With an old Blues soul and a whaling voice, Olga Wilhelmine has stormed the Blues interchange with her album “Whatever You Want.” Her musical style combines traditional Blues with hints of Folk and Pop. Olga’s pilgrimage to the underbelly of Blues tradition has revitalized the genre. She is bringing the Blues to a new generation…and we dig it!
OCR: You have environmental digital downloads cards. After redeeming the album online, the cards can be planted and sprout wildflowers…literally making your music an organic process. What inspired this green initiative?
OW: Actually, it came by happenstance. No one buys CD’s anymore, so I did not want to print CD’s and decided to go with download cards instead. From that I found the “wildflowers” card and thought it was a fabulous idea as it also symbolized re-birth and renewal which is a theme on my album. “If music is the fruit of love, play on” William Shakespeare 12th Night
OCR: At a young age, you were exposed to music and started your own writing songs. Did you use those early songs as a springboard to inspire new songs?
OW: Songs always lead somewhere and they are part of the growing process. There may be some that began at one point and were finished much later and then there are some that come out all at once. I’d like to think my songwriting has grown and improved since I was 5! The only one I can think of that was “springboarded” was a doo-wop one I wrote a few years ago—when I was 11 and 12 I wrote quite a few doo-op songs.
OCR: While working as a disk jockey you discovered the music of Jessie Mae Hemphill. What was it about her music that struck a chord with you?
OW: Her blues was ancient and modern all at once—it was also extremely rare to find a woman playing blues (and it still is). Her voice was very familiar to me somehow and when we first spoke on the phone she said to me that I sounded familiar to her as well. She was a powerful role-model for me and mentor and profoundly changed my life—she still has a major influence on me even after her passing, perhaps more so. The blues of north Mississippi has the most regnant connection with music from West Africa, more so than any other kind of blues and any other kind of music. I would segue the two together on my radio shows and they were interchangeable save for the language the singers sung in were different.
OCR: You moved South to find the music you craved in the Delta Blues areas of Mississippi. What was your first impression when you started to explore the music culture from its roots up? What distinct aspect of Blues excites you?
OW: Honestly, I was scared to death. I had no idea what to expect, I was from an entirely different part of the country and world and did not know what to do or think, nor how I would be received. However, I wanted to find authenticity to my music and voice and not just copy Madonna or Carly Simon. I thought if I went as close to the source as I could, I would learn a lot! Yesssss indeed!
A renown north Mississippi hill country bluesman named Fred McDowell once said “Blues is the truth and anyone who speaks the truth, knows the blues”. Great quote and perfectly describes it. Blues is not necessarily a “style” of music, it can really be anything, so long as it is speaking the truth. Truths tend to be universal stories that all can relate to. Blues is the rock in rock-n-roll, the basis of the majority of music as we know it and it has inspired millions and carried itself around the world.
Beethoven had blues–an example is the first movement of his Moonlight Sonata, which was a love song for a woman who he could not be with. Flamenco music is Spanish blues. It’s universal. As an artist, I wanted to be original with my voice and my writing, and the music I work on creating has these truths to them; I speak the truth as I know and understand it to be in my life, and that essentially is the blues for me. Blues is both joy and sorrow, which is what life is: yin and yang, beginnings and endings. We all know and understand this on a human level.
OCR: Your trip to the Southern parts of the United States brought you face to face with your inspiration Jessie Mae Hemphill. What was it like to meet the woman who inspired you to start a new chapter in your musical career?
OW: It was scary! I was shaking in my boots and had no idea what I was getting into. They don’t call it the blues for nothing!! However, the experience has evolved me as a better person. Jessie taught me a lot; I miss her very much and am grateful to have had some time with her
OCR: In 2003, you founded the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation, which archives indigenous music from Mississippi for future generations. What are some of your favourite highlights from the archives?
OW: Right now we are working with the Alan Lomax Archives to repatriate Lomax recordings and materials back to north Mississippi communities where he recorded them to make available to the people and to the children especially. Everyone can partake and enjoy and revel in their own rich and beautiful musical legacy. The first repatriation was February of 2012, and was repatriated back to the library in Como, MS. Alice Pierotti, the Como librarian, was massively instrumental in making this happen, along with Anna Lomax Wood, Don Flemming and the crew at Alan Lomax Archives.
Como is where Jessie Mae and her family were primarily from and also the above mentioned Fred McDowell. We are also developing an educational curriculum surrounding the Lomax material for teachers to use in schools if they wish to. We plan to do another repatriation this year in Senatobia, MS. Alan Lomax has a large swath of material on Jessie’s grandfather, Sid Hemphill.
The JMH Foundation is my way of giving back to the community from which my musical well had sprung. Love is giving and receiving. This is my way of giving the love back. Some amazing people are helping to make this happen, as it should be. This is not for me, this is for them. We can’t do it alone.
OCR: Your newest release “Whatever You Want” combines traditional Blues and Folk traditions with more pop-based sounds. Do you think this will expose a younger generation to Blues roots?
OW: Yes! And that was the intent as well. The blues can be in anything! These songs are all based in blues. We just added some synthesizers and bridges to the songs to make them more pop friendly. Winn McElroy produced the songs and Cody Dickinson played the music with me. We made a great team! They are both so gifted.
OCR: A number of your songs from “Whatever You Want” surge with wise words. What is a main thematic undercurrent your music conveys?
OW: The truth as I know it to be and my experiences in life. I find the best songs are the ones with universal themes and stories to them. They can be inspired by one event, but grow to mean something else entirely depending on who is listening and where you are in your life. I have songs that I wrote about other people, only to have them become years later about my present situation. I like to incorporate some sort of wisdom, or ancient proverbs in them. Old proverbs are universal and they speak also of life’s experiences, which in essence is the blues.
OCR: What’s next for Olga Wilhelmine?
OW: Some more music videos for songs on this album!! And I am also getting more into film producing and acting. I am honored to have met and befriended awesome and awe-inspiring talent in the film industry. It is very much a collaborative effort and I am constantly learning from everyone. It’s such a gift and incredibly positive.
We currently have a short film STATUE which is doing extremely well. It’s screened in over 25 film festivals around the country and won 4 awards. We recently secured distribution for it as well. I was very honored to be a part of it and work with such amazing talent.
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