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Her voice range is four octaves. There is even a documentary, Anatomy of a Voice, that has been made about her voice. Her first listeners were the sheep she shepherded in her very young years, and now there is a good chance that her voice may be heard all over Europe at the Eurovision Song Contest to be held in May 2011.She is wild, unique, enigmatic — and her name is Jamala!
The singer was interviewed by Marysya GOROBETS.
Jamala (Susana Dzhamaladinova) now lives in Kyiv but she was born in Kyrgyzstan. Her musical talents became evident when she was still a little girl, and it was at the tender age of nine when she made her first recordings — an album of Crimean Tatar children songs. After her family moved to the Crimea, she studied piano playing and opera singing at music schools of Alushta and Symferopol, and when she moved to Kyiv she continued her music education at the Tchaikovsky Music Academy, the class of opera singing. In 2000, she was awarded the grand prix of the International Contest Voice of the Future in Russia. In 2001, Susana won the third prize at the song contest Krymska vesna (Crimean Spring). In 2004 and in 2005 she was a laureate of the all-European contest Amici della musica; she was also a guest of honor at the International Festival Tricolore della canzone italiana.
Jamala sang and played in the musical Pa staged by Olena Kolyadenko in Kyiv. Her success at the International Contest New Wave-2009 at Yurmala, Latvia, was a great boost in her career of a pop singer.
Jamala is a likely winner of the All-Ukraine contest to represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in May this year.
— When I watched the video of your song “Smile”, I suddenly realized the song could be an international tourist hymn!
— Thank you. I’m pleased that my song evokes positive emotions. The video is a sort of an animated cartoon fairy tale. I travel in it through different worlds and everywhere I go Smile accompanies me. I fly over the Egyptian pyramids in Giza, over the Alps, over the Pyrenees, over the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine. The manner of singing changes depending on the area I fly over, but the main thing remains the same — it is the smile that accompanies me wherever I go. No matter where you go — smile! Smile is a bridge between cultures, nations and continents. I was inspired to create this song by my eighteen-month old niece who is the daughter of my elder sister Evelina who now lives in Turkey. The smile never leaves that girl’s face!
— As far as I know you recently went to Turkey on a concert tour. Did you have a good reception there?
— Fantastic! I performed there with the band Krym. The band has been performing on tours for the past twenty years and they invited me to join them. In Istanbul we performed songs of the Crimean Tatars for two days, and the final song was “Smile”!
— It seems to be a good indication that Turkey will give you its support at the Eurovision Song Contest!
— There was a storm of positive reactions to the song in the Internet, and the song is played by over twenty Turkish music radio stations! It is very important that the song was so well received, regardless of its Eurovision support.
— I’m certain you will sing at the Eurovision Song Contest and Europe will have a chance to appreciate your four octaves!
— I don’t think that four octaves is such a big deal. When you listen to music that you like, you don’t care how many octaves the singer can sing in — you just listen because you relate to it…
I do not know how I acquired these four octaves. I think it came to me with my mother’s milk. Both my parents are musically talented and in my childhood, when they were singing, it sent shivers down my spine. My grandma used to sing a lot of songs of the Crimean Tatars — she sang them with such a feeling that the emotional strain was hard to bear. And I sang along. My sister Evelina and I, we sang all the time — doing the dishes in the kitchen, working in the vegetable garden, tending the sheep in the mountains. When I sang on my way from school, the whole neighborhood knew I was coming home. I had no idea about octaves, range or timbre then. I just sang… I loved Whiney Houston’s voice! I wondered how one can sing like that and I asked myself whether I could if I tried.
And I tried, and trying I realized that in order to sing like that I had to do a lot of training. I studied playing and singing classical music at musical schools and at the conservatory, but then came a moment when I realized that if I wanted to sing, for example, jazz, I have to build my own music foundation on which I could develop my music career further.
— Do you still do some opera singing?
— Academic singing is part of me and it is the very foundation of my singing. It is like everyday training for ballet dancers. Everyday classic singing trains my voice, keeps it in the right state, makes it stronger. These days, when I spend four or five hours at a time in the studio recording my new album, my voice is put to a lot of strain — and so it must be strong enough.
Recently, I was proposed to take part in television project Stars in Opera — an opera singer will perform alongside a jazz singer and a pop singer. I will sing with Volodymyr Kapshuk, a wonderful Ukrainian baritone, who is a soloist of the Vienna opera. If the organizers intended to demonstrate that no pop singer would be able to outperform an opera singer, that will not work in my case!
— This album you are recording — when will it be released?
— I am planning to have done all the most important things by the early spring and I do hope it will be well received by my fans — it is going to be my first album. Incidentally, the lyrics are in English. I think the name of the album — For Every Heart, clearly indicates the mood of the album. We plan to present it at the International Culture Center in Kyiv.
— Were you ever tempted to leave Ukraine and go overseas to live and work?
— I was! About a year ago I read a message in my Facebook: “Jamala, I’m fascinated by your voice. Come to Los Angeles. Respectfully, sound producer Walter Afanasyev…”
I went to have a look at the studio, I met the producer’s team. After I returned back to Ukraine, he came on a visit too, and kept asking me whether I held dear everything I had in my native land. He said that no later than in six months he expected to see me in Los Angeles with all my luggage…
— What did you tell him?
— I told him that I held dear everything that I had in my native land. I could not betray the people who trusted me after the New Wave contest success. But he kept saying that he needed me a full hundred percent — otherwise no work could be done. In this respect, the American showbiz is very much like the Ukrainian one — once you appear on the scene, you have to be in the public eye, you have to be present at all sorts of events. In Ukraine I can afford to turn up only at some events, ignoring others. I attend events that are connected with cinema, music, festivals — anything that interests me. But in the USA, that contract would demand I’d have to attend whatever I was told to attend.
— You were born in Central Asia, you lived in the Crimea and now you are living in Kyiv. What kind of feelings you have for this place?
— I love Kyiv very much. When I sometimes go to the Crimea to see my relatives, I begin to miss Kyiv dearly.
— Is it true that your parents are in the tourist business?
— Yes, it is true. My father had a small three-storied building built on the southern coast. He and my mother live on the ground floor and let the apartments on the other floors to vacationers.
— A sort of a mini-hotel?
— Is there a lot of music by Jamala played there?
— There is a lot of all sorts of music that is played, and always used to be played in the houses we lived in. Classical music, jazz, folk music — you name it. I still do my house chores to the accompaniment of music. When I was studying in the conservatory, my fellow students used to come on visits, and then the house would turn into a sort of a students’ dormitory and music studios — the first floor was usually occupied by trumpet players and the next floor was given to violin players. After a swim in the sea, concerts were played at the house which was then named after my sister Evelina. Later it was renamed after me. Welcome to Jamala House! My father cooks wonderful dishes!
— May I ask you why did you take Jamala as your stage name?
— I’m Susana Dzhamaladinova — a bit too long for a stage name. Susana — sounds to me sort of too commonplace and too soft. Frankly, it did take me some time to figure out a name that would satisfy me. Then I hit upon the word Jamala which in Arabic means “very beautiful.”
— Do you speak the Crimean Tatar language?
— I understand it well but I am not fluent in it. My parents speak Russian to each other. My mother is Armenian. My sister Evelina knows the Crimean Tatar language well because she used to live with her grandparents who talked only the Crimean Tatar language.
— Are Crimean Tatar traditions and customs maintained in your family?
— There are all sorts of traditional taboos — we, for example, do not talk about sex, about alcohol, we do not fight or smoke, everything should be decent. Even now, when I watch a film on television and see someone kissing or a bed scene begins, I leave the room to make tea. It’s been like this in our family always, and it remains like this. I feel embarrassed even though my father does not comment on it.
— To whom are you closer — your father or mother?
— I love dearly both my parents. They have very different characters. Mom is a protectress. It was my mother who talked my father into letting us study away from home. I went to Symferopol to enroll at a music school. I was fourteen and my sister was sixteen. We rented an apartment and went home to see our parents once in a fortnight. My father worried about us — we led a life independent of the family. It was my mother who firmly believed in my talent and encouraged my father’s trust.
— Do you ask your father’s advice about how you should look, say, making a new video?
— Oh yes. If my dress is too “revealing,” my father would delicately let me know what he thinks about it. I think though that a story published in one of the magazines for men may have come as a bit of a shock for him. But I agreed to be photographed only when the agreement had been reached as to the extent of “exposure.”
— Did you think what kind of an image you would want to project if you get to participate at the Eurovision Song Contest?
— No, I did not think of that yet. I love to dress well, sometimes I want to look eccentric. I’m a woman after all. However, my appearance is not the main thing for me. In one of my songs, “It’s me, Jamala”, I sing “My killer heels are not my aim.”
I’m sure I’ll look all right but I want to concentrate on singing rather than on my dress.
— I know that you practice some yoga exercises — you are very temperamental and yoga is so quiet and meditative. How do things like that go together in you?
— In yoga exercises, I train my breathing and breathing is of a paramount importance for a singer. In my case, with my four octaves, it is particularly important. My yoga teacher tells me that when I do my yoga exercises, I enter the right state of mind and body. When you reach the right state doing yoga exercises, you almost go to sleep. In every exercise I manage to go into a semi-sleep. It takes only two yoga sessions a week to keep me going. My performances do the rest to keep me in shape.
— Do you lose weight during performances?
— Yes, I do — I lose about three pounds. I avoid eating anything before a performance — maybe just a little piece of chicken meat. After the performance I am not particularly hungry either. If the performance is a success, and if I get the right sort of feedback from the audience, I have a feeling I could perform another gig right away on my second wind! Well, sometimes it’s different and I want rest. I come home, turn on music and meditate.
— Can you do anything without music?
— Of course! I love music, but when you spend several hours in the studio, then you do get tired of music. I chill out watching movies even though there may be a lot of music in the movies too — but it’s a different sort of music, movies relax me, take me into a different world.
— What about traveling?
— Oh I love traveling! However, most of my traveling is connected with my performances. Among my recent visits there was one to Lviv where I had a photo session for the new album. I also went to Istanbul to perform, and in Hamburg, Germany, I took part in a fund-raising concert. The proceeds were to go to Haiti for the survivors of the devastating earthquake there…
Switzerland impressed me a lot. I had an audition there at the Opera in Zurich. This opera is one of the few in the world that can afford to stage two performances a month...
I love Italy! I’ve been to practically everywhere in Italy. It is absolutely my country. I find that my emotional makeup is very close to that of the Italians. And the food is great! And the language is divine!
— You belong to the generation of the Crimean Tatars who returned from the exile to the Crimea. What do you think of the past and of the present (in 1944, the Crimean Tatars were deported en mass to Central Asia and Siberia by the soviet regime and the survivors were allowed to return only in the late 1990s — tr.).
— I am at one with my people and I always take it very hard when I hear some ethnic slurs, or someone getting insulted. It is always very dangerous. One should be tolerant and understanding in one’s attitudes to any ethnics. When a Russian comes to Ukraine and says something bad about Ukrainians, I take it personally though I have no Ukrainian blood in me. But I am a citizen of Ukraine. One should learn about cultures of other peoples. If you want to say something, make sure what you say does not hurt anyone’s sensibilities. When my parents came to the Crimea to settle down, they faced a lot of problems which took a lot of effort to deal. But I can’t bear the grudge against the whole world because of what happened to the Crimean Tatars and to my parents.
— If you get through to the Eurovision Song Contest who will you take with you to Dusseldorf?
— If I get enough support from my fans and do go, I’ll take along those who I regularly work with. And of course my producer, Ihor Tarnopolsky, a musician in the past and a person with an excellent music taste, and his wife Tetyana Skubashevska who writes the lyrics for my songs.
— Do you think you have good chances of winning?
— If you don’t believe in success, then it’s better to stay home. If you believe in something strongly enough, others will believe in you.
— Will you send some sort of a message for your foreign audiences?
— Yes, I will. My message will be — Ukraine is a wonderful, open country with positively thinking people who believe in themselves and never give up, no matter what. There are so many great places in Ukraine — the sunny Crimea, the Carpathians so majestically beautiful in winter! Ukrainians are cheerful people and are united by their smiles.
Shots from a photo session for the new album.
Posing for a photo for a cover of the first album
Little Susana with her elder sister Evelina.
The Dzhamaladinov family (from left to right):
Photos are from Jamala’s personal archive