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Ana Popovic Still Blazing 20 Years On

Ana Popovic plays The Castle Theatre Thursday night
Marco Van Rooijen
Ana Popovic plays The Castle Theatre Thursday night

Blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Ana Popovic said she mentally worked to overcome doubt when she crashed the male-dominated blues scene two decades ago.

The Serbian native did concede to WGLT that she worked through being intimidated as a trailblazing female blues guitarist. But she also had to deal with not being American.

“I was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award (now the “Blues Award”) as the first continental European artist, but when you are 24 and you’re from eastern Europe trying to play the blues … you know you go into the studio and you bring ideas to the table … now they are different obviously because I’m European and a young woman. Everyone else was used to doing things a certain way,” said Popovic.

She said gaining respect in the American blues community came from her deep knowledge of blues, having grown up with her father’s love of American music that included a huge record collection of blues, jazz, and other American roots music.

“At the same time, I tried to sound like myself,” said Popovic. “And it always helped me to have a process to survive as a musician. I’ve always tried making this my profession because it’s the only thing I’ve ever done.

But being a woman on electric guitar fronting a blues band wasn’t easy at that time.

“Now I think women get more respect from band leaders, managers, booking agencies. Like it’s cool to have a woman on the roster, but back in the day, that was different,” said Popovic.

Popovic is set to release a combination of CDs and DVDs soon. Her most recent album is 2018s “Like it On Top,” a funky album with a female empowerment thread running through it. She said the funk continues from the triple album she put out a few years prior, where one of the three discs focused on her love of soul and funk.

“That’s where I got a taste for writing songs in that direction and having that old-school funk/soul stuff going in the vein of War,” she said, referring the 1970s band with major hits that included “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” “Summer,” and “The World is a Ghetto.”

Looking back on her 20 years in blues, Popovic said she was proud of a couple things, but mostly how well her early writing has stood the test of time. She said a recent appearance on the legendary Blues Cruise had her going back to her early material to add to her live repertoire. She conceded she dug into them with trepidation.

“The way the songs sounded and the way I wrote them … you know this is not my language. You can cover artists all day long, but if you have to start writing in a language that’s not yours, and in a certain style, that’s very demanding. But I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of those songs … the lyrical part and the guitar parts, the solos and overall production,” said Popovic.

Ana Popovic makes a return engagement at the Castle Theatre on Thursday night.

The interview with Ana Popovic.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.