Q&A with Croatian singer Marija Gasparic - distinguishes through a powerful and convincing performance

"That kind of music definitely has the potential to touch hearts and that is how societies change - people being drawn into positivity, into matters of your inner life, not living on the surface of things. This is the potential that the blues has."

Marija Gašparić: Lady Sings The Blues

B# is a blues rock band from Zagreb Croatia, formed in January 2015, around experienced musicians that have been playing various music genres for decades, such as blues, rock, jazz, fusion… but the core of the band and its expression is rooted in blues and its subgenres. The band distinguishes itself through a powerful and convincing performance and dynamics between its trinity - vocal, guitar and the rhythm section. B# performs it's original songs as well as covers of various blues legends and a number of blues standards, mostly in regional clubs and festivals. The band has a list of numerous performances in cooperation with prominent blues and rock musicians of the region. One that particularly stands out is the cooperation with Krešo Oremuš who is considered as a fifth, honorary member of the band. Other distinguished names are: Branko Požgajec (Drugi način), Yogi Lonich (Chris Cornell band), Azzuro and many more. The band has performed multiple times at the Zagreb International Blues Festival, and on the 6th ZIBF performed with Vedran Božić, Croatia's most prominent guitarist.

In 2015 the band won the regionals of the 7th Croatian Blues Challenge in Zagreb. That same year B# releases its first single - "Help me please". In 2017 Marija Gašparić joins the band, as a lead singer and a new icon she elevates the band to a whole new level.Another beautiful musical story happens inside the band in October 2017, when Marija Gašparić and Nenad Mađerić form a duo named Two Blue and win the 9th Croatian Blues Challenge in Zagreb. They go to Memphis on the 34th International Blues Challenge, the biggest blues competition in the world.Upon their return from the USA, flying on the wings of success, the band intensifies work on their original songs, and conquer hearts of blues lovers with their live performances. Band members: Marija Gašparić (vocal), Darko Andročec - Nash (drums), Hrvoje Kaučić - Chaos (bass), and Nenad Mađerić - Kljus (guitar).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and Culture? What does the blues mean for you?

I learned a lesson about connection - connection to other people and connection to yourself. The blues community was so warm in accepting me, and I'm talking about both Croatia and the States - I experienced support that made it possible for me to connect with me - a lesson that's been coming for a long time now. So, the blues made this possible - to completely let go on the stage and let the music come out. Very precious lesson. The blues for me is the bridge, a passage, a switch if you will, that lets me express myself best. It correlates perfectly with all the little buttons and lamps inside me, everything just goes off the handle.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

Well, now when I look in retrospective, it was the most logical step for me, to get into blues. Although it's been a part of my life forever and those blue notes always hit a sweet spot, whether I was singing gospel or rock or whatever, it became a conscious thought a few years back - something that I recognised, became aware off, and started to work towards. I finally got that opportunity when I joined B# (B sharp) band, here in Zagreb. The story of us getting together, as well as the story of entering the Croatian Blues Challenge with the guitar player of the band, Nenad Mađerić, and going to Memphis to the International Blues Challenge - are in the rank of small miracles - it was all feeling and intuition, not knowing what it is you're getting yourself into, but listening to that little voice inside your head saying 'Do it! This will be epic!' -  and it was. And it is.

Up until recently B# did mostly covers, a wide range of blues icons - from the three Kings (Albert, B.B. and Freddie), Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Etta James to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter etc. The guys were very keen to create a specific B# sound, that is distinctive from other bands playing blues. If needed to be compared to a familiar sound, well let's just say that one of Nenads biggest influence is Stevie Ray Vaughan and leave it at that. I have been searching for an expression that will work best in this well-oiled machine and will correspond to me, to that connection I was mentioning earlier. I have to say that being apart of the IBC helped a lot. I found what works, a sound that I can't really compare. What I do often hear in it, is a fine underline of Janis Joplin that always surprises me, because it is not intentional, but there it is. I guess that's what comes after listening to her music for so long. When Nenad and I decided to enter the Croatian Blues Challenge, we soon found out that we are a very fruitful songwriting duo. So now B# is in the process of preparing our first album which we are all looking forward to very much.

"Well I am a fan of that old sound, I can relate to this feeling, my switches go off the chart. When people are maintaining that connection to themselves and the roots, the blood sweat and tears show. So the blues for me is about being true to yourself. It tends to get lost with the whole music industry going forward."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

They are not so much acquaintances, but friends, and they definitely deserve to be mentioned. First of all there is this one person that always pushed me over what I thought were my boundaries, and still does it, and because of that I owe my life to this amazing singer and a friend, and a beautiful musical mind - Iva Boršić. And I have to give a shoutout to my guitar player, already mentioned, Nenad Mađerić, because this bluesman just keeps on giving his 30 years of experience and knowledge, not to mention love for the blues, pouring it into the bend.

The best advice I got would have to be the words of the amazing Lola Gulley during the IBC, moments before going on stage in the Women in Blues showcase, that we had the honour participating in. She told me to go and give it my best, and I said that I will try. But then she looked at me with the most determined look I ever saw and said 'No don't try, do it!', I didn't understand it at the time, but it stuck with me, and now I know.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio which youd like to share with us?

I definitely have to mention, in more detail, the Women in Blues showcase that takes place during the IBC on Beale Street. It is an amazing event that these strong, kind women run, and put so much effort to promote women in blues and try to make the 'playing field' a bit more even. The whole Memphis experience was amazing to me. Of course you expect, as much as you can, to hear great musicians and great music. But the reception and kindness of the people, the feel of a blues family... it's amazing. I have met wonderful people - Michele Seidman, the first woman of the WiB showcase, Terri Robbins, Michele's right hand, amazing women such as Val Starr, Pam Taylor, Lori Graboyes... I was overwhelmed.

Another event that I need to mention is a gig that B# played with a guest, one of Croatia's best bluesers, the amazing harp player Mr. Oremuš. That was an out-of-body experience for me, and the crowd felt it.

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

Well I am a fan of that old sound, I can relate to this feeling, my switches go off the chart. When people are maintaining that connection to themselves and the roots, the blood sweat and tears show. So the blues for me is about being true to yourself. It tends to get lost with the whole music industry going forward. So you have a ton of work with PR, advertising, the technology moving rapidly forward, the sound is changing... if you're still able, after all of that, to take your instrument and pour your soul into it - it's all good.

If you could change one thing in the Croatian blues scene and it would become a reality, what would that be?

What I want for the Croatian blues scene is more young blood. And I see that already happening. The president of Croatian Blues Forces - Boris Hrepić is doing an amazing job bringing the blues to kids and young generations, and along with the secretary of Croatian Blues Forces - Siniša Bizović they are also doing a great job organising festivals that spread the blues among the people. So this is what I see and hope will be more and more present in our scene. I would also like to see more women in our blues scene, so that beside Vanja Sky (Vanja Krbavčić), RoLa (Antonija Vrgoč Hrepić) and myself, we get more of this awesome girl vibe.

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

Well I'm a newbie in the scene, but from what I've been told it was the time around connecting blues lovers in Croatia with the Blues Foundation, getting organised, founding Croatian Blues Forces. The blues was thriving at that time in our little country, so all of that was, I can only imagine, very exciting - first Croatian Blues Challenges, first time going out to Memphis to the International Blues Challenge etc. I would have loved to be a part of that. But a lot of good things have been happening since, as I said - younger generations are coming in, so I expect great things from blues in Croatia in the future.

What does to be a female artist in a Mans World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

It's a challenge. Especially because most of the women I know are wives and mothers, so it all depends on the support you get at home. I do notice that it's easier for my male colleagues to get that support, because I don't know a woman that isn't struggling with her timetable when trying to incorporate her music into everyday life. But it's love, love for the music, one of the most profound kinds of love a human being can experience, and you sacrifice for love, right?

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Blues is a storytelling kind of music, so I guess the story is as good as its storyteller, and we have some pretty great storytellers in blues don't we? That kind of music definitely has the potential to touch hearts and that is how societies change - people being drawn into positivity, into matters of your inner life, not living on the surface of things. This is the potential that the blues has.

Lets take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I was always a sucker for the 1970s, so logically the answer would be Woodstock, right? But there is an event that I would have enjoyed being part of even more, and it is the Transcontinental Pop Festival later known as Festival Express. It was a Canadian tour of performers like Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, The Band, Buddy Guy etc. They were travelling by a train of their own all over Canada, doing festivals, performing, so they get to spend days and days together on that train - jamming, hanging out, influencing each other and each others music, mixing ideas... so in the words of Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead: "Woodstock was a treat for the audience, but the train was a treat for the performers."

B# - Official website

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