April 20, 2024

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Interview with Rita Engedalen: I want people to feel that they are not alone: Video, new CD cover, Photos

Interview with Norwegian Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Rita Engedalen. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.  How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Rita Engeldalen: – The first time I was on stage was when I was 8 years old. I grew up with folk music and I yodeled. I am an only child and singing is what I like all the most in my life. 

My first years I lived in Notodden, which is Clarksdale’s sister-city, and Norway’s blues capital, home to the Notodden Blues Festival. When I was 6 years old, my mother, father and I moved to Jondalen in Kongsberg, where I have lived ever since. It is a beautiful little village surrounded by mountains and forests – and a river I have often sat by, letting my thoughts turn into songs.

Through my parents I heard a lot of artists such as Johnny Cash. I was interested in music early on, especially folk music, and have pretty much always been singing. At first singing by myself in my room, then later with friends and others. When I was 8 my mom and dad took me to festivals and hotels where I sang with a country band. At the age of 15, I took part in a big talent competition, making it to the national finals. It was a boyfriend of mine who introduced me to the blues. I loved it from the start, especially artists such as Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt and Big Mama Thornton … A couple of years later I started performing in pubs, at parties and in restaurants all over Norway together with a friend who played the piano while I sang and played my guitar. We continued for 10 years as a duo, living off the money we made from our music for two years. Already at this time I sang some of my own songs, but our repertoire for the most part was well-known cover songs played to give the party goers a great night out on the town. The times were gratifying, but they were tough years filled with a lot of music. In 1993, I joined a blues band which became Backbone, all well-known musicians from Notodden. It was at that time that I went back to my blues roots, and the music that is closest to my heart. We performed at many festivals, clubs and such touring for over 20 years. One of the guitarists from this time is still with me to this day. Performing in my band, with me at my solo performances, and is often the guitarist used in our music concept project “Woman In Blues” with my blues sister vocalist Margit Bakken from Notodden. This year 2023 “Woman In Blues” will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound? What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

PE: – The blues is totally natural for me, and in my case has developed through my time with Backbone, and its repertoire, which consists of cover songs from artists such as Ike & Tine Turner, Janis Joplin and others.
My great personal inspiration for blues comes from the late Norwegian blues artist Kristin Berglund. For me, she was not only inspirational, but also a good friend.

When I went on my first trip to Memphis and Clarksdale in 2004, I meet the blues legend Jessie Mae Hemphill in Como, Mississippi. I had been listening to Jessie Mae for quite some time, and her being a great inspiration for me with her North Mississippi hill country blues.

I have since written several songs about her, our meetings and experiences together. Hearing her made me find my own kind of blues, which I have since developed into a personal expression. In my blues, I also gather inspiration from gospel, Americana, rock, folk music, soul and roots. When I write songs, the form can be anything from a cappella to acoustic to full band. My lyrics are almost always very personal, but with opportunities for those who listen to fill in their own meaning and interpretation when they listen. I think that’s a nice way to do it. I do get a lot of feedback from my audience telling me that my songs mean a lot to them and have done so in difficult times in their lives. They tell me that I touch something in them.

In my sound-landscape, I am very fond of acoustic instruments, and have developed my own guitar style since I started playing at the age of 15. I like a backdrop of drums, guitar and bass, and if I feel for it, I like my songs to include a fiddle, choir, organ, piano, trumpet or even a mandolin.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

PE: – From my first album recording in 2004, “Hear my song”, I have been concerned that the recordings should not be too polished, and often one of the first takes are used. Then they are the most natural and genuine. I have good friends who remind me of who I am. One of my good friends Ed Murphy has been very important for me, being helpful on my 7 albums.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Rita Engedalen – Sun Will Come, how it was formed and what you are working on today?

PE: – I am most satisfied that I have managed to create an album with expressions and a musical landscape that I feel at home in, that is unpolished and has an honesty – just like what my songs are about! I am lucky to also have so many talented musicians with me who are able to create this musical statement. The recording has been worked on for almost two years, and has been created through all my musical expressions. Each song has its own language that takes it form in one or several of the varying blues’ voices such as gospel, rock, hill country blues, Americana, soul. The album has captured all my many musical landscapes! It feels credible.

Today I am working on our “Woman In Blues” 20th anniversary project, and I am in the middle of mixing a new single that will be released on Women’s Day, March 8, it is called “Let the Freedom come”. In addition, I will be performing concerts in Norway with the new songs from my album.

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

PE: – It was natural for me to have my own band Morten Omlid, Eskil Aasland and Bård Gunnar Moe with me on “Sun Will Come”, and I chose guest artists who could provide extra colors and moods to the recordings. For the remake of “I am Changed” Nils Petter Molvær as he has the nerve and an expression I wanted. My inspiration of Billie Holliday was reinforced by him, exactly as I hoped and wanted. I’m very happy I recorded that song again, especially since I haven’t been able to play it live for 14 years, as it had gotten too personal, and I easily could start crying on stage.

Buy from here – New CD 2023

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

PE: – Always the most important of all is the soul, but I think listening to music, and knowing the music and the history of the blues will make the balance come naturally. I’m not a good liar.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

PE: – I am singing for the people! They make me feel, and they make me want to sing. I want them close; I want them to feel with me. When I feel them, I don’t feel alone. That’s why I really love small stages. I am sure that «Sun Will Come» will give hope and inspiration to people. And when it does, it is really meaningful to me, it keeps me going on as a musician.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

PE: – There are so very many memories over my 25 years as a musician, but one that comes to mind is when I was on a TV-show in Memphis performing Janis Joplin’s song Turtle Blues. I had sung it on TV in Norway two times before without any problems. The song contains the lyrics «I know this goddamn life too well». That was shocking for the TV crew and the network, and they almost took me off the air, causing me to cry. But as my guitarist said at the time, «That’s Rock`n Roll!»

One of my warmest memories is from a jam-sessions when I sang and played together with the legend Jessie Mea Hemphill in her hometown of Sentobia MS. She my favorite one. Together we sang one of my early songs «Hear my song» in a duet, while she played her tambourine, and then spontaneously she sang her own personal verse in my song. A very strong moment! Her music has been a big influence on my music ever since.

I never forget my two gigs at The Sunflower River Blues Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is a free festival for everybody – I have great respect for that, it is for everybody. Also, I recorded a song at the studio in Clarksdale with the Community Gospel Choir, a soulful choir with young black singers – with a unique style of singing. They sing with me on my recording of «Holy Land» and «Mississippi Prayer».

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

PE: – It is important that the blues and jazz-music and their history are shared with young people in schools. So that young people can listen and learn. My guitarist and I visited classrooms in Norwegian schools for several years now. In my songwriter-session with young people, I know it is important to include them! One very good example is taking place in Notodden during the festival there. Together with Steve Van Zant they have established the «Little Stevens Blues School». By lending his name to the existing music for youth school, Steve has made it possible to reach a broader audience, and now young people are coming to the school from all around the world.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

PE: – I would like to see and hear a greater diversity of music genres presented in the major media channels. I think our society would benefit from that. Music can give a lot of help and hope, so I would like that arena to be a bigger one.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

PE: – Right now, I am listening to Billie Holiday, Lucinda Williams, Betty Davys, Valerie June, Memphis Minnie, Rosa Lee Hill and Big Mama Thornton.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

PE: – I want to give hope, love and freedom. I want people to feel that they are not alone.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

PE: – Which lyrics/song has given you the most in life, and why?

For me, it is «The Rose» by Bette Midler, because the song was in my life, and it was in the funeral when I lost somebody I loved.

Which song has been important to our community – I will say Strange Fruit.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

PE: – I often do benefit concerts for children crisis centers and for women causes in Norway, for example benefit concerts for fundraising after the Tsunami in Thailand and benefit concerts funding support and meeting needs for drug addicts, and concerts in prisons.

I hope that this interview will give an honest picture of who I am, both as a person and as a blues musician.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Photo: Rita outside Sun studio; Photocred . Bjørn – Owe Holmberg; Rita sitting in the studio with guitar. Photocred: Morten Gjerde

 

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