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Sunday, 21 November 2021 19:38

Ten Questions for Bulgarian jazz vocalist, composer and band leader, Ami Oprenova

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Bulgarian jazz vocalist, band leader and composer Ami Oprenova kicked off a UK album tour at London jazz venue Toulouse Lautrec on Sunday 26th September, presenting arrangements of original tracks from her new album ‘Precious Days’, released on 5th November. Ami has previously toured Europe and has two albums under her belt: Introducing Coco ‘n’ the Fellas (2016) and Some of our Favourite Tunes (2017). Precious Days is the first album in her own name and really gives a true sense of the honesty and passion behind this unique artist, almost a window into the soul of Ami. Her music is full of lyrical melodies, harmonic language and versatile rhythms influenced by Gypsy Swing, Blues and Bebop together with her childhood upbringing of listening to Soul, Balkan Folk and Gospel.


Interview by Kim Cypher.


1. You trained as a classical violinist at The National Music School of Sofia in Bulgaria and then studied a Bachelors in violin and composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire. How did this evolve into becoming a jazz vocalist? 

I think I always knew I wanted to be a vocalist but pursued it quite late in my musical journey as a teen. I owe the initial spark of interest to my incredible uncle who was the first person to sit me down with a bunch of jazz CDs and educate me on the styles of jazz. I was so intrigued by the scatting I heard for the very first time when I was 15, I was hooked forever. My parents aren’t musicians however, they did their best to give me an opportunity to develop my skills. It was then up to me to find my path and the style that I loved the most – jazz. 


2. You were tutored by some of the very best jazz vocalists including Cyrille Aimeé, Liane Carroll and Anita Wardell. How have you brought together everything you’ve learnt into your own style?

What I learned from these incredible jazz artists has directed the way I perform and the way I work with other musicians. But when it comes down to style, I always strive to be myself. My duty as a performer and recording artist is to entertain the audience with my music. I want each person who’s taken the time to listen to me to go back home happy. I just try to share my love for music, and hope the audience enjoys the music with me. 

UK Album Tour Launch at Toulouse Lautrec: Photograph by Nolan Regent


3. You state that improvising is the only time you feel truly alive and able to breathe in all that life has to offer. Do you believe music is in your heart and soul?

Absolutely. I pour my heart and soul into my music and that makes it impossible to fake it. I feel that learning to improvise released something in me that had been locked for years. I’m not sure if it is the freedom of harmony and the dynamics we experience as musicians when we improvise, but I no longer feel restrained to a specific art form, instrument or ‘rules’ that would be right or wrong to someone in the room.  I believe that being an ‘artist’ means your ideas and improvisations live in you and never restrain you to someone else’s ideas. 

Ami Oprenova UK Album Tour at Smokey Joe’s – Photograph by Ron Milsom.


4. Your new album ‘Precious Day’s is a showcase of your trademark scatting. How have you developed your unique scatting style rather than a generic technique?

I first began by studying all the greats and transcribing each note they sang. Ella Fitzgerald was of course my absolute favourite, but I also studied a lot of Cyrille and Liane’s work. That said, I have had the amazing privilege to play with many guitarists in the Manouche style specifically. I would often learn guitar solos and sometimes write out duo solos. I love learning instrumental solos because they challenge me to sing in a completely different way. I love trading with an instrument and working out on the spot what I can take from their solo and develop even further. 


5. I absolutely love the music and videos you have produced with ‘Coco 'n' the Fellas’. Do you have plans to do more with this band?

Coco ‘n’ the Fellas was a pure joy and came out of an experiment for my final project at the University. Only by chance did we get a gig right after which turned into an amazing run of tours over three years. I truly love the fellas as my brothers, but it was time to move on to new projects. Thanks to them I’ve matured as an artist and I owe them so much of my career. But I think we have all grown away from the style we were doing then and we are now spread around the world involved in such different but wonderful things. Nevertheless, I secretly hope I will be able to convince the boys for a reunion concert in the future. 

Watch the view for Not Enough Coffee here


6. Your new album ‘Precious days’ was released on 5th November. What inspired the album and what can listeners expect?

Each track has a unique story behind it based on deep personal experience. After the pandemic, stress and pressure we all experienced, I feel the importance of appreciating each day we are given even more. My vision for the album was to create a positive, feel-good atmosphere for anyone who might listen to my songs. I am very proud of this album as it combines everything I've learnt from playing Gypsy Swing, Blues & Bebop with my childhood upbringing listening to Soul, Balkan Folk and Gospel. 

I started working on the album while I was on tour with Coco ‘n’ the Fellas almost 3 years ago. It is an album with 3 of the 9 tracks co-written with incredible guitarist Daniele Ciuffreda. The other band members (Joe Perkins and Havard Tanner) were also heavily involved in shaping the pieces and creating the sound of the album. We recorded the first 4 tracks together. I then carried on writing the rest of the tracks and invited incredible musicians to guest on the album. Producer, John Merriman was absolutely incredible at balancing all the changes and ideas I kept throwing at him and he was so patient. It was a time in my life when many changes were taking place including the opportunity to take the first step into a solo career as a jazz artist. This album means so much to me and the whole team at Crown Lane Studio are just the most amazing and talented bunch. I’m so pleased to have been able to record there. 

Watch the video for Precious Days here: 


7. I was recently blown away by a video you put out on social media using a loop pedal to create your own version of 'Blue Skies'. Do you create all the harmonies and accompaniments yourself or do you use an arrangement? 

I love my loop and I’m still learning how to use it. I write all my arrangements and harmonising is my all-time favourite thing. I usually either work from the original harmony of the tune, or just experiment with harmonies that come to mind. The loop lets me build the harmony myself and improvise with myself, which is quite exciting. 


8. You have a beautiful baby boy, Theo. How have you found juggling music and motherhood? Has Theo inspired any of your music?

Yes, I became a mummy last year and a wife the year before. I had a difficult birth and my baby was born two months early but he is perfectly fine, growing big and strong and making us laugh daily! Juggling music and concerts is extremely difficult, but thanks to our incredibly supportive relatives and my amazing husband, getting back to performing has been possible. I’ve had some inspiration to write about my little family but this is the most personal my music has ever been, so I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to share it with anyone… 


9. What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to see what doors open ahead for me. I am a person of faith so I’m not often worried about the future. I am looking forward to some new projects coming up and spending this precious time with my family. And to be honest I’m planning to buy my first ever Christmas tree! That’s the best future plan, ha-ha. 


10. Finally, a random question…If you could give any gift to anyone in the world, what would you give and who to?

If I could, I would gift a Bible and a Louis Prima record to every leader in the world. I think there is a lot to learn from both of those! 


Ami’s new album ‘Precious Days’ is totally infectious. I had the pleasure of performing some of her album tracks ‘live’ with her at our collaborative gig in Cheltenham last month. I am sure to be singing her songs for a very long time. Do check out her music! - Kim


Precious Days is available here


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Read 596 times Last modified on Sunday, 19 June 2022 09:31

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