Q&A with Denmark-based singer Sahra da Silva, effortlessly balances at the crossroads between a lot of different genres

"To be courageous, kind, respect myself and others and make sure I'm surrounded with good people. It's always important to be kind and meet people where they are, but also important to set boundaries for yourself and take charge of your own life, music and career."

Sahra da Silva: Music Crossroads

Copenhagen based Sahra da Silva has been an established part of the Danish music scene for more than a decade. She has performed with countless Danish soul and blues artists and in various constellations. Newest releases include the singles "Just A Bit Crazy", "Learn To Love Again" and "One Way" all three of them in cooperation with producer and multi instrumentalist Laust Krudtmejer Nielsen. Together they will present an EP in April and a full length studio album in November 2023. Earlier releases include the 2020 critically acclaimed album #blueswoman, which features a mix of Sahra's own tracks, as well as a few interpretations of old soul and blues classics.

(Sahra da Silve / Photo by Sille Bovedt)

Sahra has been nominated for the Danish Music Award, Blues 4 times and was in 2022 chosen to represent Denmark in European Blues Challenge 2023. One of Sahra's great strengths is that she easily and effortlessly balances at the crossroads between soul, jazz and blues, and she has rightly been described by music critics as a pure ‘powerhouse’, due to her powerful voice and her dedicated stage performance. She masters a dynamic that is rarely seen and can easily pierce any heart with her subtle tone and strong presence. Sahra da Silva will be the Danish participation at the European Blues Challenge, Chorzów/Poland (June 1-3, 2023).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues, Jazz and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I'm not sure whether the jazz/soul/blues has influenced my views of the world or if I'm drawn to it because of my view of the world. It has definitely helped me become better at opening up and expressing my feelings both on the stage and in real life. And probably due to that I have become better at understanding other people as well. Especially with the blues, it's hard to hide behind fancy chord progressions and production - even melodies. For me the blues is about opening up your heart and sharing what's in there, without necessarily using that many words or tools.

I guess I've fallen in love with a genre that is often misunderstood and not always the easiest to break through with - but I have always followed my heart and I'm happy to be where I am today. I'm very passionate about showing the world what blues can be as well and I'm experimenting a lot with taking the traditional blues into something more contemporary. To me the blues is a feeling - a way of expressing oneself, a lifestyle and a lot of aesthetics.

How do you describe your sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Soul, blues and jazz are definitely the genres that I love and have been working with the most, but I like to find inspiration anywhere and I do listen to and enjoy all kinds of music. I grew up with a lot of country/folk, blues-rock and old pop/rock. The soul music and old school blues is something I discovered on my own - and especially through my many years working at Mojo Blues Bar (Copenhagen). I've always loved music with strong emotions and I'm very drawn to the complexity of power vs. fragileness, which I feel is what the blues and soul is very much about. Artists like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Big Maybelle, LaVern Baker, Big Mama Thornton, Otis Redding, Willie Dixon  (Chess Records in general) Billie Holiday and Fiona Apple (amongst many others!) have been a big influence.

My creative drive comes from wanting to sing and perform. The stage is a space where I feel comfortable and forget about the world outside (that can sometimes be a bit hard to handle), where I don't have to worry about being too much and where I can freely express my feelings and tell my stories, but also a place where I have the power to control how much I want share. For me it doesn't necessarily have to be with original material, but I like to put my own words and feelings into songs and find a way to put all of my inspiration into small little frames of who I am and how I see the world.

"I have a big interest in and love for the past, the old stories, artists and blues traditions in general. I still love to perform the good old ones like they sounded back then, retell the stories and inform people of my inspiration from all these amazing musicians, but I also like to push the limits for what you can call blues." (Sahra da Silve / Photo by Sille Bovedt)

Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

The blues is pure emotions and honest. It's powerful and fragile at the same time and it's accessible to everyone and easy to understand. I think it talks directly to us all - across age, gender, social class and different backgrounds.

What would you say characterizes Danish blues scene in comparison to other European scenes?

I honestly don't know much about the European blues scene, yet, and therefore I find it hard to compare. We are a small country and the public radio in general is very safe and mainstream minded. We have a pretty solid scene for jazz in Denmark, whereas the blues scene is quite small. With that said that we have a lot of enthusiastic and hard working jazz and blues unions all over the country and we do have a very rich environment for live music in general. Also the standard and quality of music here is generally very high within all genres of music, I think. There's also a great interest and support for original music, even at the smaller venues and clubs - especially in Copenhagen, where I am based.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

It's so easy to blissfully romanticize the past. Especially within a genre that is so based on tradition and can easily turn into everything else by the slidest change of sound and aesthetics. It's also easy to fear that it will disappear in modern technology and that we have to preserve it as it has always been, but I think it's a genre that will always be here, both in the traditional form and as the basis for most contemporary rhythmic music. It's so natural and our whole way of understanding music is based on the blues.

I have a big interest in and love for the past, the old stories, artists and blues traditions in general. I still love to perform the good old ones like they sounded back then, retell the stories and inform people of my inspiration from all these amazing musicians, but I also like to push the limits for what you can call blues. At least with my own music, and I hope that it can open some doors for more people to enjoy the old treasures, understand where it comes from and what it's all about.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                        (Sahra da Silve / Photo by Sille Bovedt)

To be courageous, kind, respect myself and others and make sure I'm surrounded with good people. It's always important to be kind and meet people where they are, but also important to set boundaries for yourself and take charge of your own life, music and career.

Do something about your dreams! - even though you will have to make a lot of mistakes - or simply just be unlucky sometimes. For every mistake you make, there's a lesson learned and if you keep trying you will see that things happen. Also it's never as bad as your worst fears or as good as your most desired expectations.

For me it's also being independent. I have worked with a lot of different people in different projects and constellations. It has taught me a lot about people, genres and ways to do things. It has made me grow a lot, musically and as a person, to be curious, open minded and willing to work with new people and try new things. That sometimes requires ending things or collaborations, to make space for new projects or focus on something specific. Also independence doesn't mean to work alone, but to be able to choose what and who you want to work with.

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