understanding of what's happening.
Here is a Guardian video about the LGBTQ issues in Poland, to show how minorities are being marginalized in Poland.
Constellation of Liberation is a Berlin based organization shares information, fundraises, and collects donated morning after pills that they organize to send to Polish women.
Tell Someone about Poland is a London based organization that shares information about what's happening in Poland in English and organizes protests.
Ciocia Basia is a Berlin-based volunteer collective that supports people in Poland to access safe and legal abortions in Germany. They are currently fundraising for their efforts.
This article is in German from the perspective of a Polish woman, but deepl translate does an ok job of translating it into English.