My Dubai Expo: Meet the bassist entertaining crowds after months of unemployment

Janis Bukowski says the excitement of Expo is a sharp contrast to the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic

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The pandemic made the last 18 months a grim time for most of the world, with many people forced to work from home due to social distancing rules.

However, not everyone could find remote work to pay the bills.

Dubai musician Janis Bukowski, like countless other performers across the world, was left with no source of income.

“It was a pretty bleak time. It’s a dream job to be a musician but you realise you’re pretty expendable,” said Ms Bukowski, 34, a bassist from California, who also works as a DJ at entertainment venues across the emirate.

It’s not like musicians can make money on computers at home like others can. We need to be able to perform in front of people
Janis Bukowski, musician

“You’re the very first one that’s going to go when they are making cuts.

“A restaurant can’t do without waiters or chefs, but it can do without a DJ.”

She said working in the music industry was an amazing job but people did not always appreciate how fragile it could be in terms of security.

“I know a lot of people who just gave up and quit music and took up jobs in sectors such as real estate,” she said.

“It’s not like musicians can make money on computers at home like others can. We need to be able to perform in front of people.”

Keeping the faith and not throwing in the towel paid off though. Ms Bukowski is now part of a 50-strong all-female orchestra that has been thrilling audiences at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“I have been in Dubai since 2013 and people were always talking about Expo so much,” she said.

“Then of course it got delayed by a year, which obviously didn’t help. I almost forgot about the audition I did for the orchestra in February last year.

“When things started opening up again I got a call to see if I would be available to come in for another interview and I got selected.”

She said the feel-good factor the Expo has created since opening at the start of October is the perfect contrast to the dark days of Covid-19 lockdowns.

Performing on the stage during the open-night ceremony of Expo was the highlight of a career that already included playing with Andrea Bocelli at the Du Arena in Abu Dhabi, said Ms Bukowski.

“It was incredible to be part of it. What people don’t realise is how much work went into that night,” she said.

“It was like the opening ceremony of the Olympics and so much went into it behind the scenes in terms of preparation.

“I am not just talking about the orchestra – there were acrobats, rollerskaters and people holding flags, it was like nothing I had seen.”

As a member of the all-female Firdaus Orchestra, Ms Bukowski has performed for audiences since the beginning of the world's fair.

The orchestra has performed a range of contemporary and classical music at the event, as well as original pieces from acclaimed Indian composer A R Rahman.

The group also wowed audiences by playing the theme music from Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey to mark space week at the world’s fair.

Becoming a musician came naturally to Ms Bukowski, having grown up in a home where the use of instruments was encouraged.

“I feel people are drawn to the instrument that matches their personality,” she said.

“I could have played any number of instruments but once I saw the double bass I was immediately attracted to it.

‘It feel like this was my instrument that I was going to play. It’s never occurred to me to be anything other than a musician.”

In terms of musical influences, Ms Bukowski said she listens to a wide range of genres but has one distinct favourite.

“I listen to everything from hip-hop, funk, Motown to reggae but my favourite is classical music,” she said.

“The best for me though is Beethoven. I listen to his music when I am driving in the car.”

A R Rahman's Firdaus Orchestra performance at Dubai Expo - in pictures

Updated: November 08, 2021, 10:05 AM