Life of Bliss

The Troubadours of Divine Bliss play the soundtrack of dreams.

Troubadours of Divine Bliss Winchester, 12112 Madison Avenue in Lakewood 7 p.m. Thursday, December 16; free; call 216-226-5681
The Troubadours of Divine Bliss bring their gypsy folk - music to the Winchester for a free show Thursday.
The Troubadours of Divine Bliss bring their gypsy folk music to the Winchester for a free show Thursday.
Best friends since they started singing together in a Kentucky church choir more than 20 years ago, Renée Ananda and Aim Me Smiley found themselves on "parallel planes" in Chicago in 1995. Ananda had filed for divorce from her abusive husband; Smiley had broken up with her college theater professor. "We had a merge at the crossroads and decided we needed a major change," says Ananda. "We were stagnant and creatively hungry to explore new places."

Famished for adventure, they crammed their belongings into Smiley's car, slammed the doors shut, and drove through the night to New Orleans. There, they were "baptized, sanctified, and deodorized" one December day by anointing themselves the Troubadours of Divine Bliss. Ananda strapped on an accordion she had bought just two weeks earlier, Smiley picked up a guitar, and they began fumbling through a repertoire of six seldom-heard Christmas songs. Next to them, they propped up a mini-billboard. "[It] said, We don't know the words to these songs, and neither do you, and we've only had one lesson each, and please forgive us," recalls Ananda. "People were so sweet and said, 'You were so awesome, but please take a couple more lessons.'"

Nine years after their Big Easy debut, the Troubadours of Divine Bliss have logged more than a few practice sessions. Since that shaky start, the duo has hop-scotched the world with a medley of "gypsy folk" music. Their steady touring schedule leads them to Lakewood this week, where they will record a live CD of fan favorites that were fine-tuned on a whimsical European vacation four years ago. With six-month passports and only $100 to their names, the pair squandered their cash in two days in Amsterdam. They then hitchhiked through six countries and played the sidewalk circuit to pay their way back to the States.

"It changed the course of our music forever," says Ananda. "We don't consider ourselves musicians as much as street evangelists -- not in a religious sense, but in a spiritual sense. We're both very much driven by a higher purpose."

Now based on the Indiana-Kentucky border ("Indianucky," Ananda dubs it), the Troubadours spend 85 percent of the year on the road, spreading a musical mantra that encourages "revolution of the spirit and courage of the heart." Along the way, they "pray for Neptune to whisper into our hearts in rhythm and rhyme." "That's why we're not afraid to embrace heavier emotions and topics, because we know they have to be explored to get to your bliss," explains Ananda. "We have no delusions of being famous. The music is a vessel for the message."

And the point is to convince the downtrodden to "free your dreams." If you're a painter, paint. If you're a singer, sing. If you're stuck in a dead-end job with a difficult boss, quit and go after your golden moment. "We've actually been a launching pad for a lot of little troubadours," claims Ananda. "We encourage people to pursue their dreams. Just do it. Whatever it is, set it free."

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