Talking Music and the Business with Singer-Songwriter Yana Bibb

  • Words: Bruce Reynolds

We loved Swedish-American singer Yana Bibb‘s debut album ‘Not A Minute Too Late’ and the single of the same name. Her rich combination of old soul and young soul jazz is a rare blend that allows her music to connect to all who listen. As the daughter of the legendary Eric Bibb, Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success comes a little bit into play here, such as being blessed to be born into a musical family – but this doesn’t mean Yana Bibb has had it easy by any means. Like any other artist, she also faces the challenge of how to make a living from her artistry into today’s music business.

It was Yana’s unique sound that landed her a deal with Dixiefrog Records, a label with distribution in Europe, and led to her first solo album in reaching number one on the blues charts in France. Yana will be coming to London to perform in 2016, so we caught up with her to talk dual nationality, musical influences and her forthcoming second album.

 

How long have you been making music?

Since childhood really. Other children had diaries – I had a notebook with lyrics. The first song I ever recorded was a song called “You’re My Angel” that I had co-written with my father. I was 10 years old.

 

Tell us the history of how you started?

Being brought up in a family of musicians and artists, it’s hard to say when their story ends and my story begins. I was given opportunities to perform at a very young age and I took every chance I was given, and searched for even more. In my family music was and still is a way of communicating, connecting and what we do for fun.

I think I had two starts when coming into my own as an artist. The first step I took was when I entered a Performing Arts High School in Gothenburg, Sweden. There I had the opportunity to connect and make music with peers for the first time. The second step was my move to New York as a 19-year-old with big dreams. New York has a way of making you grow up fast and making you humble. For the first time, I was out of my comfort zone, and that gave me another layer as a person and so also as an artist.

 

Speaking of New York, you’ve got an interesting background New York and Sweden – what’s all that about? 

My father is American, and my mother is Swedish. When I was born, they lived in Brooklyn, New York. With the arrival of me, my mother longed for familiarity and family, so we moved to Gothenburg. I always stayed connected with my US family and was fortunate to be able to spend summer breaks in New York.

 

What inspires your music?

I draw a lot of inspiration from my own personal life, love, family and friends. But since these are elements of life that are true for everyone (ideally), my wish is that my reflections on life are meaningful to my listeners.

 

How did you produce your first album?

My first album was really a collage of my life leading up to its release. I started working on it in Stockholm, then felt inspired to record in Vancouver after a family concert there. The bulk of the record, however, was recorded in New York  with friends and fellow musicians I met while studying Jazz Vocals at the City College of New York. It took me a long time to put it together and I was eager to share it, so when it came time to name it, “Not a Minute Too Late”, (which is also a track on the album) felt like the obvious choice!

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What’s been the biggest challenge for you being in the music business?

Making a living. Starting out means sacrifice as you are investing in yourself and you are your own only guarantee for the work to get done. Yet you are still reliant on others to help you get your music out there. Nowadays you can do a lot independently but it’s difficult. If there is a will, there is a way.

 

What makes you different from others in your music genre?

My genre is jazz or singer-songwriter, but I feel as though I don’t quite fit in either, and perhaps that makes me different. I have so many musical influences; the blues, and spirituals I grew up hearing my father singing, the folk songs I heard my grandfather sing, the Swedish lullabies my mother sang to me and then, of course, the pop songs of the 90s and 2000s. I try not to discriminate when it comes to music. If I hear it in my mind, and it resonates with my heart, then I will sing it.

 

Who are your musical influences? 

There are so many! I grew up listening to and loving Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Al Greene, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles – the list goes on. I am currently hooked on Lizz Wright and Gregory Porter.

 

It seems to be getting tough to make money nowadays – what’s your plan as a new artist breaking through?  

Perseverance. I love making music and don’t think I’ll ever stop no matter if I can make a living off of it or not. I also am a firm believer that if you know something you should pass it on. I enjoy teaching and feel that it is an important part of who I am as well. Teaching allows me to make the music I want to make rather than chasing the latest trend to stay current.

 

Which have been your favourite places and venues to perform so far and why?

I sang at a place called the Blues Garage in Hanover, Germany earlier this year. It’s a big club with mostly standing room, and I felt uneasy before the concert thinking that the blues enthusiasts here are not gonna wanna hear my jazzy ballads.  But I was wrong: they gave me such a warm welcome, and I certainly hope to return there at some point. I have also thoroughly enjoyed singing at the Sunset-Sunside in Paris; it is an intimate club, which allows for a special connection between the audience and myself, which I liked very much.

 

Where’s your dream venue to perform?

Carnegie Hall in New York and Nefertiti in Gothenburg. They are both special because they are in my hometowns. Carnegie obviously, because it would feel like I shared the stage with everyone who stood there before me. Nefertiti, however, is a small jazz club that I sang at as a child but because it is (as far as I know) Gothenburg’s only jazz club it would be cool to return there as an adult.

 

What are you aiming towards musically?

To be able to produce all the music that’s in my head. To be able to sing every song I hear and to allow myself the freedom to trust that I can. The mind is a powerful thing, and I sound the best when I remember not to think.

 

Tell us about your creative process – are you heavily involved in the album artwork and music videos?

Yes and no. I am very opinionated and usually come into a situation with an idea of what I want, but I try to remain open so that I don’t disregard something that in the end might be better. For instance, when I showed up to the photoshoot for the album cover of “Not a Minute Too Late” the photographer asked if he could check if some of his old Polaroid film that was still usable. I said yes and one of those “just to check” photos, ended up as the cover.

 

Tell us about your upcoming music and projects you are working on?

I am in the last stages of finishing my second album “Afternoon in Paris” and it will be released in early 2016. The album is named after a tune with the same name that my late great uncle John Lewis wrote that I have now put lyrics to. The very talented Staffan Astner is producing the album. I can’t wait to share it with you!