Where does the name Surma come from?
The name Surma comes from a group of people in Ethiopia that I saw in a documentary at the time about the Masai and Surma tribes, who have no access to material goods and live off the resources that the land gives them. I wanted to give this slightly human connection to the Surma and not just be "Look, I'm going to do a project, just because." So I wanted to give that more welcoming, more personal connection and I decided to give a project more for the people, a bit of a tribute to their people, who are incredible.
When and how did your journey in music begin? Did you always know that you wanted to pursue this particular artistic expression or were you inclined towards other areas of art and culture?
I’ve had a mega eventful journey in music. Ever since I was a little girl I was very motivated by my parents, I always had a lot of music going on at home, from country to 50s jazz and I was always pushed in that side of music and I always had lessons. I started with drums lessons however, I was four years old and I needed a melodic base and then I went into classical, I was about 10/11 years old when I started classical guitar and piano but I also gave up after half a year, I never got on very well with lessons and theory, having to play in a certain way but it gave me unbelievable foundations for what I do nowadays, which was unbelievable. At 13/14 I started those high school bands, Velvet Underground, The Doors, those 70s rock bands and it was a really fun experience. But I went into a science course, which had nothing to do with music, because I wanted to follow medicine but my grades were terrible and as soon as I got into the course I saw "Ok, this is not for me". I loved physics, and all that electronic stuff - you know, Surma is a bit like that thing of exploring instruments and the more organic part. I ended up doing my degree in science and moved to Lisbon when I was 16/17 and I joined the Hot Club which is a Jazz school in Lisbon and I stayed there for two and a half years and also didn't finish the course which was for four and a half years and it was there that I got the inspiration to start a solo project and create things, without barriers. But yes, the music path was always seen as a diversion for me, but I had an epiphany like "Maybe this is all I know how to do, this is what makes me really happy", it was a bit of a given that I had, but then I got 100% immersed in music. Although it's music, I don't get inspired by music at all. When I go to the studio, I don't listen to music during that week. I really like seeing things about architecture, more for the imagery, films, books, I get a lot of inspiration from parallel areas and I think everything is connected to each other.
How big an influence does music have on your life? In what ways are you influenced by what you listen to and what you do?
I mean, from what I heard as a kid, I was supposed to be one of those redneck singers from Texas, doing country. I always listened to a lot of Johnny Cash, that kind of music and, I don't know, Herbie Hancock and all that jazz and country stuff. I really don't know how I got into electronics, I don't have the slightest idea, it just happened, I didn't think much about it. I started to get a bit obsessed with guitar pedals and synthesizers and I thought "OK, maybe this is cool" and I learned all that at home. How could I explore that part of electronica further? What inspires me? I think it was all the teaching of my parents since I was a little girl that I absorbed various genres of music and didn't stay in just one.
We know that you use various samples in your work. What do you think about this idea of sharing ideas and culture within the framework of artistic expression?
Travelling for me is one of the best things in the world. I have a lot of African samples, a lot of Iceland and Scandinavian countries which is something that inspires me a lot. I think I have a fascination. First of all I love the cold and I love all their culture, from music, theatre, they have unbelievable things. I think travelling for me is one of the biggest inspirations I have to date, I usually record little sounds from every country I go to. For example, I was in China about 5 years ago and I recorded a lot. They sound like they were scolding each other and I made a sound with that that sounded like a beat, that they have a lot of diphthongs. And I really like exploring those little organic things. And whenever I go travelling I always find those things. For example São Paulo also gave me incredible inspiration, it's dense, it's a city and I like to explore cities in that aspect, cities, countries, whatever. I like it a lot. It's fun.
What are your biggest influences in Portuguese culture, in whatever area?
Joana Guerra, who is an incredible cellist. I've already had the opportunity to call her to play with me and she was shaking. Pedro Melo Alves and João Hasselberg, who is a double bass player and Pedro Melo Alves explores the drums in a very out of the box way. And a writer that I love is Hasse Pais Brandão. There are many things that inspire me.
Do you think fashion and music can go hand in hand? What do you think can be the influence of one and the other in their respective fields?
I have always wanted to link the film and fashion side of things with music, which I think is extremely important. The first thing that inspires me is the image and how I'm going to explore things. For example, that tree has music, or that type of clothing in music and I really like exploring those different aesthetics in music so much so that my new album is going to be very inspired by androgyny. There you go, I think fashion goes very much into that world and not having a specific genre is no holds barred, it's risking everything and anything and I find that unbelievable in the fashion world and the art world in general. And I think each art form is interconnected with the other, I'm not going to be inspired only by music, I think that's obvious, and fashion has always been something that I wanted to connect with music. Fashion and cinema.
What is the cause that you consider most yours? What is your voice and what is the message you try to transmit through your music, your work and everything you do, be it in a work and creative or more personal context?
I think everything, honestly. I don't have lyrics, it's phonetic, I try to explore the voice as if it were an instrument and I think each person has their own interpretation of each song. I try to be as activist as possible within the LGBT community, racism, so many other issues there are here, domestic violence. I try to give a general voice for everything, honestly, we can't just focus on one issue with so much to discuss and to defend, I don't think I have one theme. I think it's a general voice for all the issues that have to be solved, I think we're a little bit at that point and we've had enough of inequality and let's make this happen and equality for everything and anything and not go to extremes. I think that the extreme here is not very cool, I think that some people are a bit extreme about a lot of things. These are very complex issues, very complex issues, and it's dangerous, there are a lot of landmines in these issues. But I think it's a general voice for all these issues that have to be solved.
How would you define modern Portuguese culture?
I don't think there is a definition, quite frankly. I think we are so eclectic. In music, we have incredible jazz, rock, experimental, electronic bands. Modern, I don't know what modern is. I think it's everything that's happening right now, I think. I think that people are taking risks and are not afraid of opinions, the media, and critics, and they do what they want. If I like it, people will like it for sure because it's me. I think it's a beautiful principle.
What do you see as the role of brands, like Overcube, in the voice that modern Portuguese culture should have when it comes to music, diversity, disruption, inclusion and so many other areas essential to development?
I think there should be many brands like Overcube. The first thing they told me was - bring your own outfit, the make-up is what you want, you don't arrive here and be a doll, look, wear that outfit and make up or do your hair like this. I think brands are still a little closed in this aspect, it's very much their idea and the people they invite have to stick to what they want to define as aesthetics and Overcube I think was one of the first brands I worked with that gives total freedom to the person they invite and I find this unbelievable and I think it's very important to have brands like this with this incredible freedom and trust the people they invite.