Interview: Q&A with Sara Correia – Exploring Chelas, Liberdade and the Essence of Fado (December 2023)

Emerging as a defining voice in contemporary fado, Sara Correia has carved a niche for herself with her authentic and resonant style. Born and raised in the Chelas neighbourhood of Lisbon, Sara’s artistry has been shaped by her surroundings, a theme echoed in her latest album Liberdade. In this album, Sara brings to life the spirit of a seasoned fadista, skillfully weaving her own experiences with the time-honoured elements of fado.

During a recent Q&A, Sara shared insights about her musical background. She discussed how her life in Chelas shaped her approach to music and highlighted the important role women have played in the fado genre. She also talked about her hopes for the future of fado and how she sees it evolving.

Looking forward, Sara is preparing for a return to London with a performance at Cadogan Hall on the 17th of February 2024. Organised by Como No!, this event is expected to be a showcase of Sara’s deep connection with fado and her unique take on the genre.

Your voice has been described as capturing the essence of saudade, the emotional core of fado. Can you delve into the personal connection you feel with fado and how it shapes your identity as an artist?

Fado is the heart and soul of my identity as an artist, it’s how I perceive and express myself. Even if I sing something that’s not fado, the way I sing will bring it towards the genre. I’m a fadista (a fado singer) ever since I started singing. My personal connection with fado starts at a very young age, as my aunt also sang fado. I attended fado school and learned the method for singing my truth, which is what I always do. If my voice is perceived as embodying saudade, I feel deeply honored by that assessment.

Throughout its history, Fado has consistently featured a prominent presence of women musicians, enriching its unique character. As a distinguished female artist in fado, could you delve into the pivotal role of women in moulding the identity of this genre? Additionally, what are your aspirations for the future role of women in both preserving and propelling the rich tradition of fado into the future?

Fado has a strong female presence, with the prime example of Amália Rodrigues, the most well-known fadista and fado ambassador, but also Beatriz da Conceição and Lucinda do Carmo, among many more. Women, I believe, interpret the reoccurring themes of fado – saudade, nostalgia, jelousy, and everyday tales – with a broader colour palette because they are based in emotions. Nonetheless, we must note that the majority of fado authors are men, making it a highly balanced music genre.

My hopes for the future role of women in fado are that we can commemorate our foremothers – Severa, Amália, Teresa Tarouca, Maria da Nazaré, and so many more – by singing fado with the authenticity it deserves.

Growing up in the multi-ethnic working-class neighbourhood of Chelas, where traditional and contemporary music expressions coexisted, how did this diverse cultural environment influence your musical style and expression?

Growing up in Chelas shaped me as a person and an artist. The neighbourhood and all of its lessons are not lost on me; they are kept, celebrated and sung for future generations. In Chelas, other music genres like as hip hop evolved alongside fado and had an impact in my life. The song “Chelas,” written by Carolina Deslandes and inspired by many conversations we’ve had over the years we’ve been friends, captures this sense of belonging and places fado where it belongs: on the streets, owned by the people, far from the glamour and glitz we’ve seen it represented in recent decades. Fado is a street song from Lisbon that tells of a shared memory and feeling that the Portuguese have without being able to articulate it.

Collaboration plays a significant role in your music, evident in your work with various songwriters and musicians. How do these collaborations enhance your artistic vision, and what do you value most in the creative exchange with fellow artists?

Collaboration is essential in fado. Not only with authors but also with the musicians who perform with me. There’s a sense of a shared truth that cannot be overlooked, whether I’ singing someone else’s lyrics or having my voice accompanied by a Portuguese guitar the feeling must be there. In Liberdade, my most recent album, I’ve had the privilege of singing some of the most amazing authors in Portuguese music but only authors that know me very well and/or poems that speak directly to my heart. First and foremost, Diogo Clemente, my musical director and author of songs such as “Era o Adeus” and “Marias Na Terra”. But also Carminho, Pedro Abrunhosa, Joana Espadinha, Tiago Bettencourt, Mila Dores, Carolina Deslandes, Nuno Figueiredo, Santos Moreira and the legendary José Afonso.  

Fado has a rich history and tradition in Portugal. How do you balance staying true to the roots of fado while bringing a modern and personal touch to your music, as seen in your latest album, Liberdade?

Tradition, I feel, must be honoured and cherished, but a singer must also bring his or her honesty and authenticity to the table. The balance you mention is attained by these two exchanging and driving forces, whether I’m singing a contemporary or traditional author it’s my personal touch and interpretation that brings their words to life. You stay true to fado by being true.

Liberdade has received worldwide acclaim. How did the creative process for this album differ from your previous works, and what themes or stories were particularly important for you to convey in this collection of songs?

This record is the one where I’ve felt more in control of everything. From choosing the songs to interpret, to the recording and production process, I had a say in everything, so I feel Liberdade as the perfect expression of my fado today. Also I got to do a very careful song selection and chose only the poems and songs that resonated with me.

You described Liberdade as the exact album you wanted to create, made without pressure and drawing from fado’s melodic language. Can you share more about the creative process and the significance of crafting an album that feels more authentically you?

As always, the creative process is a partnership with Diogo Clemente, my musical director and music producer. We carefully select the songs, keeping in mind not only my voice and style, but also the message and meaning the songs should express at this point in my career. Authenticity is important to us; thus it was always on our minds while the creative process unfolded. Never loosing that North star meant crafting a record that is, at its core, authentic.

“Chelas”, your latest single with features lyrics by Carolina Deslandes, is a deeply personal homage to your borough and roots. Could you share the personal significance of this song and elaborate on your connection with your native borough?

Over the years of my friendship with Carolina we’ve had numerous conversations about Chelas. Being from different backgrounds and neighbourhoods shapes each one of us and this empathy that Carolina has, of hearing my tales of Chelas and translating them to a song I never asked for is a true testament of what our friendship is. Carolina was able to write a song true to my feelings, experience, and growth in Chelas and wrote in as an homage to a place means so much to me. Besides this, Carolina understood and expressed clearly my roots and how proud I am of being from Chelas – this was a statement and not something to be hidden.  

The music video for “Chelas” was filmed in the Zona J. What significance does this specific area hold for you, and how does it visually complement the message you aim to convey through the song?

This music video could only be filmed in Chelas. Zona J is, arguably, the most iconic area of the neighbourhood. It’s variety, colourful scenario, the confluence of Lusophony as a whole into a single place and then the urban beat of hip hop contrasting transforms Chelas into the cultural melting pot and inspiration it is.

Apart from Chelas, your music is deeply rooted in Lisbon at large, serving as a profound expression of Portuguese culture. How do you relate to the vibrant music scene of the city? Furthermore, are there any musicians or bands from your city and country that you would recommend we listen to?

Chelas also has a strong hip-hop tradition and heritage, so there’s that urban side that is embedded as an influence in me. Lisboa is a cultural melting pot, crossing genres and cultures, and those can be heard in artists such as Dino D’Santiago or Slow J, for example.  

As an artist, what are some of the musical influences or genres that you currently find inspiring or interesting? Are there any artists or styles that you’ve been listening to lately?

I’m a very eclectic listener! I can listen to Israel Fernández’s flamenco or to Billie Eilish, who I truly admire, in the same afternoon!

Having performed in various settings, from intimate local fado clubs to international concert stages, how do you adapt your performances to different audiences and environments?

Audiences attending fado concerts are deemed to be special. Someone who’s either a music lover or a discoverer of a genre whose poetry they might not understand because the language is unknown but choose to feel the depth of the emotions conveyed are, at best, empaths, and lovers. As a performer I deeply respect my audience, so I’ll always do my best and give everything I have on stage, so whether it’s an intimate performance or a concert stage I’ll deliver my best.

You’re set to perform at Cadogan Hall in London in February, returning less than a year after your acclaimed debut in the British capital. What can attendees expect from your upcoming show, and can you share your thoughts and feelings about playing here in London?

London is so special to me; I was so well received in my debut here and felt people really understood my fado. It makes coming back as a sort of homecoming and I look forward to the show. As for what people can expect, they can expect a full surrender of my voice and interpretation.   

If you were introducing your music to someone who had never experienced fado before, how would you describe your sound and the emotional journey they can expect to embark on when listening to your albums or attending your performances?

Fado is to be experience with an open heart and a willingness to dive into an array of emotions. It’s by design a soundscape that goes deep into feelings and emotions, be ready for a rollercoaster of a ride!



Sara Correia will be performing at Cadogan Hall in London on the 17th of February 2024.
Tickets can be purchased at this link

Her most recent album, Liberdade, was released in October via Universal and is now available HERE