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Interview: Carmen Souza


First of all, welcome to Turkey.

Carmen: Thank you!

We don’t know much about the group members actually. Yeah, we know about you but you have acoustic guitars, Fender Rhodes, acoustic bass, cajon, snare timbales,  brushes effects and lots of other instruments in your band. Can you tell us a little bit about your band?

Carmen: Well, I myself play the guitar and the Fender Rhodes and there’s the bass guitarist. He plays the drummer bass and the electric bass. He is the person who has been working with me for ten years and we compose together, we have been growing together musicly for a long time. And he is the person with who I share the vision of music and the message of all. And we have Jonathan Idiagbonya who is Nigerian but he lives in the UK. He went to the UK when he was young. We have on drums and percussion from Italy, he also lives in the UK, Davidi Jovanini.

It’s a nice coincidence just like you. I was planning to ask this question later. You are from Cape Verde but you were born in Lisbon. You have the group members just like you who have the same history. Having the roots back in Africa, is it a coincidence or do you find yourself lucky to have a group like that.

Carmen: Well, I find myself really lucky because we all have different backgrounds that can be heard in our music. Because I like to give the music to the musicians but I also give them some space to create as well to bring their background to the music. Normally we all identify a lot with the music, with the message. It’s not just we are session players. They identify and they see themselves in the message of the music which is very important you know. Because if you have someone next to you that’s not quite insides of what you are really doing. Which is something that I like them to know when they come to play, we play music, It’s about this and that and I have been lucky to have these people. They support a lot.

And it really helps you on stage.

Yes, of course it does.

This isn’t your first time in Turkey as you mentioned before but this program is a little bit busier than the previous one. Ankara, Bursa, İstanbul and later on you will go on with İzmir. How is time passing by in Turkey, İstanbul? Have you had fun or any difficulties?

Carmen: Traveling, traveling a lot. (Laughs…) But it’s been good you know. It’s always good to come to different places and see different environments, see different views. We have been to Bursa-Really fun.

It’s my hometown by the way.

We also had some  fun in Ankara which is a very governmental type of city, quite different from Istanbul. And now we are here. We have been going to the Taksim Square.

You like Taksim?

Carmen: Yeah, it’s full of energy and  I’m looking forward to know İzmir.

It’s a beautiful city actually. So far, musically has this tour met your expectations? How is it?

Carmen: Yes, It’s been very good. Because although I am singing in a different language, you know, always trying in my concerts to let people when I am singing about just with simple phrases. People are really perceptive, really warm. There’s different kind of music because I know that you can know how a music goes a little bit further. It’s a bit different because it’s a covered combination of jazz and Cape Verdean music. So it’s not completely traditional Cape Verdean music. What people are used to listen. But people listen very well.

We don’t miss if you want to share your feelings. We just grasp it. (Laughs…) Apart from music, have you noticed anything strange in Turkey? In İstanbul?

Carmen: No! (Laughs…) Should I? (laughs…)

Well, sometimes, maybe, on the streets. Have you ever listened to Turkish music? You have got any ideas?

Carmen: Yeah, these last days that I have been in Turkey, when I turned on the TV, sometimes there are like traditional music playing. I find it very very interesting. The way the voices go with the music… You know it’s beautiful. Also the bars on the street are beautiful. Everytime I hear them, I just stop to listen to them.

It’s a city full of music. And going back to your career, 2005 was the Womad Festival date which was your first international concert. Since then what has changed in your life or do you find yourself lucky about that? Can you tell us?

Carmen: I find myself blessed. Because that was the very beginning of all of this.The reason I’m here right now. And it was very special. I find it very special. A very special date. Because I found myself doing my own music which I was talking to Theo the other day. We are so blessed to travelall over the world with our own music. You know we are not doing anybody’s music but doing our own music and expressing things to people and we receive them. It has been very blessing, you know. I personally believe in something that I serve life and music before expect life and music to serve me. That’s what I have been doing.

Your mission.

Carmen: Yeah! So it’s been a life of giving and taking. It’s very good.

Your biggest inspiration is Theo Pascal. What are your feelings towards him? You have been working with him over ten years. What can you tell about him? As a partner? As a teacher?

Carmem: It’s nice. I have told you you know. Making music from the beginning was all very natural, very spontaneous. We met then and we are here now. Because we just thing about  things. We get into the studio. If that day it’s not coming, we just leave it. But we find it very blessing going around these cities, experiencing things together. Because these are the things that we can bring to our music. And we share a vision of our music, a message. The way we want to touch people with our message. Because it’s not just a life of taking the taxies and going from venue to venue and just performing and going away. It’s something bigger. We believe that God gave us this talent and we are on a mission of spreading our music and spreading this message. So it’s much bigger than  we are.

And for 2010 you have released Protegid. Looking back, are you happy with what you have done? I mean are you satisfied with this album?

Carmen: Yes, yes I am and I am satisfied with the way things are going. Because when you make an album. There’s music there but when you put in our life, then the music grows immensely.  And sometimes the music that you hear on the CD is probably not the same in the live concerts. That’s the beauty of jazz. It’s the beauty of improvisation. Each day you can make your music sound different  a bit and that’s very good for me. You know because you grow, you taste different things everyday. You feel tired, or energetic. But you always have a different feeling every day.

According to the feelings, you perform the song.

Carmen: Yeah…

Your recordings were done in mobile studios in different cities. Actually it seemed pretty interesting for us. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Carmen: We were traveling the world as usual and we didn’t have any time to go to the studio. So we brought the lap top and an audio interface and good microphones. As we went through the cities, the countries, we were in rooms with good acoustics and for example in Canada we recorded with a nice musician with who we had played before. He is a percussionist. He is from Iran. He is just great. A great musician in Canada. Also Omar Souza. He recorded in New York. And in France we had a Palestinian group… you know it’s multicultural…(Laughs…) ıt’s an album of multicultural identity.And it was very good.

That’s why you are praised everywhere. Your family is from Cape Verde but you were born in Lisbon. Although you weren’t born there, you have the feeling the music inside and you are capable of combining it with the contemporary jazz music. How could you manage that? I mean combining two cultures, two different styles?

Carmen: The people from Cape Verde who live in Europe or The States or elsewhere.  They live inside and still bring the whole cultural aspect of their own. So they were surrounded by the music of Cape Verde, the whole community, the food and everything. It’s like they build little Cape Verde. And so for a child that was born in this environment, although you are not in Cape Verde it still feels like it. And that’s how I grew up listening to all Cape Verdean records.  Also listening to jazz as well. So the mix was very natural. Something that I grew up with. I also was inspired by a great musician, a pianist who was active in the 1950s-1960s in New York. He had Cape Verdean origin. So I included in Protegid “ A Song orm y Father”. Because it has all the Cape Verdean feeling and jazz. So it was very enriching to me. Growing in such an environment and being able to combine these two worlds together. When I studied the Cape Verdean music, there are some pentatonic scales which are similar in blues of African slaves. The music when people sang ehen working in the fields.

Actually I need to be asking this. For what are you making music? It’s not just music. It’s a different philosophy within yourself. What is the reason for making music? Is it your talent or you were born to this world to make music?

Carmen: I think I was born, it’s a talent given. I believe this every day. It’s something that I discovered that I like this.  So I do this every day.

Your connection with the audience is always beautiful and inspiring as well. Although we don’t understand many of the songs, we do have a feeling of being hopeful and joyful. Actually how do you manage that? Do you do it on purpose?

Carmen: It’s something that  I live for you know. If we are not hopeful, then there’s no point. I live for peace and  being in harmony with people . It’s to be different. Making difference…

That’s why I wanted to ask what kind of messages do these songs carry?

Carmen: They carry different messages, but you know very practical messages on humanity. Life is so practical but we tend to confuse it all. It’s very practical. What you give to life is what is going to be coming back. When I turn on the TV, I see Kaddafi or the the thing in Egypt. Those people were moved by hope. That’s the only thing that they have. But people live in a more material world. The more I have, the more I want.

I would like to ask about your new projects. Do you have a new album on the way or we know that you are going to Belgium, Germany… what are the new projects?

Carmen: Well, I have a lot of tours right now. But there are a few things that I have in my mind which is a project which I search for other different  types of influences. I don’t want to talk much. Because it is still ambiguous. It’s a project that I am developing with Theo Pascal. Also we are exploring more of Portuguese history also Cape Verde. Because Portuguese people travelled everywhere. They were colonised by the Morocans. So there’s a lot of history, not very much known. Also there were some Jews living in Cape Verde. So we are getting this whole history together.

Summer is comig and are there any festivals that you will be attending? Any peculiar name in mind?

Carmen:  I  that I will be in the  US in great jazz festivals. I am very excited to share my music but also to be among great artists. I had this experience last year in North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. It was great.  Be there alongside with the pianist Jerome, Diana Croll was there too…

Your references are all legendary names that you are influenced and inspired by. Are there any contemporaries that you listen to?

Carmen: Well, I listen to a lot of music. I especially like the old jazz. Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holliday, Nina Simone. I listen to  a lot of music of the day like Neo Jerome. Jazz pianist. She is great. And so many others.

Your first song in the album, “M’sta Li Ma Bo” although we don’t understand the words, it’s  really charming, promising, calm and hopeful. What does it tell, can you briefly explain that?

Carmen: It has a great history. Musically it has a rthym that was brought y the Polish Mazurka. It also has a message that says “I am here for you”. What I mean is we don’t have to feel alone. We have people around us that help us through the journey. We also have God whom we can trust. So that’s the main message.

So you explain your whole philosophy in one song. Thank you for the oportunity of meeting you and having this interview with you.


Interview and photos by: Selda Gümüş

Carmen Souza: Myspace


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