‘I love to have an impact’

Portugese Master student Sara Alves (23) is quite a Jack of all trades, but singing is her true passion. Right now, she’s into the more funky and jazzy stuff, but there were times she was involved in totally different kinds of music.

text Gert van der Ende photography Michel de Groot A couple of months before she left Lisbon for Rotterdam, Sara ‘Maggie’ Alves met Fred, a fairly good guitar player. They made plans to sing in the bars of Lisbon together. Writing their own songs, they rehearsed at the miradors – viewing points – of Lisbon. Their rehearsals already drew rather big audiences, whose reaction to the songs about love, break-ups and other saudade was enthusiastic. But then Alves left. “Fred will have to wait and he will. There’s a great dynamic between us as musicians.”

Born and raised in Lisbon, Sara Alves moved to Luxembourg as a twelve-year old, when dad got a job at NATO. Three years later she moved back to Portugal, to Cascais. After finishing secondary school and a Bachelor’s degree, she intended to do a Master’s in cinema or music in England, but the exorbitant tuition fees scared her off. Instead, she went to Rotterdam to do a Master’s in Communication and Culture. But to her, studying is only plan B, because what Alves wants is to be a performer – she’s pretty sure about that. “Making music is my biggest goal in life and has been since I was seven. It doesn’t keep me from studying seriously though.”

At that age, little Sara listened to her grandmother singing old-school fado, say Amália Rodrigues-style. “She had a great voice and I so much liked to sing along with her.” All the women in the Alves household seem to have an artistic side: mum paints, sister is into amateur dramatics. “But to them, it’s a hobby. I wanted to change that and become a professional musician.” So little Sara took up playing instruments – first the piano, not much later the cello – although that was short-lived, because moving to Luxemburg threw grit in the works.

Her first public appearance as a singer was at a school event when she was fourteen and sang some songs in Italian. The audience was actually appreciative and – more importantly – Alves discovered that she wasn’t shy at all on stage. She didn’t so much as tremble. Somehow, she felt immediately at home in the spotlights, a feeling that has stayed with her until today.

Back in Portugal, she started to organize her own events – one of these being Loudspeakers, an ensemble of singers covering musical songs. She also joined some bands, one of which was a – rather remarkable – hard-rock band consisting of old guys with the rather terrifying name Phalik Johnson and the P Magnets. “Ha, ha, that band was actually quite funny. It had a concept like Kiss, with a lot of sexual innuendo. I even had a nickname: Satcha Ness, to be pronounced as ‘such an ass’.” At the same time, she started singing in hotels. Here she did the more jazzy stuff, covers from the grand ladies of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Peggy Lee.

Now she’s making music with The Smokin’ Aces, a rather funky experience. A recurrent theme in all her musical activities is her passion for playing with others. “I have my own ideas but I like to share them. And to do projects with others, the bigger the better really. Because I like having an impact, love the interaction. My goal is to push on. I don’t need to be famous, but just being able to live from my music would in itself be amazing.”

For the time being, she’s intending to find a job in Holland after finishing her Master’s later this year. Poor Fred. Because in that case, he will have to wait just a little longer.

Sara Alves – Feeling good & Fever

Smokin’ Aces covers The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy