Late one night during the early days of the pandemic, I was listening to music performances on YouTube, one of my main new music discovery engines, be it via NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts, or just random performers that appear if I just let the channel play when I watched a young woman Hania Rani give a piano performance unlike anything I’d ever seen or heard.
As soon as I heard Rani performing “Live from Studio S2“I was mesmerized by the hypnotic sound of her compositions which sound at first classically-based but which combine elements of electronica, new music, and jazz. Equally compelling was the sight of this young woman playing on several keyboards and at times reaching into the piano itself to unearth new sounds.
I rarely listen to classical music, almost never to contemporary classical or piano works, and my tastes in jazz run to pre-bebop. Yet I was swept up in the emotion of Rani’s music, that felt like the waves of an ocean, rising, surging, and receding. Although in the video she was just one person playing alone, I could imagine her on a giant stage at Glastonbury, playing to thousands of cheering fans – a modern Enya.
The next morning, I wondered if Rani could be as good, as novel, as compelling as I perceived her to be. Was it just a late-night dream? I started reaching out to friends of mine who were serious music professionals: producers, musicians, music industry veterans, and music fans of wide and deep knowledge. None had ever heard of Rani.
So I dug deeper. What I learned was that Rani was born Hanna Raniszewska in Gdansk, Poland in 1990. She studied classical piano at Music School Feliks Nowowiejski in Gdańsk and the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. She then lived in Berlin where she met Jazz and electronic music performers who expanded the boundaries of the original compositions she was writing and Warsaw where she lives and where she seems to have spent the pandemic.
Somewhere around 2019 she sent demos of her compositions to the Manchester, England, based label Gondwana Records, who signed her, putting out her first album. Esha in 2020. Since then, Rani has been prolific, releasing a second album, Homeas well as a collection of music created for films, and the EP of Live From Studio S2. She has recorded in Iceland and collaborated with composers there, as well as in Europe, where she created tracks with vocals that are haunting as well.
But for me it is her live performances that are most powerful. In one short program about her on BBC Channel 4 radio, a childhood friend of Rani’s said that she felt that as Gdansk was surrounded by a port city on the Baltic coast, Rani’s music was like the movement of waves in an ocean. For me, her music leads the listener in a dynamic fashion across an emotional landscape that is at times a gathering storm and at others resolves into a deep meditative state.
Although she is not well known in the States, Rani’s fan base in Europe has been growing wildly. On April 18, 2022, she performed on Piano Day for Arte, the French cultural channel (you can watch this as well on YouTube). And then on July 21, 2022, the French company Cercle, known for staging musical experiences in unique cultural locations, staged a performance by Rani in the courtyard of the Invalides in Paris before thousands of fans. And for 1.5 million more fans on YouTube – including me.