Singer and Storyteller Germana Stella La Sorsa is releasing her new album Primary Colours on January 26th. Supported by Help Musicians, released by 33 Jazz Records and distributed by The Orchard, the album also features special guest Australian harpist Tara Minton. This is Germana’s second release, after her debut album Vapour in 2021 and the album contains 7 original compositions reflecting her musical influences – such as Gretchen Parlato, Bobby McFerrin and Jeff Buckley – and drawing upon her eclectic background and skilful voice, as well as the band’s versatility, to create something fresh, new and unexpected. The music explores drum’n’bass grooves, latin influences and free improvisation and having released three singles from the album already, anticipation for the full album is high. It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Germana about this album
Your upcoming release Primary Colours is described as a concept album that ‘draws parallels between the art of colour and musical narration.’ Can you talk us through this concept?
GSLS: While writing the music for Primary Colours, I knew that I wanted to share something more deep and intimate than my first album Vapour so I decided to write about things the listener can relate to.
I’ve always been quite an impulsive person and in some situations this led me to bad decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely believe that everything happens for a reason and make us who we are, becoming part of our personal story. But at the same time, I think that it’s very important to listen to our feelings so that we don’t let other people or situations put us down, staying truthful to ourselves. To reach this awareness, I had to work hard to actually observe, understand and – most importantly – accept my emotions and feelings. I don’t believe in “negative” and “positive” emotions. To me, every human feeling “completes” another one; life experiences are nothing but a mixture of these feelings that combine and interact with each other, leading to life changes, like primary colours and shades combining themselves, creating new tones. From here, the simple idea came – not that new…but I just got very excited about doing it myself! – to associate every emotion to a colour and every colour to a musical story.
You have released 3 singles from the album with the first one ‘Black’ exploring your struggles with depression. This track explores the isolation and loneliness of depression in quite a light-hearted way. Did you find the creation of this track helped you understand your emotions more? And for anyone out there who also struggles with depression, how do you hope they connect with this track?
GSLS: I’d say that it was more the opposite as it was understanding and accepting loneliness and dismay that helped me writing the tune. To be completely honest, in first place – as happened for most of the tunes wrote in Vapour – the tune initially “came to me”. One day, I started to hear a new melody while walking to the train station. The weather was really miserable, cold and on the edge of raining (…not really ideal for a Southern Italian person). Whilst walking and listening to fragments of the tune my head, some old, dark memories popped into my mind. In that moment I realised that, in a past in which I was almost constantly feeling bad about myself and my life, weather like that would have made me feel even worse. That day, walking to the station in that horrible weather, the tune was cheerful and I was feeling good remembering the day in which I decided to accept the “bad” feelings, to look very closely at them and to accept them; to face the “downs” to ultimately reach the “ups”. Thanks to a past in which I would have been “happy to disappear”, I was fully living my present and feeling alive, being able to smile in the rain and to write new music.
I hope that everyone that will listen to the track and can relate with the lyrics of the intro will feel hit by the development of the tune and its real message and find some strength in it. Depression is a beast and it’s fundamental to seek for help. This help can be the key to understand ourselves, what we are dealing with and where’s our inner strength. Mine was to realise that there’s no light if there’s no dark…we need to find ourselves in a “black” room sometimes to remember that there’s still light out there, that we want that light and that we can look for it. And even if sometimes we find ourselves in the dark again, we can remember that time in which we changed things..and a “sad” song becomes a tune of joy and pride.
Your second single ‘Blue’ has the fantastic Tara Minton on harp and you have said that ‘From our first encounter it was clear that we were artistically and humanly on the same page’. How did you first connect with Tara and what was it like to work with her on this track?
GSLS: Tara Minton is a wonderful blessing for the Universe and I’m extremely proud to have her in a track that is so important to me. We were briefly introduced by a common friend but after that, the next thing that I know is that she was at Vapour album launch and I was so flattered to see her there and for how complimentary she was. I don’t remember precisely how but we ended up talking about missing home as we both come from outside the UK and both from seaside towns. From that conversation, we stayed in touch, supporting each other’s music and eventually starting to work together, sharing the stage on some gigs. I already knew her latest release – at the time – Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid so I was over the moon when she asked me to sing backing vocals for her at Ronnie Scott’s. It was whilst prepping for the gig, listening to the music of her album over and over again, that I really got Tara’s connection with the sea and understood that it was as strong as mine. So, when I wrote Blue, I could see her “painting” with her harp all the shades of blue that I needed. The track was actually written by me with the huge contribution of an old friend and colleague from University, guitarist Francesco Bellanova. After having sent Tara the music and a recording from a rehearsal with the band, we met one day to play it together. I knew that I wanted to hear the waves through her playing and to see all those shades of blue…and I knew that I only had to say to her “be you and play what you feel”. I knew that the result would have been magical and I couldn’t be happier with it!
This track is also sung in your mother tongue, Italian. When you were creating this track, how did your homeland present itself musically?
GSLS: You know, a lot of bad things are said about Italy.. there’s no work, it’s a politically corrupted country and the Mafia rules. Of my hometown Taranto, people says even worse as it’s also not a “well managed” place: the economy could rely on tourism but no one does anything to realise this as it’s home to an infamous steel company, Italy’s largest steel producer and one of the largest in Europe. Those things are all true, I can’t deny them – but also, we have a saying in Italian: “the whole world is a country”! Since I’ve left Italy, there hasn’t been one day that I haven’t missed my Puglia. As I said, Taranto is a seaside town so some of my best memories are related to the sea and set at the beach, in the warm weather, with the sun shining, most of the time with my family. Blue is about the joy that comes from – and with – these memories and that sense of belonging. It’s the sea that speaks to me, reminding me that I’ll always belong to my home and that, no matter what, I can always go back there. And that’s what I wanted to feel while playing Blue, so that I could have always found the warmth and the comfort of home, the place where I can always be myself.
The single also speaks of motherhood, safety and home and you are now a mother! How do you hope your son will feel after listening to this track? Once he has grown up a little of course!
GSLS: I actually found out that I was pregnant not too long after I wrote the tune but I immediately felt that it could have easily be a lullaby for my son. The whole album has been finalised (including the photoshoot for the album art) and recorded while I was pregnant so he has already listened to it! He was already in the music; he’s part of this album so I really hope that once he is old enough to understand the essence of the lyrics of Blue, he will know that he’ll always find in me that safe haven I find in my hometown.
The album features your long-time collaborators Sam Leak on Hammond Organ and Jay Davis on drums, with the addition of guitarist Tom Ollendorff. How did the musical relationships with these musicians develop and what was it like to work with them on this album?
GSLS: I met Sam and Jay the second or the third evening after I moved to London at a jam session at Oliver’s Jazz Bar in Greenwich…imagine doing your first jam session in a new city with extraordinary musicians like them…I felt extremely lucky! I still feel blessed every time I play with them and for having them on board since my first album. Before I started to write my own music, I was mainly gigging around London with The Jazz in Cinema Project, a tribute to jazz written for movies or that appeared in films, founded with double bass player Joe Boyle. We started as a duo but soon extended to special guests and Sam has been one of our features many times so it’s been quite a while that we’ve played together. When I started to write the music for Vapour, he’s been immediately supportive, helping me with some of the arrangements but also guiding me through the practical aspects of a release – from getting in touch with a label to planning a proper tour. I owe to Sam a lot of what I’ve learned during these years.
Sam and Jay have often played together so I’ve always been mesmerised by their interplay; besides this and the fact that I totally love Jay’s playing. It wasn’t too difficult to think about him when I was looking for someone to record my originals. Despite not having been properly introduced, I already knew Tom and had listened to his music live so I started to follow him on Instagram, where I discover that – while I was releasing Vapour – he also was releasing his album A Song for You. I’ve immediately loved his music and his playing and – since our albums basically came out together – I felt connected to him in a way and started to support him. At the time I had some gigs in the calendar for the promotion of Vapour and I was looking for a guitarist so I thought about him. I was extremely happy when he agreed to play with me and even happier to start to record together. Before Primary Colours, we filmed a duo version of one on my originals – In Time and (S)Pace; we worked on the arrangement on the day, while the videographer was setting up his equipment, and I will always remember the dedication and the attention that Tom put in this.
Since we all started playing together, I think that the band has become more and more solid. We’ve reached a beautiful interplay and I feel a great respect coming from each of them. I’ve always wanted to listen to their opinions, discussing my tunes and arrangements with them and they’ve always been happy to bring their contribution with passion and honesty – not to mention the fact that their are amazing human beings! I always say that each of them has a sort of “superpower”: Sam can read my mind, anticipating what I’m going to sing; Jay can understand from a tiny fragment of a sang rhythm what I want him to play and Tom’s playing just makes me cry for the beauty of it. I’m lucky…I really am!
Thinking about your previous album Vapour compared to this new one, how to you feel you have developed as a composer and storyteller?
GSLS: When I’ve talk to the audience and in previous interview about Vapour, I’ve always mentioned the fact that “the music came to me”. I just started to “hear musical things”, listening to some ideas to then write them on paper. Most of the music for Primary Colours instead starts from a ‘non musical’ concept – the feelings associated with a story. In this case, I decided to sit at the piano in order to look for sounds and harmonies through which to better tells those stories and express those emotions. I worked in a more traditional way on some of the arrangements, looking for specific chord progressions. This helped me grow as a composer since I had to fill some gaps in my music knowledge in order to better understand how to achieve specific results. As a storyteller, connecting colours to emotions and bringing these into stories has nourished my creativity..I have loved every moment of the creation of this album. I feel that with Vapour I’ve “introduced myself”, my musical tastes, my background, my way of approaching creativity; with Primary Colours I definitely wanted to highlight my abilities as a musician and composer-songwriter, using music as a channel through which to express my feelings.
And finally, performance plans – where can we see you play?
GSLS: Definitely save the date for Primary Colours album launch on the 26th of January 2024 at The Vortex Jazz Club! In the lead up to giving birth, I knew that I would have needed a small break from performing afterwards so I’m not gigging for a few months. I’ll be definitely be back on stage with my new music next Spring so keep an eye on my website!
Album Artwork by Andy Porter
The interview was originally published in the December 2023 Women in Jazz Media magazine
Last modified: January 24, 2024