Wednesday, August 07, 2019

10 Questions For: Aminata


We've had some very special interviews on Sounds European!. Some artists get really involved with what we ask, and give us very deep and interesting answers. Well, what we can say is that we are sure that, with this amazing interview, she is entering our list of special ones. These are our 10 questions for Aminata:

Sounds European!: We like to start our interviews getting to know a bit about the artists' backgrounds. What are your first memories with music? What artists and songs did you enjoy listening during your childhood? And do you feel any of them has had an impact on the artist you came to be?

Aminata: It is really hard to say what are my first memories with music, and when this passion for music began in me. It feels like I was born with it, and I don't remember myself without wishing to become a singer. I remember myself singing and dancing all the time, with a hairbrush instead of a microphone – I remember how I sang songs in kindergarten and people were crying. My mother also tells me that before I even started to go to kindergarten, I would go out in the streets near the house where we lived and perform in front of old ladies sitting there.
At that age, I listened to everything that my parents would listen to, and my three favourites were Michael Jackson, Cher and Gipsy Kings! I loved Gipsy Kings, or to be more specific, their song "Bamboléo". I would usually close the door and dance in the living room to that only song for hours...
Later, in teenage years, I became a fan of metal and hard rock, and for about three or four years, that was the only music I would listen to! My favourite band was System Of A Down. Also, Korn, Metallica, Bullet for My Valentine, Slipknot, etc.... I liked the release of energy and temperament in this kind of music, and I probably still do. That is why very often my songs are full of tension and emotions. Probably my style of writing lyrics was also impacted by metal. I was listening to one of my first songs, and realised that my own lyrics remind me very much of Korn (in terms of amount, pressure and straightforwardness).
Later, of course, I discovered a lot of great music, different genres (soul, R&B, neo soul...), singers, and now I listen to almost everything, depending on a mood!

SE!: You have previously said: "Music is my passion and my desire since childhood, I have never imagined myself without music". When did you first realize music was your passion and desire? And, after that realization, what were your first steps into the music world (both studying, and then as an artist)?

A: As I mentioned before, I don't remember myself not wanting to become a singer, as if I was born with it. The love for music didn't just appear one day. When asked, I would always say that I wanted to be a singer – but it was a long journey for me, from being a child with dreams of singing, to being an artist.
At the age of ten, I started studying at a music school, in flute class. Before that, I would sing in a school choir, and ensemble.
At around 11 or 12 years old, I was invited to perform in a singing competition in a local club, together with "the coolest school band" at that time. They were pupils of the older grades (probably 17, 18 years old) that formed a rock band, and they were STARS of our school! So imagine how I felt when they invited me, an 11 (or 12) year old, to perform with them! We had rehearsals, I studied the songs very responsibly. I was so excited to perform with cool older guys, LIVE ROCK MUSICIANS!!!, in a different place than school! Nothing more to dream about! But I never performed with them...
When we came to this club, I was attacked by two older racist girls, because of my skin colour. The girls started to push me and hit me in the face. Their friends were laughing. They even had something that looked like a gun (I don't think that it was a real one, but at that moment I was afraid). The older guys, from the band I came there with, were somewhere else and they didn't see what was happening. There were a lot of people around, but nobody did or say anything, except for one man. He came to us and took me away. After this, something changed in me, I "shut", became reserved, scared... And that was the time when I started listening to metal and rock music, wearing black clothes and spikes. That was how I protected myself. Rock and metal music were a place where I felt understood and safe, and a place where I could release my pain.
Later, at around 12 or 13 years old, I formed a "trio girl band" with my cousin and our friend, but the funny thing was that until the age of 13, I had never thought that singers must actually learn how to sing. I knew nothing about vocal technique. When I was 13, I was just lucky enough to meet my vocal teacher – Nadezda Buharova. She had her private singing studio, with a lot of singers. When I first came to her, I said that I wanted to sing only metal (I was also wearing everything black – a long black skirt, chains, spikes... I was a true metal fan). She listened to me carefully, and said that if I wanted to sing at her studio, during the next year, I would have to sing the songs she gives me, to train my vocal cords, because my voice was not ready for metal yet. And as soon as I was ready, we could start with metal.
I thought it was a fair deal, and I was ready to do anything that would get me closer to my dream, so I started to visit vocal classes, three times a week, and also sing at home every day. I would learn to sing different kinds of songs, genres: jazz, blues, pop music, soul. I sang songs of Christina Aguilera, Anastacia, Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé and many, many others. I participated in different vocal contests. And after a year, my willing to sing only metal was not that strong anymore. I realised that I actually like other genres too, and that there are too many great artists of other genres apart from metal that I want to explore.
My daily routine was very busy, I would go to school, to music school, to vocal classes, dancing classes, and participate in different competitions. At the age of 15, I was invited to take part in a Latvian musical TV show, by one of the most popular composers of Latvia, Raimonds Pauls. This was my first television experience, and my first paid work! After that, the singing competitions I was taking part in became more serious. Twice, at the age of 16 and 17, I took my chance in participating at the national selection for New Wave – at that time, the biggest international singing contest, which happened in Latvia. But I didn't get there. It was said to me, in private, that I "don't look Latvian enough" to represent my country. (I don't know if it's true! Maybe I just wasn't good enough... but anyway.)
Then, at the age of 17, I started to sing backing vocals for Latvian singer Jānis Stībelis, and it became my part-time job after school. This was a great experience for me. With Jānis, I learned about the working process in the studio, rehearsals, concerts, TV performances, and got closer acquainted with the Latvian music industry. But when it was time for me to finish school and musical college (at the age of 19), I realised that it wasn't enough. I didn't want to sing backing vocals anymore, I wanted to be at the front – but at that moment, I didn't know what to do, where to start. I didn't know where to go after school.
My family was stressed after the death of my grandfather, and at some point, I thought that I should probably stop dreaming about being a musician, and "get real". There were no musicians in my family, so they thought that, from the position where we were, it was impossible to become successful in the music industry. So I went to study Economics at university, quit singing backing vocals and looked for a real job. After a month of searching, I found a job at a cinema. I had to check tickets, clean halls and put popcorn in the boxes. Now, I didn't last long in that job. I was a terrible worker... I caused many problems, so in two weeks I got fired. But I wasn't sad about it. I wanted to quit anyway, because it was too hard to combine my studies at the university and this job. I didn't see daylight, and these could easily be called the most terrible two weeks in my life... Besides, I would earn more for one concert singing backing vocals, than I did after working two weeks in the cinema. So I asked if I could come back to sing backing vocals.
Then, I got invited to participate in another Latvian TV show, Koru Kari [Battle of Choirs], where I would have to do what I love the most – sing and dance. I thought of this as a sign, and went for it! When I think of it now, I see that this "sign" was crucial for me. After a period of desperation and not knowing where to go, I was taken back to my dream. This TV show inspired me to continue singing. I suddenly knew what I needed to do, so I started to write songs, search for musicians to create a band, and look for opportunities to perform as a solo artist.
I applied for two competitions for singers that were happening in Riga at that time. One of them was called Ghetto Factor, a cool street contest for singers. This was the first time that I took full responsibility for my performance, for the songs that I sang. I had dancers and I danced myself. I had live musicians. I still remember the tension, the pressure – because the winner would get a filming of a music video in New York, and I needed this prize. The victory was close, but in the end, I got second.
At the same time, the second TV contest [Jaunā Talantu Fabrika] had started. This was a TV show which lasted for three months – similar to The X Factor, but we also had to live in the studio, and were filmed 24 hours a day. There were 15 participants. We had to perform every week, and every week one of us would leave the show. I tried to do my best every week. I asked my friends, dancers, to join me and help with performances. I liked this rhythm of performing and rehearsing every week, although being apart from my family, and not even calling them (our phones were taken away), was hard. The only time I would see my family for five minutes was the concert. Long story short, I won this competition. And in the final, I sang my first ever written by myself song, "I can breathe".
After this competition, I applied for the national selection for the 2014 Eurovision with "I can breathe". And I got fifth at the National Final.
Later, I continued to write more songs. I hired musicians, formed a band. We performed in different places. I released the next song. And then, there was Supernova 2015 – the national selection for the 2015 Eurovision. I wasn't planning to go there, but decided to follow the advice of my friends and applied to participate, just for fun. I had two songs in mind with which to apply for Supernova, but only one of them was ready at that moment, so I applied with it. It was "Love injected".

SE!: You represented Latvia on Eurovision in 2015. At that point, the country was going through a bad moment in the contest, coming from six consecutive disqualifications in the semi-finals. Not only you overcame that, but you also reached Latvia's best placing in more than a decade – sixth –, and a second place with the juries in the final. What made you take this challenge? What are your memories of Vienna? How did you feel with such a positive result? And how would you compare competing as a singer (as you did in 2015) and as a songwriter (as you did in 2016, with Justs's "Heartbeat")?

A: When I was getting ready for my performance, I didn't think about anything, not about what happened in previous years, not about the places, the final. I had this deep, silent confidence that I was going to be fine. All I was focusing on was my performance. I wanted to do my best, to make people enjoy my performance and enjoy it myself. I felt excited to perform on such a big stage, in front of a huge amount of people, with my own song! This is my dream. This is something I wanted since childhood.
I remember being very reserved and silent in Vienna. My team members thought something was wrong with me, that I was too stressed. But I wasn't too stressed. I was concentrating, accumulating my energy for the performance, as I always did before and still do now. And of course I was very happy for the result and that so many people heard and liked the song that I wrote in my small, dark room. But, to be completely honest, I was secretly hoping to reach the top five... But I didn't tell anyone! :)
Competing as a songwriter was a totally different experience. Writing a song for Justs was a spontaneous inspiration. I just woke up in the morning once, made myself a coffee and wrote a song for him. The strangest thing was that I only heard him once, two years before, at the Ghetto Factor competition, and we actually didn't know each other. It's strange, how dots are connected in life... So I wrote the song. Then I texted Justs on Facebook, saying: "Hey, I have a song for you! Would you like to sing it and maybe perform it at Supernova?".
Going to the 2016 Eurovision as a songwriter was great! I had a lot of time to meet new people, visit different events, walk around town. It felt more like a cool "musical vacation" rather than work.

SE!: In 2016, you took part in the fifth season of Golos, the Russian version of The Voice. What made you decide to participate in it? As you are Latvian, and this was taking place in Russia, we take this chance and ask you: for a Latvian, is building a fan base in Russia necessary in order to live off music? And, in Golos, you joined the team of another 2015 Eurovision entrant, Polina Gagarina. How was your relationship with her during the show?

A: In 2016, after Eurovision, where I was a songwriter, I was getting ready for my solo concert "Red Moon", and was not planning to participate in Golos or anywhere else. But, at one time, almost everyone who was around me told me about this contest, and that I should go and try myself there. After hearing this for weeks, I decided just to send the application, not expecting anything. Actually, very often the reason why I decide to do something new is curiosity. For me, it is always better to do something and later regret, than regretting not doing it. I always have to try something new, get to know it myself, not from the experience of others... Otherwise, I will not be calm.
Then I was invited to the audition, and went to Russia. At first, I didn't get in, and I thought, "Well, at least I've seen it myself and now I know". But then, they changed their minds and I participated...
I don't think it is necessary [to build a fan base in Russia]. Of course, some Latvian musicians are quite successful performing in Russia, and are loved there, but it is definitely not necessary.
Relationships with Polina were normal, friendly relationships. I arrived in Russia just for the filming, once a month, for a week or less. I didn't stay there for the whole period of the show, so we didn't see each other that much.

SE!: You have already released two albums and several singles. And artists, like anyone else, grow, change, evolve. When you look back at your first songs, and compare to your latest ones, what would you say has changed? And are these differences more related to music itself, or are they consequences of personal changes?

A: When I was writing my first songs, I wanted to "put everything I have and more!!!" in them. I had a lot of lyrics, which only I could understand the meaning of... Maybe melody lines were more difficult. My first songs were more aggressive. Of course my music changes together with me. Style of music, my mood and my self perception.

SE!: Your roots are quite diverse, ethnically and culturally speaking, with an African and Russian past and a Latvian present. And we feel this is highly noticeable in the music you make. How do you do to incorporate your ancestry into your songs? And how important do you think it is to express your roots in your work?

A: I don't put anything in my music on purpose. I just want to hear the sounds that I like. I've noticed that I like African rhythmical elements and instruments in music (like Beyoncé's latest songs from "The Lion King", or Drake). That this kind of sounds and rhythm just "take me", and there's nothing I can do! My father also told me that he prefers rhythmical music instead of calm, relaxing music, so maybe it's in our blood. And of course, I've been listening also to Latvian and Russian music – so maybe the set of common sounds and harmonies sometimes appear in my music as well. But I don't do it on purpose, I just create whatever comes naturally.

"Very often the reason why I decide to do something new is curiosity. For me, it is always better
to do something and later regret, than regretting not doing it"

SE!: You have just released a new single – which is stupendous, by the way! –, titled "I don't know". For someone who has said before, "Each of my songs are about me, they are stories of my life, my emotions and my feelings", we are totally sure this song means a lot to you. Can you tell us what it is about, what made you write it, and what message you want convey with it?

A: "I don't know" was written by me and my two friends and songwriters Jonas Brøgger Filtenborg and Rickard Bonde Truumeel. I think that for each of us this song is special, and means something. For the last couple of years, I was actually feeling very tired and desperate. I felt that I lost my strength and I couldn't get it back. This song helped me to "sing all my problems out", get rid of them, maybe escape. With this song, I wanted to mark the beginning of a new period in life for myself. Now, I feel that I'm getting back on track again.

SE!: What are your professional projects for the near future? What can your fans expect from you?

A: Right now I am focusing on new material. This year for the first time I tried to sing in Latvian, and I quite like it. I am planning to record an EP album with songs in Latvian, but after that get back to a full album in English.

SE!: If you could choose anyone, who would be some Latvian and international artists you would like to collaborate with?

A: From Latvian artists, I would like to collaborate with Prāta Vētra, Instrumenti, Dons, Triana Park and Tautumeitas. If I could choose any international artist, my list would never end... I have so many favourites! Beyoncé, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, etc., etc....

SE!: We would like to finish this interview with a song of yours. What is your favorite song by Aminata, and why?

A: All my songs are my favorites! Now, the song that expreses the state of my soul is "I don't know".

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