Ann-Sofie Wensbo is a multitalented musician, songwriter and pedagogue, based in Stockholm, Sweden. The digital and international release of her album Illumine My Inner Being is a long awaited collection of songs, already sung and enjoyed around the world, serving very well as a source of reflection, meditation and inspiration. (From Ann-Sofie’s Facebook page)
Here is our interview with Ann-Sofie.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I’m Ann-Sofie Wensbo, I was born in Malmö (Sweden), and am today a Stockholm based musician, songwriter, producer and music teacher. My main instruments are vocals and guitar, which is my signature both in my singer/songwriter work and when I sing other people’s favorite cover songs at e.g. weddings and funerals.
I am also a Playback Theatre musician since 2006 in the Swedish Playback Theatre company Teater X. There I have the role as a musician and soundscape creator with lots of instruments at hand, improvising together with the actors as we play back the stories of the audience in completely unique shows.
I also freelance as a music teacher, teaching vocals, guitar and songwriting, individually or in workshop format. I teach rhythmics and movement to people of all ages, and I give workshops in creativity, presentation and personal development through drama and improvisation.
Q: When did you start making music and why?
A: I’ve had music around me all my life, and my music interest has always been encouraged by my parents. I picked up the guitar as a 10-year-old and at 13 I started playing electric guitar and singing backing vocals in pop & rock bands. Apart from the regular rock band style, I’ve been doing everything from big band jazz, through soul/funk to à capella pop, which can be heard in my current personal style of playing, singing and composing.
I wrote my very first song when I was 11. At 16 I started writing more “for real,” and also started performing my own songs to people. The music and lyrics just came to me and I wrote about things that would make sense to me much later. Not all my songs are surrounded by that kind of mystique but there have been a few songs like that through the years.
Writing songs have been a natural urge for me, both as a sense making tool, processing my own as well as other people’s emotions (writing from their perspectives) and condensing these into song lyrics, but it has also been a creative outlet of music that has flowed through me, often in harmonies, since I have a harmonic ear and usually hear my melodic ideas in a context of chords.
So, how did I come to start putting music to the Baha’i Writings then? At age 17 (in 1992), just half a year after I got in touch with the Baha’i Faith, I was asked to put music to a specific Hidden Word (“O Son of Man”) and perform it at a lecture. I took on the challenge and put music to my first of the Hidden Words. This was a great inspiration for me and I kept on putting music to more of the Hidden Words after that. Next in turn was “The Candle” and after that came “Glory”.
“O Son of Man” will always be special to me, being my first “Baha’i song”. It also seems to have a special effect on people that hear it. This song, among others on my album (e.g. “The Candle” and “The Healing Prayer”), have been sung and enjoyed all over the world, long before the release of this album.
Q: Tell us about your recent CD.
A: The album Illumine My Inner Being consists of nine songs, all Baha’i Prayers and Hidden Words that I put music to between 1992 and 2004. It is a long awaited collection of songs that serve very well as a source for reflection, meditation and inspiration. It opens with the “Morning Prayer” and closes with the “Midnight Prayer”. In between can be found the short “Healing Prayer”, a “Prayer For Forgiveness” and a prayer that I myself have performed at life ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, “O My Lord”. Four songs are from the Hidden Words: “O Son of Man”, “The Candle”, “O Son of Desire” and “Glory”.
I recorded the songs in the summer of 2004, and was planning to release the album soon after, but as it happened, my brother died quite unexpectedly from cancer, and everything got put on hold. The CD was released in Sweden in 2006 and it soon became the most sold CD ever by the Swedish Baha’i Publishing Trust. For years sales outside of Sweden were handled by me personally, but now (2012) it has finally been digitally and internationally released – making it globally available! Both releases have been on my own label, Wensbo Music. I am very happy and grateful to be able to share it with you all!
Q: If you had to describe its sound to someone, what would you say?
A: The songs are all acoustic with very simple arrangements, just one or two voices with guitar. It is definitely “Ann-Sofie style”, which previously has been told to reminisce of Eva Cassidy and an early Joni Mitchell. Some would call it ‘gentle folk’, some would call it ‘singer/songwriter’ style. I’d say it’s some sort of melodious and meditative soft pop with a calm, rhythmical nerve and soothing harmonies. I do want to make clear though, that the second voice is not sung by me, as many people think, but by the lovely Maria Andersson, whose voice blends perfectly with mine!
Q: What inspired you to make this CD?
A: Since I put music to my first of the Hidden Words in 1992, people have told me I have to record the songs and make them available. When I became a Baha’i in 1996 I had already written and performed some of the songs at national and international youth conferences and the songs had gotten their own lives and started spreading around the world.
In 1999 I made two demos with friends in Helsinki, Finland, one with mostly my own personal songs, and one with just a simple recording of me and my guitar, consisting of “O Son of Man”, “The Candle” and “Glory”. Out of these three songs, at least “O Son of Man” has spread around the world on a compilation CD for a deepening course in Europe that took place during many years, and a lot of people have come in contact with my music without knowing the origin of it.
I’ve had a few funny encounters related to this. In 2000 I was coordinating the Swedish drama dance group, the “Global Steps”, and we had two youth from the Diversity Dance Theatre of Europe come and teach us some new dances. After a few days of working together, one of them told me and my friend that the new DDT dance crew used to sing this song “O Son of Man” together every day. This girl was completely in love with the song and I will never forget her reaction when my friend asked her if she knew who wrote the music for it, and pointed at me. She refused to believe that I was in fact “the lady” that had composed the music for the song she was singing to herself every day. It took some convincing and eventually she accepted this fact. It was indeed a memorable moment, and my friend and I have had a good laugh about this many times after that.
For many years I was in the planning stage of making a proper recording of the Baha’i Writings I had put to music and release an album, though I couldn’t decide how to arrange the songs to really make them justice. So I finally decided to record the songs in exactly the style I usually perform them, i.e. just me and my guitar, and possibly a second voice. Simple, naked and personal. After all, that’s what people have told me they love the most, so why make it more complicated than that? I told myself I could always make other recordings later.
As I look back, I’m grateful I made that decision, both because the recording actually got done, but also because it’s so easy for the feeling and message of the song to get lost in arrangements and productions. I’m also glad I was able to record almost only first takes, in order to keep as much of the authentic emotion as possible.
Q: How do you think this CD can best be used?
A: The songs can be used both in devotionals and for personal prayer and meditation, reflection and inspiration. Several people have told me they wake up every morning to “The Morning Prayer” and it gives their day a wonderful start.
The songs can also be used to teach prayers and Hidden Words in Children’s Classes, Junior Youth Groups or Study Circles. I have myself taught several of them in choir settings at youth conferences as well as winter and summer schools, with great result. The songs are simple but melodious, easy to learn and fun to sing, and the vocal harmonies are also not so difficult to pick up.
One of my coming projects is to put together the lyrics, chords, melodies and tabs, so that it’s easier to use the songs in different contexts. I’m not sure quite yet when that will be though, so stay tuned on my Facebook page and I’ll update you!
Q: Where can people connect with you?
A: You can easily connect with me through my Facebook Page where it’s also possible to buy my album in the ‘Music Store’, and listen to some of my unreleased songs on my ‘Band Page’, including a cool version of “Glory”, from Helsinki 1999. My album is also available on iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, Amazon, Google Play and CD Baby.
Physical CDs are available for order from CD Baby and I’m hoping to arrange physical distribution with more vendors worldwide, such as Baha’i Publishing Trusts etc.
I also have a website and MySpace.
To enter the June Music Giveaway competition:
- Leave a comment on this post by June 27 9pm (Eastern Standard Time) answering the following question: What is your favorite prayer or Baha’i quotation to read, sing or listen to? Has it been performed by an artist you know? (Feel free to post a link!)
- Only enter one comment per person per post please (each person will be entered into the weekly competition only once, but feel free to comment on each June Music Giveaway post so you can have four entries for the Grand Prize)
Two names will be selected to receive Ann-Sofie’s album and announced on June 28. The winners will be emailed with details of how to download the album.
The weekly competition is now closed.
Congratulations to Niki and Maha whose names were drawn to receive Ann-Sofie’s CD!
All names on this post who entered comments before June 30 9pm (Eastern Standard Time) will also be entered into the drawing for the Grand Prize – a copy of all our June Music Giveaway Featured Artists’ CDs. One name will be selected from all comments entered into each of the four June Music Giveaway Interviews, and announced on July 1.
Thanks for your entry. We look forward to sharing Ann-Sofie’s music with you!