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Monthly Artist Spotlight: Emilia Sisco, Blues Junction

Emilia Sisco is a vocalist who just released her debut album You Ain’t Heard. On this brand-new album, which is available at Bluebeat Music, she is backed by the very talented Helge Talllqvist Band. Part way through listening to this CD for the first time, I knew this talented musician is someone I wanted to interview. Enjoy a recent conversation I had with Emilia Sisco.

David Mac (DM): This is kind of unusual for me in that I know very little about you or your background. So, let’s start there and that will help give me some bearing. Where are you from? Where do you reside now? How old are you?

Emilia Sisco (ES): I’m born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. My father is Finnish and my mother is Zambian, from Southern Africa. I still live in Helsinki.  I Just turned 27 this year.

DM: Thanks Emilia. Do you come from a musical family?

ES: I come from quite a musical family. My parents listen to a lot of music. I got access to some great records when I was a kid. My dad used to play some bass in a band and my grandfather used to be a great gospel singer. I remember a lot of music and dancing from my childhood.

DM: What were you dancing to?

ES: In my early teens I just started digging jazz and soul stuff and then through that I found R&B and blues music. I remember a lot of Zambian traditional music, as well as American soul music; soul, like Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan.

DM: What kind of impact did that have on you?

ES: That’s where I found my voice. It is music to which I could really relate.

DM: Did you realize early on that you had an aptitude for singing?

ES: It came quite naturally to me….like talking.  I always wanted to be a singer.

DM: When did you first have aspirations to do this professionally?

ES: I don’t think I ever had thought of it as a profession...that just happened. I’ve never studied music or anything so I don’t really think of myself as a “professional” singer.

I should mention that I had a great music teacher in upper comprehensive school. I guess you guys call it junior high? She really encouraged me.

DM: Who were some of your influences you heard on recordings?

ES: Oh, this is a difficult one because there are just so many. In my teens it was Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughn. I loved Fela Kuti, Toots and The Maytals, Erykah Badu, Amy Winehouse, Tom Waits. The list just goes on and on.

DM: Wonderful, the Nigerian, Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti being referenced for the first time ever in BLUES JUNCTION. It’s about time.

What were some of your early musical experiences like?

ES: I used to sing a lot at school events, but my first gig that I remember was when I was about 15 years old. I made my own band and wrote my own songs probably when I was about 16-17. It was great! We were young, but it was a big band. We played jazz/soul kind of stuff. I learned a lot during that period. We had rehearsals at least once a week that would last hours.

DM: When and how did you hook up with Helge?

ES: First time I met Helge was at a Blues n Roots Jam in Bar Mendocino, Helsinki. Konstantin introduced us and we jammed together. After that Helge contacted me and told me they are looking for a singer for a blues band.

DM: Let’s talk about Helge and that great band. I am particularly impressed with guitar playing of Konstantin Kovalev.

ES: Thanks for bringing that up, David. Konstantin is a great guitarist and I think he brought some fun ideas to the songs, like the wah-wah pedal in I Don’t Wanna Fuss. The whole band works great together and we like to have fun with things.

DM: Let’s talk about the album You Ain’t Heard and the producer and your songwritingpartner Tomi Leino.

ES: We co-wrote five songs with Tomi. I wrote the lyrics and singing melodies and he came up with the chords. Then we took the songs to the band. Tomi has a great studio. We decided to record the drums, bass, guitar and vocals live. By doing it live we gave the album a more authentic sound.

DM: I noticed that you have two Johnny “Guitar” Watson, funk era numbers on the record. Is he a particular influence on your approach to music?

ES: He is definitely one of them. I love his style and I like a bit of funk.

DM: Where can people find this album, if they wish to add it to their CD library?

ES: Charlie Lange is carrying it on his Bluebeat Music website.

DM: What are your interests and/or hobbies outside of music?

ES: My other thing is sound engineering in theatre and movies. I like poetry and I’ve always wanted a dog, but I don’t really have the time or the space for it. So instead I collect plants.

DM: Plants also give you that unconditional love. (laughs) What would you like people to know about you?

ES: I would like them to know my music.

DM: What are your immediate short term musical plans?

ES: To write more music.

DM: How about any long-term goals?  

ES: To write more music.

DM: Well, you are focused! Thanks so much for your time today.

ES: You are welcome David. Thanks for taking an interest in my music.

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