Feminine Singular

01/14/2020 · By Rafa Cervera
zahara singer and writer
Singer songwriter Zahara. © Noemí Elias Bascuñana

In less than a decade, Zahara has become one of the leading figures of the Spanish indie scene. Her songs reach a wide audience that also supports her restlessness and versatility as an artist. Hers is a self-managed career with an artistic stance committed to equality.

For a few days now, Zahara (Úbeda, Jaén, 1983) has been embarked on a theatre tour of intimate shows that coincide with her role as a teacher of music culture in the new Operación Triunfo season, the Spanish version of Star Academy. Imaginative and lucid, Zahara has an undeniable gift to communicate with her audience. She has written four albums, the latest being Astronaut (2018), which she’s presenting in this tour. Last fall she resumed her writing career and published Teoría de los cuerpos (Aguilar), a poetry book that confirms her versatility as an artist.

Following the novel Trabajo, piso, pareja (Aguilar, 2017), you’re back to poetry with Teoría de los cuerpos.

I wanted to go back to writing, but a novel demands absolute, full dedication, and because of the kind of life I’m leading now, that was impossible. The tour, my son — it’s all being frenetic. I had been registering everything that was happening to me and I realized most of my notes had to do with human relations. The presence of the flesh was so obvious I decided to call it Teoría de los cuerpos (A Theory of the Bodies). We live in times of such urgency and haste that we end up consuming relationships as we do with clothes, food or data. I’m not saying all things virtual are bad, but eventually it all becomes a mirage. We project onto others what we want them to be instead of analysing and feeling them because they’re not in front of us.  

“We live in times of such urgency and haste that we end up consuming relationships as we do with clothes, food or data”

One of novel’s highlights are the female voices talking openly about sex.

Women have lived their sexuality through the eyes and the needs of men. It’s absolutely shameful that women have to claim their own sexuality simply because we’re not used to doing so, but I think this in an incredible time for things to change. Artists, writers, and musicians are claiming female sexuality and we’re comfortable with that. I think this it’s essential because it’s about discovering ourselves and not feeling embarrassed for something that is so natural, beautiful, healthy and good.

How did music come into your life?

It has always been integrated in our lives. My grandmother used to sing while cooking, my other grandmother played an instrument similar to the organ, my father is a music teacher and my mother writes short stories. I’ve been writing songs with a guitar and my voice since I was 12, so there isn’t a specific moment in which I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to this. I’ve been creative since as far as I can remember, and I’ve always being encouraged at home to be so. I remember every time there was a birthday in my family. We would do theatre, singing and choreographies. There was always a sense of approval that made me realize how valuable it was to create and communicate myself artistically.

In a way, they were showing you the way…

Indeed! And I think that’s beautiful. I have a two-year-old son and he already has a relationship with music. He grabs a piano or a synth and starts playing, even though he’s incapable of playing two nice notes straight! [laughs]. Being born surrounded by music and all that curiosity is a precious thing because it lays out a path that helps you reach something within you. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in an environment that would enable that.

In 2009 you released your debut album on a major label. But despite the good reception of La fabulosa historia de…, you left the label to self-release your records. What prompted that decision?

It was very frustrating to be surrounded by people that were constantly telling me what to do. It wasn’t worth being in a place were a lot of money was going to be spent on promoting an album I didn’t feel identified with. Before signing with that label, I had been writing, playing live and designing the cover art for my records for years... It was all very exhausting and disappointing. I completed a cycle there and I was very sad. So sad the album I released I after I left the record company was La pareja tóxica (2011), an ode to sadness.

However, you’ve done very well developing a discourse of your own without interference.

I always say that the only way to learn is to make your own mistakes. During that phase, things went wrong that had never been my decision, but I was always held responsible. I didn’t learn anything at all because I knew doing certain things would be a mistake. But I’ve learned a lot of positive things by doing things my way — when something goes wrong, you learn from it; and the same goes when things go well because it means you’ve learned something along the way. Being aware of how the good things and the bad things come about allows you to evaluate what has happened.

“I’ve learned a lot of positive things by doing things my way. Being aware of how the good things and the bad things come about allows you to evaluate what has happened.”

Besides writing, you have performed in theatre, you collaborate with television shows and have a web about running. It seems that music isn’t enough to express everything you have to say…

I make music because it’s the first thing that appeared in my life. It’s a natural way for me to express myself, but I also try to do it through other artistic disciplines I’m familiar with. Television wasn’t among my plans — I don't even have a TV set at home. Go figure!

Now comes Operación Triunfo, where you will teach music culture.

When you want to sow curiosity and the desire to discover things teaching is always a responsibility. I have a lot of respect for that. Teaching is one of the professions that I admire the most; my parents are teachers. In that sense, I do feel the pressure. Regarding the media part, I’ve assumed that I am the way I am and that not everyone will like me. I have no control over that. But I do have control over what I want to teach my students — how music is nurtured from one era to another, and from one country to another; that everything is connected and how that is enriching and helps us evolve.

You are currently embarked on a theatre tour. What are your goals with this new format?

I like to change my live shows in every tour to make it easier for people who have already seen me to return, and also to go back to cities where I’ve already performed. Astronaut was a very energetic album that needed the support of a band, and I wanted a radical change from that. There are only two songs in my set that are performed in the same way I did in my previous tour. The rest are played differently, and then there’re songs I haven’t played in a long time. It’s a very intimate and intense repertoire with a more delicate approach — it’s more contained and emotional and not so much about jumping and screaming.