The Danish singer and songwriter Nanne Emelie was 18 years old when, in musical nostalgia, she took off to Cuba in order to understand the world. She went therewhat's even more exceptionalwithout being familiar with the language nor the cultural, political and economic situation of the Caribbean island...
But all went well: Nanne returned with a wealth of ideas. And obviously the huge creative input connects with her gifted intuition for what fits their music. Her debut album "Once Upon A Town" goes beyond any genre boundary and portraits, from the radio-catchy tune to the potential jazz classic, the image of a confident, experienced person. A song to life with a wink and with different shades of color provided ...
Carina Prange talked to Nanne Emelie for Jazzdimensions
Carina: On your website we read that your debut album is "a way of saying the unsaid." To put things down in a song, to write lyrics, in what way does that differ in general from getting your message across in a normal conversation?
Nanne: When I write a song I don't think about how the receiver will take the message. Whether they agree with me, or understand. I just speak my mind freely. I do think a lot about which message I want to communicate with the song, and I do my best to get it as clear and true for myself as possible. I try never to preach or say what's right for others, but just to speak my own mind.
Often I say in a song what I don't feel is yet mature for me to share in direct conversation, or mature to discuss. Because it is something that is just growing inside of me while writing the song - an expression of my core and soul, something that I am still in conversation with myself about, although it is true for me at that moment. It is something that comes from wherever I am at the moment in my personality, in my soul and my personal development.
When I was a child it was not popular to speak my mind. My parents were from families where they learned not to express emotions. There was a lot going on which they did not want to talk about, as I can imagine is true in many families. I am not good at handling unspoken issues, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel best when the coast is clear and there is clear communication between people. I do have a big passion for openness and clarity. When we speak our truth it makes my heart sing.
Carina: When you compare English as your "poetic language" to Danish as your everyday language, why is it that emotions can be put into words more easily in English? Is it because using a foreign language works like a personal code, where things are less concrete and more interpretable?
Nanne: I don't compare the two. I have big respect for people writing in Danish as it is not a very poetic language and a very difficult language to write in. The reason I write in English is that my musical career has been international ever since I started studying music in Cuba. I actually spoke Spanish there, but I never really started to write in Spanish.
After Cuba I was studying songwriting with an American songwriter called Brett Perkins and I went on lots of co-writing retreats around the world to write with people. Naturally the language was always English, so it just happened.
It was natural to continue to write in English. I am very aware of my limitations in a foreign language and often I co-write lyrics, or at least let them check through by an English speaking person.
Carina: You did that, too, for your current album?
Nanne: Yes, on "Once Upon A Town", I have worked together with American songwriter Neill C. Furio, to give the lyrics more details and American references. We spent hours and hours talking and making notes to every single song to be totally clear about which words made the best description of exactly what I wanted to say.
I work alone as a composer, and the process of ushering the printed information into the acoustic world can be a long and interesting journey. But I live to hear these guys get inside the musicwhen they figure out what a piece wants to do, they play as if they composed it themselvesand there is no seam between the written and improvised sections.
Carina: How do you compose or write songs?
Nanne: I am very intuitive. I let myself be guided by my intuition. I don't read so many papers and don't have TVas it honestly makes me quite depressed to see all the bad news all the time. I anyway do not believe that TV represents the whole picture. If something really important is going on, we can't avoid hearing about it from others or the internet anyway, so I have chosen not to have TV.
Neill also has the intuitive side, but is also passionate about knowing lots of facts and reading lots of papers. So together we make a perfect team for writing lyrics and confirming that they connect with what is going on in the world. We found that my intuition was mostly right on track. But his factual knowledge proved the points, and he could come with good references to use in the songs.
Apart from this, it is a fact is that Denmark is a very small country. Because of my travels I do feel more like a world citizen than of little Denmarkit is natural for me to seek a bigger stage for my music. So all together it makes more sense for me to write in English, as I wish for people to be able to understand my lyrics.
Carina: You said, that "music was my own private haven when I was a child…" Was it easy to reveal your private emotions, maybe like giving away some secret?
Nanne: As a grown-up, I am a quite open person. I believe and experience that we human beings have so much in common. Especially when it comes to free expression, basic emotions and life experiences. A common response from my audience is that they come to me and are happy and touched because I put into words emotions they have experienced themselves. They can recognize themselves in the songs.
This makes me so happy, as to be able to touch people with my music is the greatest gift for me. If it can even inspire them, then I feel there is a purpose with making this music!
I believe we can all touch each other every day if we dare to be open, speak our innermost truth and don't try to hide the sides we think are less good looking. When we share we often can get surprised how great a contact and intimacy we get from it to the people around us. We are all human beings, we all have bothlight and darkness, strength and weaknesses. I see that as a natural part of life.
Carina: You spent some time on Cuba where you re-orientated musically and sorted things out. Is change and evolution in life always driven by experience that you have to seek out actively? Or is change inevitable anyway?
Nanne: I agree with the last part: Change is inevitable. During the recent years I have learned to let life guide me more. At most times I have followed my intuition and many times I knew what was going to be the next step for me.
I just knew it in my heart and had a sense of waiting for it to happen. And then it happenedwhile life was going on at the same time of course. But I have been very goal-oriented (sometimes too much), and have had a hard time letting go of things. At times like that I could get a little bit stuck and life seemed a bit boring.
This is something that is loosening up in me. One day I remembered that I used to love surprises when I was a childI always wished someone would make a surprise party for me when I got home from school! Life brings so many unexpected surprises, so why block that out?
Therefore I started to let go, meaning not to plan as much, but just follow my intuition and my heart and soul. Just to see where that would lead me. And so far it is like life is guiding me very clearly. So many good experiences and positive "coincidences" happen and I feel very supported by life.
Carina: To come to your current album "Once upon a Town"that sounds like an allusion to "Once upon a Time". Where does the title come from?
Nanne: The title derives from the songs on the album which are all about small things from daily life. I have often had a sense of being "in" the city, but not "of" the citysomeone who is watching what goes on but not really participating! Someone wondering about human kind in this modern and stressed world we have made. A "poet in the middle of city life".
I ask myself, what is it, that people are so busy trying to reach? We come and we goand isn't the most important to enjoy and be real with each other and ourselves? How much do we actually need from the outside? And how many things that we get from outside can actually make us happy inside? And what are our values in this time where money seems to run everything...or at least so much?!
Also the title is the last lines of the song "Stay Beautiful", which is inspired from 9/11 and how that tragedy made such a huge impact on our world (at least in my lifetime). And so many places after are run by fear. This song is about staying true in the heart, and stubbornly staying with trust and love.
As this is where we are most strong I believe! I believe and experience that what we focus on, growswhich to me is quite logical if we think a little about it! As simple as if we water a flower, it grows. So if we focus on fear and war, we let that grow. And if we choose to focus on trust and positive values, then we water that and create a world around that.
I personally believe it is more painful to live in fear than to die in loveso for me the choice is very easy! I have deep respect for the way Norway handled the crisis on Utoya, as they stated a great example on how to move on in a positive spirit, when horrible actions take place.
Else we could only start to fear and hateand create more pain! And this is a choice we can make individually when challenge come to us. On every day.
Carina: How would you describe the essence of your music, what does it stand for?
Nanne: I am passionate about the truthor should we call it "honesty"? As we are constantly evolving and people change, what is true for us also changes. In my songs I just simply reflect whatever I experience as "true for me" in the current time. Or I express something I just realizedand this is something that evolves with life and life experiences.
A sweet thing about the songs is that sometimes they are reminding me to follow my heart, and to have trust. Or suddenly they say something totally different from what I had first understood. They are actually supporting myself to keep following my soul, my inner voice or sense.
This amazes me, and makes me wonder where these songs actually come from! Is it a deeper knowing in me, speaking to myself really? And through that to others? I do know that my songs have always been a big support for me. When I thought that no one understood me, my songs where always there.
Carina: What's the story behind the songs "Turn Around" and "Street of Peace"?
Nanne: Funny that you should ask about "Turn around"! That song came one day I had been on a meditation retreat. And I realized that love is always around, even if we don't feel it. As I believe love is a part of the creating forcecreation most often starts with a form of love-makingand that understanding made me feel so comfortable, because it gave me an amazing sense of support!
The other thought in the song is how much we fight to get love: We think we have to carry so much, that we need so much from the outside to feel loved. But that day I realized that it is always there. Even if we don't feel it... I also realized that if I know that I miss something, I also know the feeling of what I am missing. And then the feeling is already inside of me! And if we know that maybe it is easier to feel love for no reason. Just for the greatness of that feeling. And this can make us able to give more love to each other.
The song "Street Of Peace No. 3" is about me. For me the biggest challenge has been to learn to enjoy my own company. At some time it seemed that everyone enjoyed it but me! I have many times "escaped" into cafes to find social life and coziness"hygge" as we say in Denmark. How easy it is to look like everything is cooland everyone turn their heads to look at your beauty!
But then, coming home to the apartment reminds of everything we escape fromthe darkness and hurt we have experienced in life. And that urge appears to run out again, away from ourselves. Even though knowing that the real happiness is within!
The title is the address I where was living at that time and it fits so beautifully in the theme of the songas "home" in our core, in my belief and experience, is where we find peace.
Carina: Let's just stay with that thought... You have lived both in California and on Cuba. Meanwhile you call Copenhagen "home". How doesif it does!the meaning of the word "home" change, when you move about and live in different places of the world?
Nanne: AgainI feel like a world citizen! I am grateful that my roots were planted in Denmark. I have friends all over the worldbut my home is within myself. I moved away from my birthplace very early and for many years I was longing for a place to call "home".
But through meditation and yoga and a willingness to look right into my deepest fears and hurts, I came to a deep feeling of home "within myself". That has become my door to empathy and an understanding of other people. I learned to forgive myself and others when we stumble in the laces of our own patterns as we learn. So more and more home is within me, and I travel through this life resting in it.
Carina: The yoga you practice and teach is "all about preserving our inner self", as you explain it. Why do you think people tend to look eastwards to China or India for alternative models of thinking and spiritual healing? Is that a growing desire in our fast-paced times?
Nanne: As I have mentioned a little before, we are living in a world which is run mostly by money. Somehow we came to the believe that money could buy happiness. And this can really take us away from our inner coreor from our soul, to use another word. I think the reason more and more people look to these methods is that we feel the need to reunite with our inner selves.
To me this is natural! If our inner core is "home", it makes sense that we feel more and more depressed, the further we get away from it. We get sick and thereby get forced to take care of our bodies and ourselves. And start the "journey home", if we take the chance … It is amazingI believe our whole human system is always seeking towards balance and working to heal itself. Both physically, mentally and spiritually. It uses all tools available!
I have seen my own mother get sick and I saw how that has brought her closer to her core. It also brought both of us more honesty, openness and closeness. For our family her sickness was painful of course. But with time the joy of getting closer and more open with each other overcame the pain. That way her sickness served a purpose for her and her family and brought more balance, which was beautiful.
I do believe that the truth does set us free, and I don't believe that any amount of money or material wealth can give us the intimacyor "in-to-me-see", as a teacher of mine pronounced itwe get through that.
Carina: True, there's the "inner self" on one handbut shouldn't we also look outwards to save the planet?
Nanne: I experience that the more I am living "from my core", the less "stuff" I need. The more beauty I see in everything. The better I get at taking care of our planet... The truth is that our planet is going to survive. The question is whether the circumstances for human survival will prevail...
The other day I presented this picture to a friend: As it is now, it feels like soldiers are fighting over mother earth. Everybody wants pieces of her beauty, while destroying that very beauty by forgetting that all the bullets we throw at each other hit her ... even if we do not hit each other.
So, yes indeed: It would be "intelligent" in my view at all levelsfor the ones who want more and the ones who want lessto secure the circumstances for human survival! Unless we are not really interested in that.... To me it is, quite honestly, absurd to think about how humans are fighting to get more, while destroying everything around. It does not make sense to me!
CD: Nanne Emelie - "Once Upon A Town" (VME Records VME11011)
Nanne Emelie im Internet: www.nanneemelie.com
VME Records im Internet: www.vme-group.com