"We have a certain duty as artists to generate something constructive. Whatever purpose you choose to give it, make it count"
Composer, Keyboardist, and Musical Director Eliane Correa is taking the world by storm through her unique, ever-evolving Latin focused sound. From performing with numerous bands and orchestras around the world, Eliane Correa’s career has been a rollercoaster of politically engaged, Latin focused projects and purposes. We talk with Correa about the musical movements that influence her philosophy on life, and the role artists have to play in today’s ever-changing world.
Having grown up in Luxembourg with her Argentinian Father and Cuban Spanish Mother, Correa’s memories of childhood are formed within a community that she describes as “a World of Immigrants”. Having begun learning the piano before she was even three, Correa’s natural musical abilities led her to start training seriously with the intention of becoming a classical pianist. This path was cut short when, aged 15, Correa was hit with chronic tendonitis in her right hand forcing her to stop playing the piano for almost a decade. Having moved to Cuba around the same age, Correa filled this void by focusing on the compositional side of music. Studying an array of different genres, from musical theatre to Afro Cuban percussion, all played a role in informing the development of her own voice as a composer today.
Moving to London in her early twenties, Correa began studying Ethnomusicology at SOAS. It was during this time that she started writing a collection of songs talking about the immigrant experience of relocating from Havana to the UK. “The move hit me pretty hard and I started building this collection of work talking about the loneliness of London and the cliches that are assigned to Latinos.” It was during her later years of University that she proposed to the musical friends around her that they started a band. This was the birth of Wara; the Afro Latin Collective known for their global consciousness. “At the beginning, we didn’t know what we were doing - we were just a bunch of Uni kids trying to find our voice” but this grew into a successful, touring ensemble, performing around the world, launching an album in 2013, and selling out shows at the Jazz Cafe.
Throughout the development of Wara, each member of the band slowly found their own individual voices and Correa began engaging with her affinity to Afro Cuban Jazz - the earliest known form of Latin Jazz. “As we began working on our own separate projects, it opened up the idea that I have all these different ways in which I want to put my music out there.” From sophisticated jazzy arrangements to the party protest music, Correa found she also wanted to focus on Cuban Timba - a style which she describes as Salsa on steroids. “This is the music that is central to me. When I wake up in the morning, this is the music I put on”. Somehow, this seems beautifully reflective of the energy this musical mastermind possesses.
Sometimes the amount of stories you want to tell doesn’t fit into one concept. So going into different aspects of music-making, composition, and production allows us to express the diversity of the lives we live
From the composition to the arrangement; the melody to the lyrics, Correa developed her skills as the orchestrator behind a variety of projects (including La Evolución and En El Aire Project) continually exercising her creative control from concept to sound. Each project shines with its own emotive identity, unified through Correa’s own authentic style; something which she credits her global movements for influencing. “I feel like I am such a chameleon of different experiences. From Luxembourg, Cuba, Argentina, Spain, the London Rave culture and Reggae scene - all these bits and pieces make me who I am today. But there’s only so much you can say in a 3 or 4-minute song, or a 10 track album. Which is why I need to have a variety of projects that reflect the many parts of me; it’s nice to move around in all these different musical colours”.
As a composer, the process of writing for other performers is a skill in itself. Discussing the musical connection she searches out for each artist, Correa tells us how “most the people I work with are female because the voice I write with is inherently female. I still find it hard to put myself in a man’s shoes when writing music because we have such a different experience of the world.” Even when the women have a different background and set of experiences from her, Correa relays how “somehow they always make the effort to understand the lyrics, to get into what I was feeling, the intention behind what I was trying to write and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
With such an expanse of musical work, Correa recognises how it was her parent's encouragement which led her to “grab such creative freedom with both hands. This was how I was raised and I’m grateful for it.” Correa’s determination to stick to her own intentions is something that bursts through each project she puts out. “In terms of the sound of what I’m making, my own music is still quite niche. I’ve often prioritised my own creative concept over what is going to sell or not sell.” Pushing to make music that follows Correa’s own moral code and mindset is something that bursts through in her lyric writing.
When asking Eliane about how people engage or disengage with music, leads to her sharing her thoughts on how listening is an experience closely attached to cultural identity. “The problem I see as a Latin musician is that the UK sees Latin culture as something very foreign, very remote, and exotic. They look at the culture from far away; they cannot tell the details, they only see the shape. Which is a very simplistic view. They recognise Buena Vista Social Club and Despacito, and maybe Brazilian Samba. But that’s about it. Whereas places like Spain, due to the shared language and colonial history, they have the ability to see and hear the details.” This is something which, upon listening to Correa’s music, is noticeably important within the complex and diverse arrangements she creates.
Discussing the movement of global sounds leads us to talk about the role of online media platforms such as Instagram. “We all know about the toxic sides of these platforms but places like Instagram have also brought people closer. It gives enhanced accessibility to people whose music you have considered ‘other’. Suddenly they’re in your phone. You can type their name into YouTube and all this world of music opens up to you. There’s a change happening and it's mainly through this availability of the whole world of music. Being there, on the internet. I think that’s helping people listen a bit more.” Eliana hopes this will encourage a change in the way people perceive music within the mainstream, which so often corners off any genres existing beyond Western societies.
Focusing on Cuban music, Eliane explains that it was in the early 90s that the Cuban Timba scene that she is so connected to, exploded in Havana. However, it was during this time that the popular franchise Buena Vista Social Club (BVSC) gained global attention. “The reason so many people are listening to Cuban music around the world is because of the Buena Vista phenomenon. They Cuba on the map. But it also masked what was actually happening in Cuba - the development of a very young, confrontational, Black, provocative style of music which was Timba.” This genre is the heart and soul of Correa’s style, a mirror image of her own politically engaged approach to life. “We’re living in crazy times politically right now, and as artists, we have a big role to play, this is in our hands. Of course, it’s nice to make music which gets your dancing but I think more and more musicians, including myself, feel a social responsibility to use our platform wisely. We have a certain duty to generate something constructive - be it healing, or letting go of all your anger. Whatever purpose you choose to give it, make it count..”
I pride myself on looking back at all the work I’ve released, knowing that this is how I wanted it to sound. It feels like me, like I haven’t sold out.
When discussing the future, Eliane explains how the energetic output of making and touring work can be testing. “Trying to build a career out of your own musical output is very hit and miss. There are no promises, especially when you’re trying to stay true to your art. But there are many ways as a musician that you can change the world”. One way which Eliane hopes to move in the direction of roots her back into her ethnomusicology education. “I’m wanting to get back into academia, to train Primary and Secondary school teachers in decolonising their curriculums. Because music is often taught as ‘Pop, Jazz, and Classical’, but there’s so much more that informs those genres; the majority Pop music is informed by music from Africa for example.”
In whichever direction Eliane’s career takes her, we see that the confidence and drive she possesses will lead her down a productive and admirable route. Forever embracing her responsibilities, as well as authenticity, with musical magic in her mind.
You can keep up to date with Eliane Correa's work via her IG @elianecorreamusic
Words and Portraits by Bx Sassy