Interview with Hugo Soares, Playing for Change Artist

Hugo Soares

1. What motivated you to join Playing for Change?

It was chance that led me to join Playing for Change. I was living in Barcelona, and I went on a trip to Brazil; when I came back, my musician friends told me that an American producer was there. We went to his farewell party, and that's when Clarence Bekker introduced me to Mark Johnson. We made a recording of Pemba Laka, and then I started to participate in those tours that they did in Madrid, in Barcelona... and I started to meet several musicians and songwriters from South Africa, Congo, and other countries.

2. You were born in Angola and immigrated to Brazil with your family due to war. Has this experience and your upbringing influenced you as an artist? Did it play a role in shaping your musical style?

We actually immigrated to South America. We stayed in several countries (Paraguay, Chile, Brazil...) and then we went to Portugal. Initially we thought we were going back to Angola, but six years had already passed, and the war was still going strong…

In my family, we never lost the connection with Angola: we always talked about Angola, and we were always waiting and hoping to be able to go back. When we finally came back, the situation did not work out for various reasons, and we decided to leave the country again by taking the other way around. We ended up living in Argentina, where we stayed for seven years. When I turned 19, I started traveling alone, without my family. I also played soccer for a long time in Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru... and then I ended up in Spain where my musical career took off.

I always had a thing for music. I liked to memorize songs and then during these trips I got to know other styles and traditional sounds. So, when I started to write, I could not turn my back on so many influences and I ended up fusing all of them together (South American rhythms, Brazilian rhythms, semba...).

I discovered my Angolan identity with time, because when I started writing, I was just coming out of the soccer world and the culture I was closest to was Brazil. My first songs had Brazilian influences which was what I was listening to at the time. It was later that I started to realize that my songs had a completely Angolan rhythm underneath (while I thought I was playing funk the whole time). Each place left a mark and influence, and melody in all its sense, and that is what ends up being my inspiration. And you only realize this when you finally finished with something, I never imagined this kind of thing.

Each place left a mark and influence, and melody in all its sense, and that is what ends up being my inspiration.
Hugo Soares

4. UNESCO launched ResiliArt to strengthen resilience in the cultural sector. What else could be done to empower artists during this difficult time and beyond?

Artists are important, they are the cure for societies with all their difficulties, their sadnesses, their unfairness. I think that the people in charge, namely governments, should give more support to artists.

Artists need logistical support, so that they don't fall so easily into the hands of the industries, which many times end up diverting their essence. They also need more financial possibilities, they need cultural rights so that they can take care of their music, and be guided so that they don't have so many worries regarding means of livelihood. In short, that they can dedicate themselves to their art without so many worries. I believe this would bring more cultural richness, because there are many excellent artists, but they are abandoned.

5. What advice would you give to young African artists wanting to pursue a career in the music industry?

In my opinion artists have to take care of themselves. Artists are people who are very exposed to the public, because their talent is already exposed. So, they have to take care of themselves much more than the rest because they need strength and resilience to endure channeling so many emotions.

Artists also need discipline as in other areas of life and in any other profession. The advice I would give, on a more spiritual level, is that one needs to have respect for the place and the moment, to have respect for the stage and the moment of inspiration because that is the source.