Kristina Jacobsen

Ilaria Littera tells us Kristina Jacobsen's world

I’ve met Kristina Jacobsen at one of her concerts here in Sardinia

From beginning to the end I’ve been thrown on an emotionally journey: in two hours live she makes you travel around the world, giving you musical tips, teaching you stories of life, donating you load of positivity and inspiration.

When I’ve spoken to her after the show, I’ve received the coup de grace.

Kristina is an excellent songwriter that has a lot to teach to others, but never misses the chance to learn something new from every people she meets. She constantly transmits you a lot of strength.

For this reason I’ve contacted her, there in New Mexico, asked her for this interview. I think that it can really take a good enthusiasm talking with a person like her.

Interview of Ilaria Littera, translated by Daniela Schirru

Hello Kristina, first and foremost, I want to thank you for your willingness!

Would you introduce yourself to our readers that don’t still know you and tell us something about your current plans?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my music and thoughts on the songwriting life!

I am a cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, singer/songwriter and country artist; I also teach songwriting workshops premised on finding one’s voice, writing emotionally authentic songs, and cowriting as a form of community building and intercultural exchange.

I have recorded two albums, and have two brand new projects afoot in the next year.

The first is a solo album, where I’ll be working with engineer/producer Meredith Wilder to record the songs I’ve written over the course of the last two years and featuring songs written while living on the Navajo Nation, in Finland, and in Sardinia!

We can define your studies as certainly multifaceted: anthropology on one hand, music on the other.

Explain us how you bring these two things together.

I have lived on the Navajo Nation, on and off, since I was seventeen.

I began learning Navajo, taught in a tribal college, and then, much later, became an anthropologist and completed a dissertation on Navajo country western bands, where my fieldwork was singing and playing lapsteel guitar with two bands on the reservation for wo years and a half years. .

So, this got me thinking about singing, playing and writing songs as a form of fieldwork and “participant observation” in both anthropology and ethnomusicology.

This also became the recent book, The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language and Diné Belonging (2017).

In my opinion, songwriting and ethnography are both narrative-based art forms.

Both songs and ethnographies--in-depth studies of a community at a given point in time—serve to humanize our interlocutors, helping listeners and readers to become invested in stories, worlds, and communities about which they thought they didn’t care.

Stories—ethnographic or musical-create connection to others, which, in the end, also creates connection to ourselves and our own stories.

Most recently, these two worlds have come together in both applied ethnomusicology work I’m doing, teaching songwriting in spaces of incarceration such as Mariefred Men’s Prison in Stockholm, Uta Men’s Prison outside of Cágliari with Gigi Oliva, and in a week-long songwriting workshop I cofacilitated in Turku, Finland, last summer, to refugees and political asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Angola and Venezuela.

kristina jacobsen - sa scena sarda

Throughout your music career, you came closer to different instruments, cultures and their music.

How did you come closer to music and which elements of this path mostly marked you?

I grew up with a father who is a folksinger and also has training in anthropology; these two things converged for my sister and I.

And we frequently traveled as a family to explore new places, new foods and new musical styles.

We also grew up singing as a family, and I learned to sing harmonies very young, especially loving it when my father, who lived in Norway as a college student, would sing the incredibly beautiful and melancholic Norwegian folk songs that he’s learned when he lived there.

Through singing these songs, I actually learned to speak New Norwegian (Nynorsk), and was able to then live there myself for six months during my college years.

So, curiosity to know unknown communities and come to know them more closely through language-learning and sound have played a really formative role in how I was socialized into the world as a human and as a musician.

Now a complicated question: who are the major performers you are inspired the most?

That is a difficult question! In terms of singing style and the aesthetic of a voice and a guitar, I would have to say my father, folk singer Ken Jacobsen.

In terms of songwriting and approaches to writing tightly crafted, emotionally authentic songs, I would say that John Prine, Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Travis Meadows have influenced my own writing. Folks I’vecowritten with have also influenced my sound and approaches to songwriting, most notably in my cowriting with singer/songwriter Meredith Wilder.

In terms of the courage to speak my own truth in songs and folks that model that for me, I would say my songwriting students at the University of New Mexico and in the workshops I teach are the ones that do this with the most honesty and grace: they write a song a week, and pull from the deepest materials in their lives they can access-the results are often exquisite, surprising, inspiring, and deeply moving.

krstina jacobsen - sa scena sarda

You are frequently around the world, and often come to visit us in Sardinia.

Tell us about your friendship with our land. What do you think about Sardinian music scene? What do you think this scene misses?

I first traveled to Sardinia in fall 2016, as a guest of the University of Cágliari and of professor and ethnomusicologist, Ignazio Macchiarella.

The entire week was magical—including many resonances with the place I have lived and done fieldwork, the Navajo Nation—and, quite simply, I fell in love!

I have since returned for longer periods, twice, because I believe in resonances with specific places, and in paying attention to those resonances, because I think places matter.

In the US, anyway, there is this sense that all places are more-or-less the same, or more-or-less equal: I disagree!

All songs happen somewhere, and all ethnographies happen somewhere, and so, shortly after visiting for the first time, I began wondering: what would songs written in this place sound like? And what would it feel like to live here and have the privilege of becoming a part of this place in some way?

The music scene in Sardinia to me is striking: the talent level, the number of artists and musicians that I seem to meet everywhere I go, but also the appreciation for art, even by those who don’t identify as artists.

In Santu Lussurgiu, for example, where I’ve now lived for two summers, everyone loves to talk about cantu a cuncordu, and voices, and singing styles! So, I’ll be down at the bar, Raju Ruju, on a Thursday night, and someone will want to talk about overtones, or “la quinta voce,” or very specific ideas related to sound and aesthetics.

This is amazing to me!

In the US, if you don’t identify as an artist, there is sense that you don’t have the “right” to talk about art or have an opinion about art/have your own aesthetic. In my experiences in Sardinia thus far, this is very different.

kristina jacobsen - sa scena sarda - cadidedda tower concert - andrea macis - sa scena sarda
Cadidedda Tower concert con Kristina Jacobsen, foto Andrea Macis, Porto Corallo, Villaputzu

We can close with a nice speech about the future: Do you have a long cherished dream or project that you would like to achieve?

I do! I am planning to return to Sardigna for one year, beginning June 2019, to do fieldwork for a long-cherished research project which brings together all of my favorite things on this earth: songwriting, ethnography, and Sardinia!

For this project, I will be writing songs with Sardinian songwriters to be professionally recorded, in Sardinia, for an album that will accompany a book and my second ethnography, Sing Me Back Home: Songwriting, Language Shift, and Italian Colonialism in Sardinia.

The book will be an ethnography of the American music and singer/songwriter scene on the island, focusing on the tensions between Italian and Sardo, relationships between Sardinia and “Il Continente,” and on younger musicians now singing in and learning to speak in a version of Sardo.

To that end, I’ve written and recorded two “demo” songs for this project already, one in Campidanese, on in Italian, with the very talented songwriters Matthew Papperi (Casteddu) of the bluegrass band, Saddle of the Devils, and accordion player Matteo Scano from Santu Lussurgiu.

During this year, I’ll also be trying to learn the Sardinian language from Santu Lussurgiu, teaching ethnomusicology at the University of Cágliari, giving lectures on my research, and performing solo shows around the island and also on the mainland as an additional form of ethnographic research.

Finally, I am also super excited to share that I will be offering, for the first time, a songwriting workshop in Sardigna in May 2020, focusing on cowriting and intercultural exchange, where songwriters write a song a day and end with a public performance of their songs.

Facilitators will be from the US and Sardinia, and participants will be from Sardinia, the US, and Scandinavia: our 2020 Sardinian songwriter-in-residence will be the singer-songwriter from Sassari, Beeside Federico.

The workshop will take place in Santu Lussurgiu, has received the support of village leadership including the town mayor, and our final performance will take place in the central piazza in the village, adjacent to the village nursing home for the elderly so that they can attend the concert.

You can learn more about the workshop, here: “Songs of Sardegna.”

Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat; I can’t wait to return to Sardinia!

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