She left the U.S. in 1994 with $400 in her pocket, her life savings from her grandfather. Czech Republic has become her home for 15 years and counting. When she is not capturing the hearts of blues enthusiasts and general public during her energetic performances, she likes to explore different genres like gospel, hip-hop and country. Her album The Blues Keeps You Alive has celebrated its first anniversary in September. And she is on Facebook!
That’s how OSA’s magazine Autorin introduced Juwana before she dove into an interview with an editor. An interview that covers eight pages… Check out the excerpts of what Juwana had to say about the start of Her All-Star Mojo Band, her plans for celebrating 15 years as a front-woman and why she has been using social media.
How long did it take you to get comfortable (in Prague) and start performing?
I arrived 1 September 1998 and by my birthday 26 September I was already in rehearsals for an English-language theater production that ran in December. By early 1999, I was already writing and singing songs for the first band I ever fronted, the Double Deckers, whom I left in 2000 when I became the front woman for Tonny’s Blues Band, for whom I wrote the lyrics for the majority of songs on our Ten after Ten album, celebrating our 10 years together.
You are a singer at the All-Star Mojo Band along with Charlie Slavik, Jan Kořínek, Tomáš Vokurka and Marcel Flemr. How did you all get together?
I met the harmonica player Charlie Slavik in 2009 and he introduced me to various blues jams where he played as a guest. In 2010, Charlie proposed doing an old-school blues project to perform at Šumperk Blues Alive after Ondřej Bezr, the festival’s artistic director, invited us to play when he saw us jamming together at an event. Our agent in Poland encouraged us to capture that old-school sound, so Charlie and I decided to do an album.
Charlie engaged Jan Kořínek as a producer. We wanted to create an album that would fit into the old-school blues genre. Every song had to be rough and raw. According to this goal, Jan Kořínek decided to come out of “retirement” to play the bass guitar again. He agreed with Charlie to have Tomáš Vokurka on the drums. Charlie recommended Marcel Flemr, who was with the band at Šumperk and played on the album and for the first year after the album launch.
Now on the guitar is American producer/guitarist Steve Walsh and we’re excited about expanding the sound to give it an even edgier, soulful sound.
Do you perform original music or do you also play covers?
We play the songs from The Blues Keeps You Alive album, which has 10 original songs, 1 song with original lyrics to the blues classic “Come On In My Kitchen” and our cover of “Hound Dog” with our versions of additional blues standards to play evening concerts of 2-3 sets. The goal for 2014 is to have original songs make up 80% of the set list with the rest as our own original arrangements to covers.
Your album The Blues Keeps You Alive was released last September. Who worked on the CD, who were the guest performers and how is the album doing sales-wise?
Charisma Records released the album and its producer was Jan Kořínek. I wrote the lyrics for the album and the music in co-operation with Jan Kořínek and Charlie Slavik. When it comes to guests, we invited musicians with distinctive sounds. You can hear Jan “St. Johnny” Stehlík on guitar, Osian Roberts on sax and Mirek Hloucal on trumpet. Lee Andrew Davis also joined the party and sang vocals to “I Don’t Miss You” and “Cookin’ Out Doors”.
The album sells the best at our live concerts. People want a souvenir of the energy they experience in the live show.
What projects and with whom are planned for your 15th celebration as a front-woman in the Czech Republic?
I’m excited about providing some vocals for original compositions in new collaborations with bands, such as Madfinger and STP, who are looking for the soulful, passionate voice of an African-American female vocalist with life experience.
Next year marks the 15th anniversary of Juwana Jenkins as a singer in the Czech Republic. What are you planning for that occasion?
In my 15 years here, I’ve sung pop, Tina Turner’s greatest hits, blues covers and my own original music ranging from blues to soul with some gospel. As a songwriter, I’m really excited about continuing the journey that I started with The Blues Keeps You Alive album by continuing to explore the soulful side of blues in genres such as gospel, but also country and old-school hip hop. I’m also planning to release my first music television videos for the singles and a summer concert tour.
What situation (cultural, political, social) has piqued your interest recently? Why?
I think it would have to be social media because of the ability to share and connect with fans old and new directly to hear what they like and what interests them. On Facebook, I can immediately share my day, what I’m excited about, what I’m up to and planning next as it unfolds backstage and behind the scenes as well as blogs about the stories that inspire my songs and what is happening around the world, like celebrations of the 1st International Blues Music Day.
On YouTube, I can share concerts, interviews and vlogs about topics that the viewers are most interested in. The internet is providing new media for artists to express their creativeness directly and immediately with fans. I couldn’t do that in 1999 when I started.
Do you miss American lifestyle? Where do you go to have a typically American meal or for a drink?
When I want typical American food, I go to the Hard Rock Cafe. I love their burgers and it is the place I go to introduce my Czech friends to a typical American Thanksgiving meal. I play there so often it’s like home where everybody knows your name and there’s always a welcoming smile so that’s why I chose it as the venue for the launch of the Blues Keeps You Alive album.