Words Eseosa Omorogbe
Having been compared to Eartha Kitt, Billie Holiday, and Cleo Laine, Cape Verdean/Portuguese singer Carmen Souza is slowly captivating the world of jazz.
Her soulful music has ensured her nomination for numerous international awards, such as the German Records Critics' Awards.
Despite being in the middle of her second tour in less than a year, the London-based songstress managed to find time to chat with ARISE about her Lusophone influences, international band and her love for Portuguese cakes.
You grew up in Portugal speaking Cape Verdean creole. How has this cultural variety influenced your work so far?
I draw a lot of influence from the Lusophone cultures, which are the countries that were colonised by the Portuguese; like Brazil, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Angola etc. As I grew up, a lot of these countries' music was regularly on TV or the radio, and because I was so curious about music I was also very connected to the music that was happening throughout the world.
Your first live album, London Acoustic Set, came out on January 20. In what way does the creative process when recording a live album differ from that of a studio album?
Performing to an audience is very different from when you only have a window and a technician in front of you. In studio you work by takes, during a live concert you only have one take. But a live recording is a very good experience, it puts the musician to the test on the spot. But I didn’t feel any pressure, because it is such a familiar environment and one I feel comfortable in.
You are donating 50 per cent of the CD sales towards SOS Children's Villages, Abraco and Unicef Brasil. How did that come about?
For me, to be helping these associations is very important because we are talking of human beings that are growing up and they need to feel supported and to have access to better conditions and environment so that they have the opportunity to discover their purpose in life, fly away and make the best of themselves. I believe that everyone has a purpose in life.
What can audiences expect from your ongoing tour?
They can expect a great variety of music from different backgrounds. The pianist is Jonathan Idiagbonya, who is from Nigeria/UK and a great musician that has been working with us for five years. His influences go from 1940s and 1970s jazz to Keith Jarrett etc. On drums we have Mauricio Zottarelli, who is from Brazil/New York. He is an amazing musician who has played with Eliane Elias and Hiromi.
On bass and double bass – and also as composer, producer and musical director – we have Theo Pas’cal, who is an amazing musician as well as a person, and we have been working together as a team for 10 years. We all have great fun playing together – music is something that we love to do – and I think that we have found a great team. I also like to look at the audience as a participative part of the concert, so they sing and interact with the band throughout the concert. And of course I think that people can expect good music, good vibe, good messages…
2012 is turning out to be a very busy year for you. Apart from your two albums and tour, what else do you have planned?
Thankfully it is busy, and thankfully there are a lot of projects in our heads. We have the tours, which will be very interesting because we are going to be travelling to a lot of countries and will be inviting local musicians wherever we go to play with us, so that brings a new breath of inspiration to the music. But the main project in our lives is music, so there is a lot of cooking going on.
Your first concerts in Cape Verde received rave reviews from the press and audience. How did the widespread appreciation from Cape Verdeans make you feel?
It was a good reception because this is a different way of hearing Cape Verdean music, especially for Cape Verdeans, but they received it very well. There were a lot of people that saw the music like an evolution of Cape Verdean music.
In our 10 Minutes With… Mayra Andrade, she recommended you as one of the Cape Verdean singers to look out for. Do you feel part of a Cape Verdean music scene?
Yes, I can say that I am part of the new generation of Cape Verdean music, but I go so far beyond the frontiers because I have so many diverse influences, like jazz, which by itself brings a whole different sound to the music because of the improvisational side of it. Every day music can sound different from yesterday’s concert.
How did you feel when you heard about the death of [legendary Cape Verdean singer] Cesária Évora? What do you think her legacy will be?
It was sad to hear about it, it was an empty kind of feeling but also a very thankful feeling for all that she did. She brought Cape Verde to the world, that’s why we sit here and talk about so many artists arising from Cape Verde. We can already see her legacy; it’s her music, it’s her influence on the new generations to come.
Favourite food Cachupa and Portuguese food, and Portuguese cakes
Favourite saying Love your brother, as you love yourself.
Favourite designer I don’t follow fashion trends; I like 1940s/1950s fashion.
Five things you can’t live without God, My family, my instruments, my music, Love
Name one thing people would be surprised to know about you I don’t think I have any strange things, maybe I like chocolate a bit too much!
Carmen Souza is appearing at London's Rich Mix as part of WOW (Women Of The world) Festival on March 15. carmensouza.com