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Lejla Alimanović - Jazz As Safe Space Filled With Challenges

Photo: Arna Bajraktarević

Would you tell us a bit about your work and latest performance with Sinan Alimanovic Quartet? I’m a writer who also loves music. I find my creative freedom in the intertwining of music and literature. The fact of having two artistic media at disposal, while creating, I accept with a sense of responsibility, since this approach requires additional articulation. Because I write on music, it is very important for me to approach it, so to say, from the inside. I can only do that if I create music if I’m constantly trying to understand and feel how successions and forms of sound are realized. Basically, I search for these common meeting points between music and literature, and in this sense it is useful to recollect the fact that the Greek word mousike doesn’t mean music, but it applies to the word Muse and each of the muses refers to a different art. In the context of music and work with my dad, Sinan Alimanović, this collaboration has been going on for a long time. Together with Sinan Alimanović International Band I performed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the region and in the People's Republic of China. Together we published several discography releases and our latest album was recorded in 2018 in New York City. The album Sinan Alimanović International Band – “Lejla”, was released in September, 2020 by New York jazz label Miles High Records, owned by multi-instrumentalist and educator at the Juilliard School, Mark Sherman. Sinan Alimanović (piano, bandleader) and I (vocals) recorded the album “Lejla” in Trading 8s Recording Studio owned by two-time Grammy award winner Chris Sulit, together with the New York based jazz cats Harvie S (double bass), Victor Lewis (drums), Jed Levy (tenor saxophone) and Adam Klemm (soprano saxophone) who is based in Ljubljana. Mix and master were finished in New York by David Kowalski, also a Grammy award winner, and Harvie S, an artist who is listed in the family tree of jazz music. The most recent performance of the Sinan Alimanović Quartet was at the 23rd Novi Sad Jazz Festival, held at the Serbian National Theatre. I spent a wonderful time in Novi Sad and the Festival was organized on a very high level. This time I had a privilege to perform with an ensemble composed of regional music giants: next to my father, Sinan Alimanović (piano, bandleader), the drummer was legendary Ratko Divjak, a widely known as a jazz drummer but also as the member of the Yugoslav band Time and the double bass player was fantastic Saša Borovec, a longtime bassist of the Croatian Radio and Television Jazz Orchestra. Together with the band I performed two original tunes and one Sinan’s composition (“Sarajevo Remake”) for which I wrote the lyrics. My tune “In Search for Freedom” can also be heard on the album “Lejla”. It is especially important for me that I performed, together with the great rhythm section, my composition “Roy Hard Groove” which I dedicated to the beautiful Roy Hargrove who unfortunately passed away too early, leaving behind a lot of inspiring music. Actually, I had performed the song “Roy Hard Groove” for the first time in 2019 with Sinan Alimanović International Band in Beijing. Then this unfortunate pandemic arrived, and I only had the chance to perform it again two years later at the Novi Sad Jazz Festival. I’m very grateful to my dad who showed a big trust in me, by throwing me into the fire. Namely, I joined the ensemble, not only as a vocalist but also playing the Fender Rhodes Piano. This is the first time for me to play the Fender Rhodes Piano while singing on stage. At home I have a beautiful Wurlitzer Electronic Piano on which I rehearse and create, but still, it was a totally new experience for me to play a Fender Rhodes Piano with a band in front of the audience. In Search For Freedom

Recently you got your PhD at Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo. What was your thesis focused on? Yes, in October, at the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, in the department Comparative Literature, doctoral studies Literature and Culture, I successfully defended my PhD thesis focused on comparative arts. My doctoral dissertation “The Possibility of the New Wholeness Through the Comparative Aesthetics: Reading music, Listening to Literature” is based on a comparative analysis of the relations between literature and music, with the aim of proving the possibility of the new wholeness. It focuses primarily on the research of bidirectional and multiple relations between the 20th and 21st century novel and one of the contemporary art music streams, widely known under the collective name jazz. Relations between literature and music are analyzed with the primary goal of discovering encounters that lead to the recognition of joint confluences and interweaving between these arts. Applying comparative methods allows us to read music and to listen to literature. It is therefore useful to keep in mind that all arts are “inscribed on the body”. In the era of the emancipated sign, of shifted conventions, of fragmentation and consequently eclecticism, the need to understand and to articulate the possibility of the new wholeness emerges. This need arises by means of the changed image of the world shifted paradigms and their exhaustion. During the 60s, Susan Sontag characterized a new state in the world, but also in the world of art and science as “the New Sensibility”. The Rhizome metaphor, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, can serve as a vivid example of the multiple currents, channels, unpredictable connections and their “lines of flight”, which are formed due to the movement of the contemporary world. Consequently, the new wholeness describes the multiple relations of literature and music within an era as explored in my dissertation. Each fragment, as well as the sign, carries its own autonomy and represents a whole for itself, and simultaneously carries a trace of the absent, hidden in the Other. The concept of infinite semiosis indicated an inexhaustible dialogue between works of art (signs) and thus the new wholeness. All mentioned above, allows the weaving of the rich textures, webs whose threads are diverse, but intertwined into the new wholeness, through the dialogues they lead. The relationships between arts do not function only in formal encounters (e.g. libretto and aria in opera), but on several different levels including: on the philosophical level; in terms of form; and in the context of the aspirations of the epoch. I thus concluded that that the new wholeness has already emerged and the questions of its possibility refer to the questions of it’s articulation. The new wholeness is separated from, so to say, the “old” wholeness, by the conjunction but. During the research process, I had a unique opportunity to learn from great artists and authors. On my journey I met brilliant people who helped me a lot. Some of them are Tvrtko Kulenović, Hanifa Kapidžić-Osmanagić, my mentor Edin Pobrić, Muhamed Dželilović, Nina Alihodžić, George Cotkin… In the context of music, I had the huge support of my father, but also from Harvie S who is, by the way, an educator at the Manhattan School of Music, Victor Lewis who played with some of my favorite artists, for example Carla Bley and Kenny Barron, and with whom I had a beautiful chance to collaborate and speak. In the meantime I had a great opportunity to talk to the great Nicholas Payton, creator of the Black American Music movement, but also to meet the legendary Herbie Hancock… I weaved all these experiences into my thesis, hopefully with success. The next chapter is a book. Talking about education, how did your journey in music start? Why jazz? My whole life I’ve been surrounded by music and jazz, since my father is a musician and my mom is also a music teacher. As a teenager, while I was discovering what I want (by deciding what I didn’t want first), the music of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, etc., turned out to be, so to say, the safe space or the place where I felt at home. When I say “safe space”, I don’t think about it as a comfort zone. On the contrary, I immediately discovered a number of challenges, and some of them are actual even today. But I also felt, and that feeling is still with me, that this music offers me a great inspiration, the desire to understand the idiom and to master it. I will continue to learn. There is one peculiar point on your Instagram account, stating “Reading Music - Listening to Literature’. What does that mean? Reading Music, Listening to Literature is an excerpt from the title of my PhD thesis. I already explained it in the previous answer. For a better explanation, I will make one parallel, which, at first glance, seems distant: in Marcel Proust’s novels I can hear what I can read in the compositions of the contemporary artist Nicholas Payton. In the work of both authors I recognize texturality that occurs through subtle transpositions. The art paths are vital. The base is movement and rhythm. The art is “inscribed on the body”, as I already mentioned earlier. One of the tools that allows reading music and listening to literature is synesthesia. This is also one of the examples of the new wholeness. The new wholeness is not conquerable, yet it gives itself by mutual recognitions and connections.

Author: Hana Tiro

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