is an incredible guitarist/vocalist who was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and now
resides in The Netherlands. Her career has been meteoric, and shows no signs of
slowing down. Ana is the first European ever nominated for ĎBest New Blues
Artistí at the W.C. Handy Award Show in Memphis, Tennessee (2003). She was also
nominated for 'Best Blues Album' at the Jammie Awards in New York City, a three
way nominee for 'Best Vocalist', 'Best Guitarist' and 'Best Album' at the French
Blues Awards (2002), and she and her band won the prestigious jazz award 'Jazz A
Juan revelation In Juan Le Pins' (France 2004). Ana has recently been touring
Europe and I was lucky enough to catch up with her, back at base
in The Netherlands.
What are your first
musical memories growing up in Belgrade?
I grew up listening to blues and the roots of American music, with Elmore James,
Booker White, Albert Collins, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy.
There were lots more but we had a lot of good and loud music at home. The first
music I sang at home was all English, long before I could understand what they
Did you always want
to become a musician?
I really loved it ever since I was a kid. My Dad had jam sessions at home and I
was always very jealous of them being able to play and really wanted to learn to
play the guitar so that I could play just one song in a jam session. The song I
learned turned out to be an Elmore James song and it turned out that they didnít
have a slide player so I got the job! I started playing late when I was about
13 or 14 and I started by learning one of the solos by Albert King. Of
course when you start the jam sessions you naturally want to move on and you
want to gig. Then when you have one gig, you want more and somehow it just
happens that you become a musician. I didnít really plan it but it happened
naturally out of my passion and it being the thing I always wanted to do the
You have such a
diversity of techniques and styles Ė what is your favourite?
I donít think I can say one in particular? I grew up with the blues of course
and I love to hear the blues players the most but I just love music in general.
When I hear somebody do something good I donít like to classify it. If I hear
passion in it and somebody playing with his heart, whether itís jazz, blues,
fusion, or anything, I just love it. I probably have the most understanding for
blues and know the most about it because I listened to it for such a long time
but I studied jazz and world music at the Conservatory [in the Netherlands] and
that really broadened my views, especially about the sound. Blues is limited in
rhythm, sound and scales but studying other types of music have opened my views
about possibilities and Iím happy to put that into my view of blues and that has
possibly modern music needs.
Who are your
I donít have a favourite artist although I like several from different music
backgrounds but I purposely never wanted to pick one and just sit with the
headphones on trying to sound like him. I didnít want to sound like anybody or
copy anybody. The top 5 or 6 that I love include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert
King (my big influence), Ronnie Earl, Albert Collins and Howliní Wolf. Iím
really into modern guitarists as well and really love people like Kevin Eubanks
and George Benson.
Who influenced you
most in your singing and song-writing?
When I was younger I used to sing along to Howliní Wolf records but then I
decided to try to find my own sound. I never studied singing, it just came
naturally and in the last couple of years Iíve been really trying to see what
Ana Popovićís voice sounds like. Itís dangerous simply trying to imitate the
old blues players because they are older, probably black and they just have
different backgrounds and sounds. Iím not really going after that sound but Iím
going after what is really me. So, I would say that nobody really influenced
me that much and what you hear is Ana Popović.
As for song-writing, itís
probably the same story. I really like good song-writing such as Sting or a lot
of the pop artists probably because they are more story tellers than the blues
writers. Blues is more of a feel with a lot of lines repeating and is basically
the art of saying a lot with a few sentences. Iím not really that kind of a
writer Ė Iím a broad story telling writer and Iím definitely picking up modern
subjects from the things I see around me. Certainly in the last couple of years
Iíve been really busy saying a message and really trying to find out what I want
to say to the people who are listening. If itís going to be on record and
heard year after year after year, it has to be something that I feel strongly
about and has to be a modern subject that I think about frequently and it
shouldn't be "woke up this morning feeling bad or have the blues or because this
is just the style that I live", my song-writing is more about modern subjects.
Are there any
particular songs that have special meaning for you?
Oh yes, many of them, especially on the last couple of records. When I first
started recording in the States I was more after an American style and I wanted
to sing the songs that reminded me of blues standards and of Americana. But the
last two records were where I could sing about what I really wanted to say to
people so there a lot of political songs about my time in Serbia, there are
songs about people from third world countries struggling to do what they really
want to do in life, struggling to survive and putting their primal wish on what
they want to do. That really touches me. Between Our Worlds and
Still Making History talk about that and with Shadow after Dark I
always get goose-bumps when I play that because it touches me a lot talking
about student demonstrations in Belgrade when I was a student and how we were
using our valuable time being young to try to change politics at the time, but I
now believe that is a waste of time and waste of years. I moved to Amsterdam
soon after that but a lot of people stayed there and I feel that they wasted
their years trying to change the government.
Then of course there are a
lot of other types of song that have special meaning, such as those about time
and getting older, your parents getting older, about the real values in life.
For example on Blind for Love I have a couple of songs that ask about the
most important thing in life. For me, I really wanted to be famous and
successful but rich or poor it doesnít really matter and in the end if you are
not loved and you donít feel love around you then you cannot be truly happy, no
matter how successful or rich or poor you are. I also dealt with the birth of
my son so there are a couple of songs about that including a lullaby for him on
the new record. Then there are songs about my view on celebrity lives such as
Lives that Donít Exist. All the records are different and this is what I
were the first European to perform at the WC Handy Awards
Ė tell me about it.
It was really a dream come true and it was my first record in the States. It
was the first year I had a couple of festivals lined up in America and of course
the whole auditorium was fabulous with all the truly great names in blues and
there was me playing! Not all the nominees played then, although they do now,
so at that time it was really special for the nominees to play. I had a couple
of songs to play, it was a big stage, a big production and full of the people I
really admire in the audience. Iíd been living the blues and reading the
magazines since I was a kid so to meet all these people was just amazing.
Tell me about your
own gigs with the blues legends such as Junior Wells and Buddy Guy.
I played with Buddy Guy a couple of times and that was wonderful. I opened up
for Junior Wells back home in Serbia just before he died. That was my first
opening show for a legend and I had been very influenced by his music so that
was another dream come true. Since then Iíve had a lot of jam sessions with
Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke and I opened up for BB King a month ago which was a
wonderful experience. I particularly remember playing in Legends and when Buddy
Guy came on stage that was very special. Ronnie Earle came to one of my shows
and jammed with me, one of my biggest influences on guitar.
How healthy do you
think the blues scene is in Europe compared with the US?
I just think that the two markers are completely different and we shouldnít
compare. Europe has wonderful festivals and big shows and they do keep the
tradition but I feel really free when Iím in the US and I feel that they really
understand what Iím talking about. Thereís also a language barrier in that I
feel people completely understand the lyrics in England and the States but in
the rest of Europe I see them enjoying music and we have some fabulous shows,
but the full understanding is missing. Thatís why I keep going back to the
States and this is where I feel it is my place and where they are very open
minded to new influences. But the change is so important to me and I love
playing in all countries. I could never play in the same country all the time.
On May 5th
last year Luke arrived (the day before my birthday!). How do you manage with
being a mother and touring?
Iím very happy about how it has all gone because I was hearing so many different
stories and everybody around me was saying that itís not possible to do both.
But Luke was a very easy-going baby and he went on tour when he was 5 weeks
old. I had a 4 month break but that was just so long for me without
being on stage and the moment I felt good again (3 weeks after his birth) I went
back to playing. Being on tour with him was really very easy because as a
mother and musician I got to enjoy him far more than a mother who works in an
office. I get to enjoy him all day long and when he sleeps I go and play so he
doesnít even notice Iíve gone. I had very good people around me who set
everything up on stage and I had a lot of help from my family and partner at the
hotel so it all went perfectly. But nowadays I donít really want to do that so
I limit the tours and itís a good excuse to just do the clubs I like to do and
obviously I do all the festivals in the summer. I always combine it with a
vacation for Luke so now we are going to two festivals then weíll have a
vacation in Canada then weíll do another week of touring. But in the wintertime
I only do the weekends and the rest of the week Iím with him. Last winter I was
with him and I was writing and practising and thatís when Blind for Love
happened, the whole record was written in a couple of months with the baby.
It's possible and it's really very nice.
How do you see the
future of blues music?
I think there will always be people who will want to play and respect the roots
and there will always be people who try something new and come back to the
roots. The roots of blues are luckily recorded and available all over the
world, and I think there will be more and more people who are influenced by it
and fall in love with this style. It will go both ways in that a lot of new
things will come out of the roots and there will be people who will carry on
researching it. My way is always trying something new but making sure there are
a couple of roots blues songs on every show which are played exactly like they
should be played Ė simple and right to the point. I keep my touch on the roots
by playing some acoustic stuff, Elmore Jones, Howliní Wolf, T-Bone Walker on
every show. Then I give myself freedom to go and explore different styles but I
make sure I don't forget the roots.
What about future
plans? Any plans for the UK tour?
We do have a tour planned for April and May 2010 and Iím really looking forward
to that. I love English audiences because they are critical and a challenge -
and I love a challenge! I guess theyíve seen so much great stuff and itís great
to try to win that audience. Itís a much tougher audience than America. There
is a still a great line up of artists still coming out of England who I have
great respect for.
Ana, thank you very much for your time
and I really look forward to seeing you in the UK next year.
Alan White - earlyblues.com