Q&A with Chicago-based alternative artist Anne Harris, has been crafting her unique sound without boundaries

"Music has always been a driving force behind every major social moment. Revolutions all have a soundtrack, and this is because music has the unique ability to physically alter us through vibration. When groups of people all vibrate together in sound, a powerful resonance and connection is created, and a portal for change appears as consciousness expands."

Anne Harris: The Echoes of Divine Source 

Chicago-based fiddle player and singer-songwriter Anne Harris has been crafting her unique sound for well over a decade, producing five indie studio records and playing countless performances in the US and abroad. Her collaborations, live and in-studio, span a large and diverse group of artists, including Otis Taylor, Shemkia Copland, Los Lobos, Living Colour, Cracker, Guy Davis, Walter Trout, Anders Osborne and occasional stints with hippie legends Jefferson Starship. Anne’s new single ‘Over’ (2021) was written for her by Markus James, with whom she began collaborating with a few years ago. The collaboration of these two visionary Blues/American Roots artists has an intriguing sound that while rooted in acoustic blues, folk, and old time traditions, reaches far beyond to encompass their unique view of what happens when those early influences mingle without boundaries in a postmodern world of cultural cross pollination.                                         (Photo: Anne Harris & Markus James)

Singer-songwriter Markus James recorded 5 critically-acclaimed albums of original Blues-based music with traditional musicians in Mali, West Africa and the award-winning documentary film about this collaboration, Timbuktoubab, was broadcast on many PBS TV stations around the US. After performing in Mississippi, Markus began collaborating with several old-school drummers in North Mississippi's hill country and his latest album, Head for the Hills, featuring drummers Calvin Jackson and Kinney Kimbrough, received rave reviews and led to performances on Elwood's House of Blues Radio Hour, Montreal International Jazz Festival and Telluride Blues Festival, among others. In the fall of 2015 Markus, with drummer Marlon Green, supported guitar icon, Joe Satriani, on a European theater tour. James’ instrumental track, On a Mississippi Porch, appears in the 2017 Oprah Winfrey film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Interview by Michael Limnios                 Anne Harris, 201 Interview @ Blues.gr

How has the Afro-American music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

This question almost made me spit out my tea with laughter!! I AM an African American, a black woman, so this question reads to me like, “How has being You affected being You?” to which I am unable to summon an answer. My life, my identity, my experiences are all a part of who I am, and I cannot view that story from a remove. I am unable to dissemble myself. No one can examine themselves in that way. My experience of living my life as a black woman, and working in a field that is predominantly populated by white men is all that I know. I am a minority in every sense of that word.

One of racism’s many flaws is that of a skewed perspective. It is born of whiteness being the default, against which all other perspectives are measured, leading to false assumptions and narratives. This lens views black music and culture as separate and peripheral to mainstream American (white) culture, when in fact ALL of the varied cultures that make up the rich fabric of the US have cross pollinated through art and across time to create uniquely American expressions. The impact of black art and culture in America specifically is tied to a bigger picture. There is no American culture without the influence of black Americans. As a side note, no black person would ask this question to another black or brown person. It would be just as unimaginable to have an African American interviewer ask a white person how European music and culture has affected their views of the world and the journeys they’ve taken.

The rich contributions of black culture and art have played an immeasurable role in shaping not just American art specifically, but the whole of our lives in a broader sense. We as Americans can’t know what life would be like without the influence of black culture. It is indelibly woven into the fabric of our lives. Imagine no rock and roll...No pop… no dance music…no country or gospel music. The music and art of enslaved African people drew its life force from Africa, the cradle of civilization, and today weaves it’s way through our bloodstreams mingling with all it encounters, forever shaping our collective consciousness as well as our individual consciousness. I am a carrier of these stories.

“How has the Afro-American music and culture influenced (my) views of the world and the journeys (I’ve) taken?” This IS my music and culture, my views of the world and the journeys I’ve taken. This is me. These stories are not only in my blood, they are my blood, and are inseparable from who I am.                   (Anne Harris / Photo by Scott Levitt)

"As far as secrets go, the biggest one is probably that the violin and the fiddle are the same instrument. The difference in monikers is really just a stylistic difference. Generally speaking, the violin is associated with classical music, while the fiddle is associated with folk and roots music. Another big secret is the fiddle’s critical roll in early black string band music that birthed blues music."

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope is the message of your music and songs?

My creative drive comes from Source. The origin of all creativity is Source. It is my belief that humans are just another creative expression of the Divine. And as such, our raison d’être is to create. I would loosely define "The Divine" as the infinitely creative force that expresses itself in unlimited ways through all things and across all timelines. All that is springs from Divinity. All ideas sprout from this limitless sea of possibility. My drive to create is encoded into my DNA. I feel that it is my job and duty as an artist to keep myself open to creative impulses, and to focus my energy on how to best serve the muse with my attention, practice, diligence, passion, sense of play, and consciousness of the process and the Mystery.

My music and the songs I write are all about different things, of course, but I that the overall message I convey though my work is one of hope, possibility, healing, and expansion.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same about your influences?

Gosh I feel I was born an artist and I don’t have a point on my linear timeline at which I feel I “became" one. So how I have grown as an artist is a direct reflection of how I have grown as a person. The older I get, the more experiences I gather, the more fascinated I become by the magic that seems to be the underlying current in everything. There is such pain, struggle, and sadness in life, but there is also the miracle of forgiveness, love, and the Mystery that keeps me glued to my seat wanting to know what’s going to happen next, and wondering how my presence as an artist can help process some of that.

Specifically, as relates to music, I grew up listening to a hugely varied and eclectic soundtrack because my parents love all kinds of music and my Dad had a big vinyl collection. I heard everything from jazz, funk, blues, country and gospel to classical, folk, rock, pop, musical theatre and beyond. As a result, I grew up without a filter in a sense, about what I found relatable across many genres. I liked what I liked simply because it resonated somewhere. This is something that I’ve carried with me my whole life; an extremely diverse and eclectic taste in music and seeing the thru lines and connections. I’m so grateful for the freedom it has afforded me as a musician, because I can easily draw from many different genres and sounds, weaving them together with ease.

"My creative drive comes from Source. The origin of all creativity is Source. It is my belief that humans are just another creative expression of the Divine. And as such, our raison d’être is to create. I would loosely define "The Divine" as the infinitely creative force that expresses itself in unlimited ways through all things and across all timelines. All that is springs from Divinity." (Anne Harris / Photo by Rosy Sarra)

Are there any exclusively specific memorable moments with people that you’ve performed with either live or in the studio?

I’ve had the incredible fortune and honor of performing with so many amazing and iconic artists over the years. One stand out would be Los Lobos, simply because I was awestruck not only by their flawless musicianship, but of their generosity, huge hearts, and their unbridled sense of fun and abandon. They placed such a huge amount of trust and faith in me when they didn’t even know me. Another was working with Bobby Rush. I did a little recording and short tour with Bobby a few years back and felt similarly. He told me some amazing stories and he was so generous with his trust of what I was doing, and he had twice the energy of a person half his age. I also had the extreme honor of playing with Living Colour, Jefferson Starship, and Buddy Guy and those were all mind bending experiences.

What would you say characterizes Chicago blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Chicago has a it’s own flavor of Blues, and such a distinct place in the history of Blues music. It is a vibrant part of the city’s story and has produced some of the most prominent artists in the world. The music and artists coming out of Chicago have also influenced some of the most successful rock and pop bands around like The Rolling Stones and U2. I feel so blessed that this was my home as I began my journey into the Blues, because there are so many greats here in one place. It was like living on campus at one of the finest Blues schools on the planet.

What touched you from the sound of the fiddle? How do you want it to affect people? What are the secrets of?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t play the violin. My mom tells me that I started begging for one at the age of 3 when she took me to see the movie version of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. But I didn’t begin lessons until I was 8. I was classically trained and studied the Suzuki method. I feel there is something about the instrument that connects to the heart. Some say the violin is the instrument that is closest to the human voice. I have just always loved the way it’s sound makes me feel. And I hope to convey that feeling when I’m playing. I want to touch people’s hearts.

As far as secrets go, the biggest one is probably that the violin and the fiddle are the same instrument. The difference in monikers is really just a stylistic difference. Generally speaking, the violin is associated with classical music, while the fiddle is associated with folk and roots music. Another big secret is the fiddle’s critical roll in early black string band music that birthed blues music. There were way more black fiddle and banjo players than guitar players during the 19th century. Slave fiddling was documented as early as the 1690’s, and slaves would play for whites at plantation balls as well as for their fellow slave gatherings. Black string band music thrived in parts along the Mississippi River, and by the 1840s, New Orleans was known as the black center of fiddle music. Slaves in the region were often sent there to learn the instrument, returning as trained entertainers to their plantations.          (Anne Harris / Photo by Flynn)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Some of the most important lessons I have learned from music:

  - Follow your heart

  - Trust your instincts

  - Find the things about you that make you feel uncomfortable, the ways that you feel different from everyone else, and lean into those things. Your power to impact people is intrinsically linked to your ability to take risks.

  - Be honest

  - Be present

  - Have fun

What is the impact of music on the civil rights, human rights, political and socio-cultural implications?

Music has always been a driving force behind every major social moment. Revolutions all have a soundtrack, and this is because music has the unique ability to physically alter us through vibration. When groups of people all vibrate together in sound, a powerful resonance and connection is created, and a portal for change appears as consciousness expands.

Anne Harris - Home

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