Interview with Serbian harmonica/flute player Jovana Stankovic -- creates an own expression of the blues

"Blues is an honest music, music of love and passion, suffering and loneliness. It comes from the very core of our being."

Jovana Stankovic: Breathing The Blues

Jovana Stankovic was born on January 20th in 1987 in Belgrade, Serbia. She started her musical education at the age of 11, and finished music high school, conservatory in Belgrade and in Modena (Italy), gaining two master degrees in flute performance.  Music was always her main interest, so she never limited herself on classical genre, but opened her mind to other genres, and so, aside from having great collection of classical music, she also appreciates rock, blues, jazz, latin music, ambiental, Irish, etc. At the age of 25 she joined the Irish dance troup „Erin’s Fiddle“ and started dancing Irish dance, competing and perofirming with them for two years now.

In February 2014, she attended several blues sessions, to discover her new love – blues harmonica. Soon, she started taking private lessons with blues harmonica player and frontman of the best Serbian blues band Raw Hide (Jovan Ilić), and the blues era in her life could begin. After only four months of lessons, she started performing as a guest musician on other bands’ gigs. Her idols in blues are Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker – that type of blues and that sound is what she’s aiming for to learn to play.  She found herself in their sound and music and is hoping to create an expression of her own, based on these masters’ music. She lives and works in Belgrade, Serbia.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Blues is an honest music, music of love and passion, suffering and loneliness. It comes from the very core of our being. When I started playing blues, I discovered new passions and new ways of expressing myself and my feelings through music. It is quite different from classical music that I used to play for the last 15 years. But it is also very liberating – there are, of course, certain rules you have to follow in playing it, but the improvisations, that are very big part of it, allow you to express yourself in any way you find suitable, and also to be original, unique. For me, it is a newfound freedom, I find it very enjoyable, exciting, and it connects me to the other people in a much more natural and relaxed way than any other type of music I have performed.

How do you describe Jovana Stankovic sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

A sound is like a personality. It grows, matures and changes as the musician himself grows and changes. I generally let other people talk about my sound, but if I had to describe it, I’d say I try to evoke the sounds of great masters like Charlie Musselwhite, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter…I’m certainly very far from them, but that is my way of expression and that is the sound I like. In a matter of music philosophy, I’d say – just go with your feelings. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t have excellent technique or speed in playing – the emotion is what matters the most. One tone full of emotions means more than a sea of superfast ones.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the music of the past itself – or, better said, there are very few places where it can be heard. It is not to blame on music, but on people who don’t nurture it well enough. It has become an underground music (at least in my country), and it is not quite popular. I certainly hope there will be more space for it in the future (remember those dance parties in the ‘60s? something like that), but I fear that the human hunger for commercial stuff that is mostly of bad quality will overpower it. The ability to recognize quality is becoming uncommonly rare.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would definitely ban all the trash and turbo-folk music. It corrupts the meaning of music, if you ask me. All the commercial stuff – banned. And instead of that, classical, blues, jazz, rock, and similar types of music would rule. But that’s possible just in my imagination, I guess. People are satisfied with trash music nowadays and it saddens me. I would also raise the respect for musicians. It is expected from a musician to play music for a small amount of money, as if it is nothing to own an instrument, take care of it, and practice for hours, days, years.... And nowadays, it seems to be like this: the more trash music there is, the more money goes to it. That is wrong.

"Women have to fight hard not to be perceived as just pretty girls in skirts on a stage but as serious musicians, equal to their male colleagues. This is very difficult, since the environment often treats them as sex symbols, especially if it is a woman who plays an instrument unusual for a woman to play."  (All Photos Courtesy by Jovana Stankovic Archive and Collection / All Rights Reserved)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Serbia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

In the past 20 years, there have been a number of bands evolving, and they are still here, making great music and holding our blues scene together. Bands like Raw Hide, DiLuna Blues Band, and others, are our “fathers” of blues scene here. This period is also becoming interesting, since there are new founded, young blues bands that still don’t have a proper chance in proving themselves, mostly for the reason I already talked about – small number of clubs and general “underground” character of blues music in our country.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Serbia?

Blues, like any other music, travels around the world. It is played in most countries and it has found its followers around the world. American blues musicians had set the standards and it seems the whole world is following those standards. Same thing in Serbia – first it starts with interpretations of old masters and later with author work. But in the end, whatever country it is, it is the feeling and the emotion that counts.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Spontaneous joking while improvising always makes me laugh. Musicians are famous for their pranks and jokes, especially in laid back jam sessions. What touches me emotionally the most is generally the depth that comes from someone’s performance. I also admire those people for having such long and deep friendships, playing together for decades and having great respect for each other.

"I miss the music of the past itself – or, better said, there are very few places where it can be heard. It is not to blame on music, but on people who don’t nurture it well enough. It has become an underground music (at least in my country), and it is not quite popular."

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

It is not so easy. Women have to fight hard not to be perceived as just pretty girls in skirts on a stage but as serious musicians, equal to their male colleagues. This is very difficult, since the environment often treats them as sex symbols, especially if it is a woman who plays an instrument unusual for a woman to play.

As for female vocals, the critics are tough, since Aretha, Etta, Dinah and others had set high standards in female vocals. In general, it is not easy for a woman in blues music.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would like to visit any big city and explore its culture, past and legacy, and at the end of the day, a blues session would be like an icing to the cake.

You are also a flute player. How easy or difficult is to played the blues with flute?

I’ve never tried playing blues on flute. And I probably won’t, since its sound is too bright for that kind of music. I prefer blues harmonica, which I started playing, because of its raw, sharp, and sometimes heavy sound that suits much better to blues music than flute. But I can make a parallel on difficulty of playing flute vs. playing harmonica. They are completely opposite! In flute, we have keys and fingering charts for every note, and the sound is produced only by blowing into the instrument, while in harmonica we have a different system: ten holes, and the making of the sound includes inhale and exhale (blow and draw).  Also the mouth embouchure is completely different. It was quite a challenge for me to learn how to do things opposite than what I’ve learned for the past 15 years, but it was worth it, since now I can express myself through harmonica, too.

 

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