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Ana Popovic a lifetime student of the blues

WANT TO GO?

Charlie West Blues Fest

WHERE: Haddad Riverfront Park

WHEN: 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and 12 to 11 p.m. Saturday

COST: Free

INFO: 304-389-1439 or www.charliewestbluesfest.com CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When she sings, Ana Popovic's voice is sultry Southern soul and muddy water blues, but when she stops to talk, there's no missing the accent: more Danube River than the mighty Mississippi.

The Belgrade-born blues singer, who headlines Friday night of the Charlie West Blues Fest, wouldn't have it any other way.

"I've been [performing] for 10 years," the 36-year-old said. "You still come across people who say, well, she sounds European or maybe not blues all the time, but I think that's positive. I don't think you should lose what's different. Different is good. I don't try to imitate."

However, Popovic does study. She said she's studied the blues most of her life.

"I grew up listening to that, probably before a lot of Americans started listening to the blues."

Popovic said she inhaled the many different kinds of American blues from the Delta and Chicago blues to the blues that came out of Texas and the West Coast.

"But I never really wanted to lose what was really me."

Her studies have taken her to some interesting places. In the late 1990s, Popovic left for Amsterdam to study jazz guitar, though she said she never really became a jazz player.

"I never went for that," she said. "I never wanted to become that. I really liked T-Bone Walker and Ronnie Earl, players who triggered that style, that side of the blues in me. I wanted to study jazz so I don't have to steal anybody's [guitar] licks."

It was one way to learn about the blues. But she thinks for most blues players, going too far with studying jazz is ultimately a waste of time.

Popovic said, "I think it's great to study, great if you can get into any of these high end jazz studies programs, but be aware of what you want to achieve as a musician. Stick to that plan."

The problem with a musician spending a lot of time studying outside his or her field is more about business than art, she explained.

"I've seen a lot of players -- rock or pop players, too -- they kind of spend a lot of crucial time studying jazz when they could be making their name [in their chosen field]," she said. "They spend their time being a jazz player when, ultimately, they don't want to be one."

Last fall, Popovic moved to Memphis, where she's still studying the blues and trying to make sense of the city.

"It's quite different than Amsterdam," she said. "I think Memphis is still searching for its identity."

The way she sees it, the city is still very much divided along racial lines. There are separate cultures for whites and blacks.

"As far as the music goes, however, it rocks. People play like nowhere else in the world, and there's a style here you can't find anywhere else, that you can't learn unless you come here."

Since she's been in Memphis, Popovic has picked up a side project, the Mo Better Love band, a nine-piece outfit she leads that was put together by Tony Coleman, B.B. King's longtime drummer.

The band is only playing sporadically. They played in New Orleans a few weeks ago and have a record out called "Can You Stand the Heat." It debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Heatseeker chart.

Popovic said the record is different from a lot of other blues records out right now. She called it a throwback to the days of blues legend Albert King, who played blues mixed with a little funk.

"When Albert King was playing back in the day, you couldn't stop dancing or shaking your head," she said. "Nowadays, where's the groove? What happened to the groove?"

Popovic thought the blues don't have to be so serious. It can have an accent.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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