For Issue #84 of SUFI, singer Jessika Kenney shared with us her journey from singing jazz in her teens, through her musical explorations in Indonesia, to her discovery and love affair with Persian music and culture.
“What’s the difference between the myna bird making the sound of a camera flash and an actual camera making that sound? It’s a very strange relationship, and I think it leads into some of the same territory as Persian Sufi poetry. It says something about our notions of reality and non-existence. The more exactly you mirror something, the more separate existence fades away; you begin to set yourself aside.”
Since experiencing Persian Avaz for the first time, listening to the great Ostad Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s CD Bidad, Jessika Kenney has become an accomplished singer of this Persian style of singing, and one of the few non-Iranians to do so. She has approached her study of the Persian language and Sufi culture – crucial to the understanding of many classical poems that make up the majority of the lyrical repertoire of Avaz – with as much enthusiasm as her singing practice.
She shared her insights into the process of learning and understanding Avaz, and adapting her knowledge of the techniques and modal scales of classical Persian Radif into her compositional work. To read the full interview subscribe to SUFI, and to hear her in action listen below – a recording with her teacher Ostad Hossein Omoumi, Madjid Khaladj, Amir Koushkani, and Naser Musa.
Kenney’s latest album, The Face of the Earth, a collaboration with Eyvind Kang is out now.