Janna Kim: Banjo Player from Uzbekistan
Janna Kim is the stunningly talented lead singer in the rock band Cross-Section, in Uzbekistan. Janna also likes to explore the resonant landscapes of the 5-string banjo, teaching herself how to play, with a little help from her friends in the global village of the Internet.
Janna (as told to Paul Roberts)
America always was my favorite country in the world. When I play banjo and when I hear its sound, I feel like I have come into the Old Wild West, where I can see cowboys, horses and saloons. It's a cool feeling isn't it? I like American folk music so much. It is very romantic for me.
I don't know why I'm playing banjo,” says Janna, “but I know that I love its sound and I hope one day I will play better. Maybe I'll visit USA, someday.
This is the dream of my life...
Maybe I could buy a new banjo from the USA for $1000! It would be great… And now I can't believe it. (Donate to the Janna Banjo Fund to make this dream come true for Janna)
I live in Uzbekistan, Tashkent city. I always liked to sing. I wrote lyrics and songs. Now, I also play guitar and sing in my rock band named Cross-Section.
I have many hobbies but banjo is my favorite. I don't know why I love the sound of the banjo. It seems I was born with it singing in my head... I always liked popular songs where I'd heard some country notes, even before I knew what a banjo was and hadn’t heard real country music.
One day we went to buy new guitars with my friend. When we went to the master who makes guitars, I saw an old banjo with six strings on the wall and asked him, “What is it? Is it a real American banjo?” He said, “Yes, it is.”
I could not sleep from that day - I wanted to have it. But not everyone could understand why I needed that very strange musical instrument. The instrument maker never thought that someone would actually buy that fancy and unknown instrument in Tashkent, so that banjo was very dusty, staying on the wall amongst other instruments.
When I saved up enough money, I went to that place again and said that I wanted to buy the banjo. The instrument maker said, “Ok. But, I must repair it before I'll give it to you because to play on this banjo is impossible right now.” It was only like a design ornament for his shop.
So, he repaired that old 6-strings banjo. I got it and I was happy! But when I came home with my banjo, I thought, I could play it like guitar; that man told me so, but I decided to learn how to play the banjo correctly, so I began searching banjo schools on the Internet. It was very hard to find out information in the Russian language, and I didn't understand English enough at that time.
I met one good man who created banjo lessons for his website. His name is George Sobolev (http://www.sobolyfamily.ru). I was talking with him and he said that banjo must have not 6 strings - only 5! And he showed me how to remake my banjo from 6 strings to 5.
I didn't know even about finger picks, and in our country, no one had seen those banjo picks. So, at first I played using my fingernails. When I understood that there are no picks for banjo in Tashkent, I was so sad. But George sent me some banjo picks as a present for my good job - by mail from Cyberia! George taught me all that I know about banjo, and now I've found more, new virtual friends who love country music just like me.
But, I'm the only one in Tashkent who plays banjo because our people don't know American country music yet. Maybe in the future I will show them my favorite style.
I always liked the English language; it is very nice for me. And I like cowboy's hats. I always wanted to travel to other countries. And I never even saw a real "live" banjo player here in Tashkent.
People can't understand my strange passion to play banjo. They don't have enough information about this kind of music. I'm alone here with my banjo; some of my friends think I'm a very strange girl :)
I'm 23. My prophecy is a singer. I graduated from music college as a vocal student. I sing in different styles - pop, rock, blues and others. Now I started to sing some country and I really enjoy it!
My early musical experience was when I started trying to write my own songs. I was 10 or 12 years old. My papa played guitar and I asked him to play my songs for me. So, he played and I was singing and recorded them on cassettes. I always liked to sing for school concerts. These are my first musical memories as a child. I sang in many vocal bands and I had good teachers before I went to college.
But the banjo came into my life only two years ago. It was like a newborn, for me as a musician.
America always was my favorite country in the world. When I play banjo, and when I hear its sound, I feel like I have come into the Old Wild West where I can see cowboys, horses and saloons. It's a cool feeling isn't it? I like American folk music so much. It is very romantic for me.
Traditional folk music in our country is Uzbek music. But I'm not Uzbek; I'm Korean and Russian. Our country has always had many different folks, so I think my nationality is not so important for me. The most important thing is how I feel about myself.
I can't play my own folk music on banjo because it seems like I have three nationalities - Korean, Russian and Uzbek! It is too hard to play all that folk music on an American folk instrument.
But I've tried to play some Asian tunes on my banjo, and I have understood that banjo is very similar to some Uzbek folk instruments. It is a very interesting thing.
I've composed one original tune on banjo. It was a very important step up for me, because I'm a beginner player now. I hope I'll compose more banjo music in the future.
When I was searching for the banjo sites where I could find other banjo players, I found a Banjo Hangout web site. I was interested in finding some country music and hearing how other people can play banjo. The first thread that I read on that forum was a thread where banjo players showed their banjo recordings. I've downloaded a lot of music from that topic. And when I uploaded my first recording, named “Arkansas Traveler” (I played that tune without picks that time), some people said that I play banjo not too bad, and they said, “that’s all right,” and even, “very good job,” and “Janna! Great work!” I was wonder very much. They helped me to believe in my banjo potential. So, I've got many new friends on that site. They are very good, joyful and kind people, just like their banjo music :)
I visit many English banjo sites. One of my first and favorite was http://www.jaybuckey.com. There I've found some free tabs and my first music for banjo.
Also I use many Russian sites; one of my favorites is: http://www.sobolyfamily.ru
My band's name is Cross-Section. It was born 4 years ago when I met one talented boy who plays guitar. His name is Alexander Kartoyev. His playing is amazing! He also wrote wonderful songs and I liked them very much. We were sitting every evening with our friends, and he played guitar and I was singing. So, we became good friends. He taught me how to play guitar and then we decided to find other musicians to create our own rock band. And we did it!
But it was a long, long way to becoming a band. Some musicians left our band, some came into it - again and again - we were searching for new musicians for the band and it was always something new. In the beginning, we wrote songs in English and our music was very hard; maybe it was like metal.
But now we write our songs in Russian because we think we can't write lyrics as good as Americans or Englishmen, because we are not Americans/Englishmen. So, now our people can understand what we mean in our song lyrics, which is also a good thing.
Some months ago we recorded our new CD. The name of our album is “Love is the Strange Thing” (this is the English translation). I can introduce you to all the musicians who plays with me in Cross-Section: Janna Kim (it's me) - Vocal, Guitar; Alex Kartoyev – Guitar; Dmitriy Stepanenko – Bass; and Ruslan Djalmurzayev – Drums.
May I say the truth about making a living as a musician in my country? It is too hard. Because we must work hard and get some money for our living, so sometimes my musicians can't go to the rehearsal. Rock music is not commercial in Uzbekistan; no one pays money to musicians for their live rock music because this musical style is not popular here. There are many rock bands in Uzbekistan but it is only a little round of rock musicians and their fans in our city that play live rock music and who really like it.
So we must be working in different musical styles, not only rock. Alex is a professional sound producer; he works in a record studio. Dmitriy works in a design studio. And our drummer, Ruslan, is not working anywhere now.
I'm a professional singer so I'm working on weddings and birthdays. I also have my own few records where I sing many different songs.
Maybe I'm still searching for who I am and what is mine..?
Country is one of my favorites now, but this musical style is even more unknown and less commercial in Uzbekistan than rock!
Maybe I must born not here..? Yeah, I'm too strange for our Uzbek folks!
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Janna's Banjo MP3's
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Janna Kim , Banjo Player and Rock Singer From Uzbekistan
visit her homepage on Banjo Hangout
Lead singer in the band "Cross - Section". Band Website: www.crosssection.narod.ru