Interview: Sara Lugo- Strengthen Your Minds
05/12/2011 by Valentin Zill
Sara Lugo, the offspring of a highly musical family with roots both in Puerto Rico and Germany, has just released her intriguing debut album What About Love (Soulfire/Roughtrade/Oneness). High time to let Sara, a personalization of niceness and humbleness, have her say. A talk on her musical roots and the origination of her first album.
What brought you into music, Sara?
I started knowing and loving music through my mom. She always put us to sleep singing us songs. That's where it all started. When my brothers and I were kids my mom would sing with us a lot. When she didn't sing with us I used to listen to Kids Praise, these American kids cassettes. I just totally fell in love with them. All day long I'd sit down and press rewind and just keep playing that stuff over and over. And then of course my brother Nathan, he used to turn up his stereo, his sound system, he turned up the reggae music. For a couple of weeks I would try to rebel with my radio but it didn't really work. I started loving reggae and from there it went on and on and on...
Did you get formal musical education?
I had like one and a half years of voice lessons, but it's not that much really. I should take some more... I didn't get any other musical education, no.
When did you realize you wanted to become a professional singer?
That's a good question. I'm not sure when I realized that I wanted to become a professional singer. It just happened. I just kept on singing, and singing was pretty much the only thing I stuck to till now. At some point I just knew that I'm gonna be singing for the rest of my life. That might have been at the age of eight or sometime round that age.
Other than Macka B's teddy bear song (Squeeze Me), which reggae artists had the biggest influence on you?
Other than Macka B, artists like Burning Spear for example, or Steel Pulse! Israel Vibration and Bob Marley, of course. Fat Freddy's Drop is definitely also a really big inspiration for me. Katchafire is also on the list, Damian Marley, Cultura Profética, Morgan Heritage... So many good musicians out there (laughing). There's a whole lot of musicians who had influence on me and my music. Too many to mention them all!
Which artists from other genres influenced you? You can't have grown up on reggae only.
We have Erykah Badu, she's my favorite singer. Lauryn Hill of course is a great singer. 08001, it‘s a Spanish project with different musicians which I totally dig. India Arie, Ryan Leslie, Anthony David, Stevie Wonder... A lot of different stuff actually. It's not only roots I listen to, it's kinda mixed up.
You've been a household name in the German reggae scene for years. Why did it take you so long to release your first album?
It took me so long to finish my first album, because I wasn't ready yet. I had to learn a lot about myself, about songwriting, about singing, about composing music, about music and life in general. So we took the time. That way I could grow mentally and musically to present an album that truly comes from the heart and presents my style in the best possible way. With songs that talk about the things that I want to tell my listeners. Emotions that they might know, thoughts that they might share, questions that they might also be asking. And also just a vibe that I want the people to feel... Now after all this time of working on several things – we finished it! And here it is: What About Love!
What was your mother's reaction when she listened to What About Love the first time?
She was very emotional, she loves it. She's totally excited about it. She's so proud of us – my brothers and me! My mommy... I must say she's a great supporter. What can your fans expect from your first album?
It's definitely something that's nice to listen to, it's good music. Talking instruments and vocals. We took a lot of time to make sure that it's really nice music. You can probably hear a lot of little details when you listen to this CD. It's a CD that you can listen to over and over again and every time discover new details... a delay, a nice guitar riff, a beautiful piano line and other nice things. For those who just want to enjoy the music, those people can just do that. For those who want to listen to the lyrics and discover my music in a deeper way, I hope that I can give these people something to think about that they can hopefully use in their lives.
As a Munich-based artist, would you say Munich's a better place for live reggae music than others in Germany?
I wouldn't exactly say that, no. I mean in Berlin you also have really good music, in Cologne you have really good live reggae. There's definitely a lot of good live reggae coming from Munich. We have Umberto Echo, who does great dub. He doesn't do many live shows of his own music, but whoever he does the mixing for the sound‘s always great! Jahcoustix does really nice live shows. We have Oneness originally coming from Munich, who produce mad live riddims. We have the Next Generation Family who are rather new on the scene and really do a great job playing original roots rock tunes mixed with modern roots and also do a good job as backing band. Jamaram, they're not only a reggae band, but they definitely also do reggae and they play a lot of live shows. We have Uwe Kaa who knows how to rock the audience... There's really a lot of good live reggae coming from Munich but also from other parts of Germany. So I wouldn't really say that Munich is a better place for live reggae music.
A surprising number of top-ranking European reggae musicians supports you on What About Love. How do you get these connections?
I've just been into the reggae scene for so long - this might sound like I'm an old lady... But it actually feels like a long time - that I met many people. When it came to recording the album, I just did a few phone calls and asked who's on the boat, you know. And then we just did music with the people who wanted to join in. That kind of stuff – I like working with many different musicians - it just happens because it's supposed to happen. It's music, it happens and it makes things happen.
Would you tell us the story behind Locked Away?
The song was produced by Loomis Green, who plays guitar for Jan Delay, a pretty famous mainstream artist here in Germany. I was at a festival three years ago at my friend's food stand, the Sandwichmaker. They have this little sound system there, so we always have jam sessions. So that's what I did that morning, I sang a couple of songs. Afterwards I went outside to sit in the sun. And as I was sitting there, this big black dude comes and sits down next to me. He asked me "hey, who was singing a couple of minutes ago?" And I was like, well, me. Then he told me he's Jan Delay's guitar player and that he also produces songs and he would like to work with me because he liked my voice. He had been in the nightliner when he heard me sing and then came out. That's how that song happened. It's funny that we recorded the song exactly one year later, while the same festival was happening again. It was a great experience. Probably the best musical schooling I ever had. Loomis produced the beat, the lyircs and the vocal melodies. It was a very new thing to me, to have someone tell me what to sing and exactly how to sing it. Working on such a production helps you to put your ego aside and open up in a completely new way. Recording the song took us three days. Loomis took my vocals to a next level. He taught me how to use my voice in ways i had never used or known it before. I'm very thankful for this experience.
You've been featured on Greenyard Records Design Riddim selection alongside artists such as Anthony B, Burru Banton and Konshens. What did you think when you learned you were gonna be featured on this selection?
It was a nice thing to find out that I was gonna be on the same selection with all these great artists. It was pretty surprising to me, because I got the riddim from my producer, Umberto Echo. He gave it to me and I voiced it because I felt it. The actual producer of the riddim (Daddy Zigo) was totally blown away when he heard the song. He decided to put it on the selection. When I got the riddim, I didn't know it was for a selection. I was really surprised and happy when I found out that they wanted to release it. Your album features combinations with Lutan Fyah and Naptali. What was it like to work together with them?
It was fun to work with both of them, Naptali and Lutan Fyah. Both singers are very good at what they're doing and also fulla vibes.
The song with Naptali, we recorded it about three or four years ago. Time flies... Naptali was in Germany, and he came over to visit me and we were just listening to music. I was playing him some of my stuff, he was playing me some of his stuff. We were just playing some music, checking out the vibe. And then I happened to click on an old folder with layouts. I started recording this idea of And they Cry some years ago in Berlin with Ganjaman, he played me the riddim and we recorded the hook. So I just had this super-rough layout and I played it to Naptali. He felt it straight away. He was loving the vibe. So we figured, let's do the song together. And we got all the tracks from Ganjaman, we went to the studio, and finished the song. It was pretty much fun. Afterwards we had Josie from Gentleman's Evolution band play drums and we added some more instruments... It turned out to be a deep one drop that people all over the world feel. Naptali also released it on his debut album Long Journey.
The one with Lutan Fyah was really nice, too. It wasn't planned to be a combination with Lutan Fyah in the first place. I wanted David Hinds on it - from Steel Pulse. I had already spoken to him about this collabo, but for some reason it didn't happen. It wasn't meant to be.
One day my producer Umberto Echo called me and said "Sara, Lutan Fyah is in Munich. He's there with Fyah T and the Next Generation Family. How about you go meet him. Maybe you wanna do the feature on They Know Not Love with Lutan Fyah." I figured why not, let's go check it out. To be honest, at that time I didn't really know much about Lutan Fyah, I had heard the name a couple of times but I wasn't familiar with his music. I didn't really think that I wanted to do the combination with him but I figured OK, let's go and check out the vibe and see what it's like. When I got there he was in the booth recording. He was kind of tired already. When I showed him my song I told him about the idea of the song. I only wanted to do it with him if he‘s really feeling it, otherwise I was gonna do it with someone else. And I wanted to hear some sort idea first before we recorded
anything or before we really settled the deal. He finished recording the track for Oneness and was watching animal movies on YouTube, kinda chilling out and calming down. I already thought it was not gonna happen. I was sitting in the in the kitchen, he was in the other room. At that moment we had the song running just for him to catch a vibe. (Sara imitates, irritatedly sounding) "OK..." All of a sudden he comes into the kitchen and announces "alright, I'm ready". Alright. So he went in the booth and he started, he kinda felt it I guess. It was funny because the song was playing and he just kept coming out of the booth letting everyone know "Yo she bad! She badda than me!" I was laughing. I wanted to record the song and he kept coming out.
It was really nice to work with him. I had a pretty precise picture of the song in my head. I knew what I wanted it to be like. I had to send him back into the booth a couple of times to make him do what I really wanted it to be. It had to be something deep, so he really had to get into it, really feel it and really bring the message across. And that's what he did. I knew I wanted him to tell the people to really listen, I wanted him to get their attention with his voice and tone. He's a clever person and I knew I could tell him exactly what to do - a thing that I had learned from working with Loomis - and he would understand. Also as an artist he's good enough to take orders and deliver what is wanted. Benni (Zecher) from Oneness Records was there too. Benny was kinda freaking out, telling me to stop telling Lutan what to do, knowing how some Jamaicans can get vex if you tell them what to do. He was like "OK Sara, it's fine now! Don't send him back in, please don't do it!" But it was
totally fine, because hey, it's my song! I know what I wanted it to be like and in the end we got exactly what it was supposed to be. It was great fun to record this song (laughing) - and nice vibes, too. I must say, Lutan is a nice person, a very heartical brother and a talented and hard working artist.
One of the most touching songs of the album is Nothing To Worry. What inspired you to write this one?
The inspiration to do this song... I got that inspiration while I was in Atlanta, visiting my ex-boyfriend. That was at a time in my life where I was pretty insecure and pretty much not knowing what I want from life. It also was a phase where I started to believe in God again and started growing roots. I was very insecure in my belief. I was always worrying about everything. Like really worrying about everything and feeling down and depressed and frustrated. And Steve just kept telling me "Sara, there's nothing to worry about!" That's when I wrote that song. When I actually got the message and when it really made this clicky thing in my head and I understood it all of a sudden. Cause really, no matter how bad a situation is, if you have faith in God there is nothing to worry about, cause He will take care and He will not let you down. That's when I wrote this song. I first did it on the Nylon riddim, and since we couldn't get the original tracks for our own mix, we figured the song was good and I wanted it to be on the album, so we simply produced a new riddim to it. That was amazing. It was a great thing to see how music builds itself together or how music creates itself, grows and just happens in front of your eyes. You‘re touring Germany currently, doing the warm-up for Jamaram. What reactions do you get from their audience?
I must say that the reactions on the shows that I did with Jamaram were really, really good. I mean really good. After every show so many people came up telling me that they really felt it, thanking me for the music. I was pretty blown away, I was really flashed by the reactions of the people. It was really nice. Higher vibes.
Do you meet people there who showed up rather to see you than Jamaram?
No, I think the music that I do is somewhat close to the music that Jamaram does. From a certain vibes aspect, I think. People who like Jamaram's music mostly like my music, too. And the other way around. I guess most people came to see Jamaram. But the combination Jamaram & Sara Lugo works very well. Most of the people who listen to Jamaram, like my music, too. But there were a few people who told me they came to the show to see me (smiles).
You've already been rehearsing with your own backing band. How did you recrute your musicians?
Well, the people I work with come from this big music family thing. It's like there's a pool of musicians. A bunch of good musicians. I just called them and asked who would like to play with me. And now I have my band. Martin (Rohac) from the One Drop Band on the drums. Daniel Rickler on guitar, he's from Offbeat Ambassador. Flaco (Francisco Mazon) on bass. And Sebastian Hopfner who used to play keys for Jamaram. That's the new combo. The guys rock! I can't wait to play the upcoming shows with them.
When are we finally gonna see you touring playing two-hour-slots with them?
I hope soon! We're just setting up an own tour, organizing all of that. I have my own booker now, woho! We're gonna have a What About Love tour in autumn. Are you playing festivals this year? Yes, I'm playing at the Summerjam and at the Chiemsee Reggae Summer this year. And hopefully we still get some more festival dates in...
From a fan's perspective, which festival is your favorite?
Rototom Sunsplash is one of my favorites. The lineup is good, the people are really, really nice and open-minded and open-hearted. The whole vibe of the whole festival is really, really irie. You go there and you just feel the way you should feel between so many other people. It's like a big family. You don't know all the people but it's a very warm and close connection you feel with almost everybody. That's what I love about Rototom. Rototom is my number one favorite festival. Then we have Bersenbrück, Reggae Jam. I like that one a lot, too. From the vibes it's similar to Rototom but it's a smaller. The line up is good, too. The people and the vibes are good. Summerjam is alright. The line up is good. And the people are alright, you know. I would say Rototom and Bersenbrück are my favorite festivals.
Please promise us we won't have to wait another couple of years for your second album.
I try to promise. I'm definitely planning to do the next album at some point. I don't know when it's gonna be... But there's definitely more music coming! I did a combination with Zuri, he's a Spanish singer. He does a mix of reggae and flamenco, it's pretty awesome. We did this dancehall tune which is really nice. We were both kinda surprised how nice it turned out to be. That one is definitely gonna be playing in summer, I hope. It's a good summer tune. I'll let you know as soon as it's about to be released. It could really work well.
Last word is up to you, Sara.
Hopefully people will feel the music and feel the love and spread the love and start being nicer to each other, and really start working on themselves to change the world for the better. We can only start in small steps but we need to unite, because the things that are happening in this world right now are getting worse and worse. We really need to get together to change that. And we need to be prepared for what's coming. I just hope that people realize that. And maybe the music can help to make the people aware of these serious times. Maybe through the music they will start to understand and stop to look away. Like Dezarie sings in her song: “Strengthen your minds, we're living in serious times!” More love and blessings to the world.