CNN Photos

DJ granny gets the Poles dancing

Wika Szmyt is well aware that she’s not your typical grandmother. At age 74, she plays music three nights a week at a club in Warsaw, Poland.

“I think that I heal souls somehow,” she says. “I inject people with happiness.”

Photographer Piotr Malecki began photographing Szmyt last year as part of a documentary series on life in the Polish capital. He spent three weeks capturing her story.

For years Szmyt worked as a youth counselor, developing a passion for social work while trying to balance her life as a mother and wife. Now that she’s retired, Malecki says she uses music as a form of therapy for her peers.

“I think that it gives them the precious moments when they can forget about their age and limitations,” says the 45-year-old photographer. “And, especially after a few drinks, many feel young again.”

On the days Szmyt operates the DJ booth, the Bolek Club in central Warsaw begins to fill up with energetic senior citizens around 4 p.m. Her playlists typically consist of Polish hits and international pop songs from the ‘60s through the ‘80s.

She has developed close relationships with the people who show up for her events. Over the years, she has watched many of them become friends or fall in love with each other. Some have even gotten married.

Working at the nightclub also allows Szmyt to look toward the future instead of looking back at her life.

“It keeps her occupied, keeps her feeling that she is doing something important, different and unusual,” Malecki says. “I think that this work simply keeps her happy.”

In her spare time, Szmyt enjoys watching people on Nowy Swiat Street, a vibrant area lined with restaurants, cafes and small shops.

Nearly seven decades after much of the city was destroyed in World War II, modern Warsaw is a thriving cultural center. It has earned the nickname the “phoenix city.”

Its perseverance is reflected in Szmyt’s outlook on life. For her, playing music is a means to an end, Malecki says.

“Wika is trying to convey the simple truth that as long as we don't give in to age … we can live a good life, full of possibilities and exciting moments,” he says. “The worst thing that we can do is to give in too early.”

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

Watch Piotr Malecki’s video on DJ Wika.