FEATURE: Sorana Santos writes about Refuge of the Roads – Joni Mitchell’s Hejira 40 years on #womensday #IWD2016

Sorana Santos

Singer SORANA SANTOS is going to follow the road-trip taken by Joni Mitchell in the spring of 1976, forty years ago,  which led to the album “Hejira”. Sorana has launched a Kickstarter to help find a recording. Here she explains the background to this very personal project:

I discovered Joni Mitchell by chance in my late teens on my favourite after-school pastime: spending money I earned in an art shop taking chances on records I’d never heard. I was so taken with the cover of Blue that I bought the vinyl despite my hesitating at judging it by its cover; that said, the cover did also have a descriptive label on it noting her collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Jaco Pastorius, which piqued my interest.

I took the record with me to the Guildhall where Blue became a treasured staple background for our late-night jams and discussions. At the same time, I noticed that Mitchell seemed to have more albums than I thought I could possibly get to grips with. I decided to challenge that notion and determined that I would buy and study a new Mitchell album each time it felt as though I was entering a new chapter in my life; some years I bought just the one; other years I bought three or four; over time I got to know them all. As experience caused me to see both life and music from new vantage points, I saw more depth and value in Mitchell’s songs with each passing year, and consequently her albums became more precious with time.

The original album cover

It struck me a few years back that 2016 would mark the 40th anniversary of both Hejira and the road trip on which Mitchell wrote the bulk of the album; I instantly felt a strong pull to recreate both. I now recognise that my instincts were correct in knowing that, as it’s proving difficult to sing and arrange much of Hejira without having experienced travelling solo to that extent.

Instincts aside, several thoughts converged that made me realise that this was the perfect time: for one, ten years ago – on Hejira’s 30th anniversary – my fear of the great unknown would have frozen the project in its tracks, while ten years from now – Hejira’s 50th anniversary – is too far into the great unknown to allow me to fully commit to the project.

Secondly, I am touching on Mitchell’s work as part of my practice-based PhD at Royal Holloway; one of the reasons I find Mitchell’s work so intriguing is because she is essentially a cross-genre artist, starting off as a folk singer whose creative practice grew to incorporate elements of jazz. Without ever intending to I ended up working in a similar vein (albeit sans folk roots) and am eager to arrange such an idiosyncratic album in a way that is authentic to both the album’s polystylistic bents and mine.

On a personal note, this project also marks a kind of homecoming for me, since we used to drive to family across Europe every year. I had many transformational experiences on these journeys: crossing the Iron Curtain, witnessing the post-Communism changes, being in Romania when Chernobyl happened, and falling in love with my first love – all of which I’ll expand upon in my blog/vlog along the trip. One of the most enriching was the opportunities each road-trip gave me to analyse numerous albums; as there was little else to do I used the time to figure out chord progressions, structures, and production techniques, and now know I owe a lot of my musicianship to those road trips.

The teenage Sorana that found Blue in that record shop would be thrilled to be doing this trip, as would the Sorana of my Guildhall days; in fact, once, when Dave Smith and I were in Chicago to see Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau, we were asked if we would like to drive a car back from Chicago to LA – sadly we weren’t able to turn the dream of that road trip into a reality then, but I like to think that dream is happening for me now, but in a more focused and relevant way. When I return I will be planning to record and release Hejira re-imagined live.

I look forward to sharing the journey with you.

 Sorana’s journey can be followed on Twitter , Facebook and her website . There is also a Kickstarter with a range of benefits.

LINK: CD Review – Our Lady of the Stars

Categories: miscellaneous

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