Terrie Odabi: 'I Take All My Feelings That I’m Passionate About And Write About It In My Music'

Terrie Odabi: 'I Take All My Feelings That I’m Passionate About And Write About It In My Music'

Blues singer and songwriter Terrie Odabi opens about women representation in the genre and more

Verus FerreiraUpdated: Saturday, March 16, 2024, 10:02 AM IST
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The Blues have got Soul and this evening at the second edition of NCPA’s Soulful Blues Festival, Oakland Blues singer and songwriter, Terrie Odabi, is all set to pay homage to the genre with some of her own compositions. In an exclusive interview with The Free Press Journal, Odabi shares her music story, women representation in the blues and what she has in store for her performance tonight in Mumbai.

Excerpts from the interview:

What can audiences expect this evening at the Soulful Blues at the NCPA?
I will be paying homage to where the Blues comes from, which began here in this country with spirituals. I do a lot of cover songs by some of the amazing artistes that put Blues on the map, such as Coco Taylor, B.B. King. I’m also a songwriter so I’ll be performing some originals as well.

Do you think women are given enough representation in the Blues?
No, I do not. That’s why I would like to stand up and applaud NCPA for having two Black women (Demetria Taylor performed on Saturday night) headline the festival. Believe it or not, as a Blues artiste, a Black woman, I work more in other countries than I do here in the US. As far as the opportunities to perform the blues here in the US where there are many festivals, I can tell you, I am often not the person who they want to see. I don’t get a lot of calls here, even though I would like to perform more here. So, as a woman, and especially as a Black woman, no, I don’t think we are represented equally.

What does Blues mean to you?
I think this is my favorite question of all, because the blues to me, as an African American in the US, is my legacy, my history, my ancestry. It has been taken from me, due to the reasons why African Americans were brought to this country. We were ripped off our culture. So it really, really gives me a sense of pride to know that I am of the ancestry of people who have created this incredible music, not only in the US, but it has spread and appreciated all over the world, bringing on many babies of other genres of music that have come from Blues. I would also say that I am a Blues activist.

What do the lyrics in your song speak about? 
I write songs about subject matter that’s important to me. The evolution of the Blues,  what’s going on in the city, in this world, there’s wars and all that. I write about political issues. I have a song called Love Trumps Hate.  My new CD that I’ve written has a song called Big City Blues. Our big cities are struggling here in the US. I feel that frustration. So I wanted to put it in a song. Homelessness is rampant. So I take all my feelings, my concerns, all that I’m passionate about and write about it in my music. Then sometimes I just feel like people need to be freed and have fun. So I write about things that make people happy.

Was music an integral part of your childhood?
My father was in the US Air Force, and so I grew up as a child living in Germany, Turkey. There were no radio stations that had English or television or anything like that. So, besides records, which our families would send us from the United States to play music, we took to singing. I have two sisters, a brother and my mom. My mom would make us sit together and we would sing songs together and we would harmonise. I didn’t even know what harmony was (laughs). Later on, when we moved back to the US with my father’s family, we used to meet for Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays and things like that. Music always seemed to be a big part of the gathering as we sang together and listened to music.

Did you undergo voice training?
I had an auntie who saw that I had probably a little more interest in singing than the rest of the kids. So she invested in me and got me voice lessons. So I studied voice for several years and she paid for it until I was well into my 20s. I studied voice initially with John Patton, who was the vocal teacher. He was an amazing, amazing tenor who had a beautiful voice like Pavarotti. Later on, I met a woman who had a little girl who was maybe two years old and she was a voice teacher. So for several years, I would babysit and in exchange for voice lessons with Miss Gwendolyn Brown. She was very much into the arias and classical music. I would always ask her as to why am I singing this style of music when I’m not going to be an opera singer. But what she instilled in me is that this technique would make me able to sing anything in the future. I started with singing jazz in jazz clubs.

What made you shift from singing jazz to sing the Blues?
Blues was a kind of music that was played in my house when I was growing up, but I didn’t identify it as a type of music that I was interested in singing and performing until I got older. I’ve always loved Blues music in my 20s and 30s. And I always incorporated maybe one or two Blues songs in my show, but it wasn’t until I was like in my late 40s and my 50s that I thought that Blues was a type of music that I could mature into without having to feel like I had to to wear skimpy clothes or weigh a hundred pounds and be 20. You know, I saw women in Blues who were mature and beautiful and expressive and had decent careers. I wanted it for myself. I kind of chose the Blues also because the people, the audience of the Blues.

What according to you makes you stand apart from other Blues artistes?
I am uniquely me. I don’t think that you’ll find another voice that sounds like mine. People often ask me, who would I compare my voice to? And I can honestly say, I don’t compare it to anybody. I think I have a lot of power in my voice. However, I have a tamer voice that you do not find with a lot of Blues artistes. I bring my own stories to the Blues. So, I think that’s what makes me unique as an artiste.

What memories would you take back with you from India? 
Well, being that I won’t be there that long, I hope to meet some incredible people. I love this era that we’re in with social media, because when I connect with someone from another country, we can stay connected through Instagram and Facebook. I’m hoping to make some connections in India with some cool people. I want to take back a lot of pictures and really try to soak in all that I can of India, because I don’t know when I’ll ever have the opportunity to come back again.

Who are your musical influences and the artistes that made an impact on you?
It was Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, the Pointer Sisters, Natalie Cole (pauses), that had the biggest influence on me, meaning that I saw them and could see myself doing what they were doing. They were black women and they were bad, bad meaning good.  I wanted to be like that. Later I discovered Big Mama Thornton. My father was a huge fan of Etta James and as I got older, I discovered her in a different way and became a big, big Etta James fan.

Any new projects you are presently working on?
I’m working on a CD project with Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California. I’ll be going to Norway, and Spain, and Brazil, and Morocco, and France. So I have a busy, busy summer lined up. I have found the creative aspect of creating music very gratifying. I feel like as an artiste, it’s something I have to do.

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