How living abroad can be more than you ever dreamed.
We continue with words from our international women! Here is an interview with Juwana Jenkins, a singer from Philadelphia who has lived in Prague for over twenty years and now calls it her home.
As an international artist, you’ve had to learn to navigate language, place and self as you have followed your passion, dreams and business. How do you find strength?
I’m driven and motivated to be my best self. Everyday I’m learning what that looks like and how that feels on that day under those unique circumstances, so learning is what gives me the greatest strength and motivation.
I’m absolutely enamored and enthralled by learning. I think it is the most magical thing on the planet. What made my head hurt and sapped my strength yesterday is the source of my wisdom, gratitude and positive energy today.
This virtuous cycle of learning by discovering and exploring whatever happens and experiencing gratitude and appreciation for life and the people that I’m blessed to encounter renews my hope and feeds my spirit.
That’s what a lot of my songwriting is inspired by. The blues, soul and gospel music that I sing shares the stories of my own challenges, struggles and journey and I’m so very humbled and inspired when people tell me how the songs reflect their own experiences and how it has given them strength in tough circumstances. I wrote “I Don’t Miss You” to express the bittersweet feeling of when my best friend, Bogdan, moved from Prague to Amsterdam, but the value of everything our love taught me has transformed me into a stronger and better person. Years later at a Gospel Mass held as a part of a Dutch Blues Festival, a father thanked me for dedicating that song to those who are no longer with us on Mother’s Day, because he had just lost his wife and it was his daughter’s first year without her mom.
What scares you?
Not fulfilling my potential is what I’m most afraid of. “To fulfill the potential that I now possess” was what I actually wrote as my life’s ambition in my high school yearbook, hence the enchantment with learning. Early in my professional career, I realized that “I don’t know what I don’t know.” For that reason, I seek out and am grateful for the company of wise, caring professionals and friends who compassionately help me to get out of my own way.
My producer Steve Wash and other musicians have been so generous, gently giving me feedback about the small, simple details that make all the difference, like “sing to a metronome”, “sing like you speak,” and “you don’t sing the song–the song sings you.”
Conversely, what I am afraid of has actually become something that gives me strength as a catalyst for change, growth and improvement that benefits myself and others from what I learn from the experience.
What does Prague mean to you?
That desire to fulfill my potential is what led me to travel, move abroad and eventually settle in Prague in 1998. Ever since I was a fifth grader, Europe to me was the place that artists like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, went to be free to express themselves. Inspired by the tales of Josephine Baker, I moved to the Paris of the -East twenty-one years ago on a one-year teaching contract.
I was enchanted by the air of endless opportunities for an African-American female blues singer in the Heart of Europe with the possibility of working in Western and Eastern Europe while traveling to family and friends in the States or vacationing in Asia where I lived for four years before making Prague my home.
Prague has more than lived up to my youthful aspirations. I’ve had the honor of performing not only in the same theatre where Mozart debuted “Don Giovanni”, but also at some of Europe’s largest and most prestigious festivals, such as United Islands of Prague, Sumperk Blues Alive, and Suwalki Blues Festival, besides radio and TV appearances as well as acting roles for both the large and small screens. All of this has given me the opportunity to share my platform with the charities I support as a patroness while also relating my experiences as a panelist, speaker and facilitator for both nonprofit and corporate events.
In Prague, I really have crafted a tapestry of life, blending together the distinct parts of who I am that resonates with others to offer the greatest value from my unique talents, experiences and traits.
What do you see for the future?
For these reasons, I’m happy to continue doing more of what I love for more people.
I’m excited that I’m being invited to perform both on my own as a solo artist as well as with my own band in places, such as Portugal, Holland, Latvia and Poland and am looking forward to sharing my own soul-blues, gospel infused sounds and uplifting music with more international collaborators. I’m honored and proud to be an ambassador for the blues, not only as a member of the European Blues Union, but also as the first blues performer some people have ever experienced live. The connections that I make with people at my shows are the inspiration for me to continue writing my own original music that I share on my YouTube channel and FaceBook page and the energy that radiates from the concert pics I post on my Instagram.
How has being a Bettie supported you in any way?
Being a Bettie has supported me by reminding me to connect with, celebrate and revel in the many facets of my own unique femininity.
Being a Bettie is a lifestyle, a life choice and a conscientiously conscious decision to live to my fullest.
Being a Bettie is a reminder to rise to the call to be my own woman, my own Bettie: Beautiful Effervescent Transformational Tantalizing Inquisitive Energizing.
Ms Bettie’s words ring true: what kind of Bettie you want to be is up to you– just be your own BETTIE.
Watch Juwana’s original short music film, “Long Time”:
Follow Juwana online: