June 12, 2024


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Interview with Yvonne Mwale: Traditional African music is the Great-Grandmother of Jazz: Video

Jazz interview with jazz and blues singer Yvonne Mwale. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Yvonne Mwale: – I grew up mostly in Chipata in the eastern part of Zambia. Later, after my parents passed away I found my way to Lusaka. My interest in music is somehow in my genes. My mother was a singer and dancer in a back then popular band in Zambia, my biological father is a well know guitar player. In our house, music was playing all day. So I think it’s not surprising I ended up being a musician.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz and blues vocal?

YM: – Our traditional music in many parts of Africa has a lot of Blues. Most traditional African instruments are tuned in the pentatonic scale. On top of that we shouldn’t forget that the Blues was brought to America by African slaves. So I feel it’s somehow natural to me. Although I’ve to admit when I was younger I felt stronger connected to the various types of Reggae. However, one day I had the privilege to perform two concerts with Delmar Brown (The Police, Sting), Tony Bunn and Bobby Ricketts. We played some great Jazz and Blues improvisation. That somehow opened my eyes and I realized that this is more my type of music.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz and blues vocal?

YM: – At the time I decided to make music my profession, it was Jones Kabanga – a guitar legend from Zambia – who became my musical mentor. When it comes to stage performance, I got great coaching from Poney Gross whom I met through my participation at Music Crossroads. And as mentioned before, I met a number of great musician on way, each of them giving me inspiration in their own ways.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

YM: – I came from being a singer in a band. As a result, many of my early works were always recorded with a band, no matter what. Over time, I realized that my vocals are coming out better when my voice has some space. So I started composing my songs just in the privacy of my home. Now, we decide how to record each single song after the first demos are produced.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

YM: – Luckily, I’m in the position to have concerts around the year, so we can never get out of practice too much. On top of that, I like working on my sounds and skills at home on my own. Last year, my husband gave me a vocal loop station as a gift. With this nice little toy I’m trying out new harmonies or even compose new songs and at the same time keep rehearsing. As a mother, I don’t have fixed times for exercises, but somehow I practice almost every day a bit.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

YM: – It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t even say that I have preferences. I just like it discover new things and try different styles of music. I love to listen especially to ethnic music from all over the world and find myself imitating it.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

YM: – Being an once homeless orphan from the middle of Africa, I’m really excited about the level of success I’m having right now, especially in Europe. That’s a proof to me that no matter where you come from and even without the backup of a major label, it’s possible to be successful with good, handmade music. I believe it most important to see music as a profession, be serious about it and always keep working on improving your own skills. Nobody is born as a master. And especially when it comes to the business side of music, it’s better to listen to those who are advising us. It’s good to listen and to keep learning.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

YM: – Oh, yes! It is!

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

YM: – That’s a tricky question. I think I have my very own views on this point. I see Jazz as improvised music. That doesn’t go along well for me with “standards”. Why would somebody study Jazz in an university to play for the rest of it’s life cover songs? I think if we interpret Jazz in a bit broader way we can get more young people and a bigger audience interested in Jazz.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

YM: – I have a song cold ‘Vilimba’. The chorus says, translated into English: “Music is in my blood”. If you have this spirit of music in you just can’t do anything different.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

YM: – Right now, I personally are happy with the developments in my career. But I’m sury, one day they will be challenges as well. At the moment for example, I’m wondering if the recording industry is prepared to transform away from selling music. From my point of view, most recording companies don’t have a working business concept for the upcoming era where people don’t by records anymore. That’s for sure something we have to observe.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

YM: – I recently started actively working on my new album. With this album I’m trying to refreshen the mostly traditional approach of my music. Besides that, there are projects in progress which could make me playing in more different regions of the world. And I’m very curious to see the outcome.  Let’s see where this is taking me.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

YM: – In my personal case, I would say traditional African music is the Great-Grandmother of Jazz. So, yes – there are similarities. There might be differences in world music from different parts of the world and modern Jazz might have developed in a different direction. But basically, music is a common cultural heritage of mankind in general.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

YM: – I love to permanently discover new artists I didn’t knew before, mostly some not so well known names. Recently I started listening to Faada Freddy for example, a brilliant vocalist and body percussionist. Other names on my playlist are for example Asa, Joy Denalane or Ella Fitzgerald.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

YM: – What play most festival with 6-piece band: Vocals, Guitar, Keys, Drums, Bass and Percussion. I really love the energy and the experience of my fellow musicians in this setup. At the same time we do a lot of concerts in smaller concert halls or club as a trio or quartett (Vocals, Guitar, Percussion [Bass]). I really enjoy this small setup at least in the same way. I have more space for improvisations and we can in a musical way do a lot of crazy things on stage.

JBN.S: – And if you want, you can congratulate jazz and blues listeners on Christmas and Happy New Year.

YM: – First of all I would love to wish all of you some good, peaceful holidays and the time to bring this year to an end with hopefully a couple of days to rest and recover to be ready for what the new year might bring for us. For the upcoming year I wish all of us success, creativity and more joy with the music we make!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan


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