Dubai-based pop-jazz musician Lisa Hugo talks about motherhood and her new album
You’ve just released your third album, It’s Time. How does it differ from the previous two? My songwriting skills have developed, my style and voice have changed, and everything has improved. My first album was a big mixture of many styles – I was trying to showcase my versatility as a singer, which actually backfired because most of the record companies didn’t know how to categorise the music. The next album was recorded live at one of my solo performances in Hamburg. It is just me and my piano, hence the title, Natural. It’s comprised of 17 cover songs and one original, and actually sold very well at performances around Europe. My new album, It’s Time, is my first album to make it onto all the download shops worldwide, and is the first that is predominantly original.
Which of your original songs means the most to you and why? That’s a tough question. Several of the songs on this album were written just after I became a mum for the first and second times, so they’re very special to me. I love the song ‘Butterfly’; I originally wrote it as a ballad, but when we got it together with the band it came out as a bossa nova and it really fits. My girls are growing up so quickly; I’m sure one day I’ll turn around and see that they’re ready to fly away from home and start their own lives.
How did you get started in music? For many years I’d had my sights set on being a singer in musicals. When I was 19 I took on a full-time job as a secretary so I could pay for my education in entertainment. I did night classes at the Australian College of Entertainers, which is where I learned to sing, dance and act. As I matured and developed as a musician and artist, I also developed a love for jazz music and this began to influence my style and songwriting. Gradually I noticed that my career was beginning to take a different path to that of the ‘musical singer’ that I had originally foreseen. I’d still jump at the chance to play the lead role in a West End or Broadway musical, though.
You’ve travelled considerably throughout your career – are there any particular performances that stand out? The Dubai International Jazz Festival definitely makes the list, but I think my most memorable performance was at a carols-by-candlelight concert, watching an audience of 6,000 people all waving candles – that was magical.
Have you had any odd performances? I performed with the Brussels Concert Band when I was seven months pregnant and my little girl wouldn’t stop dancing in my womb the whole time. It’s a very bizarre feeling. Being heavily pregnant makes good breath support very difficult, but when the baby is kicking away, that complicates it tenfold! It was a great show, though, and it seems to have left its mark: my little girl is now three years old and still loves to dance!
How receptive do you think this city is to new music? I came to Dubai in 2007 when my husband got a job here and I found it a difficult city in which to make a break. Still, a lot has changed in the past couple of years and there are many more venues, festivals and artist management opportunities. I think the people of the city are definitely interested in good live music, as proven by the attendances at the Dubai Jazz Festival and SoundCity.
Do you feel that your chosen genre, jazz-pop, gives you limited outlets for live performance here? Yes – as far as I know there are only a few places to perform, which is strange to me because I think there is a large audience out there for poppy jazz. Admittedly, apart from singing at the Dubai Jazz Festival earlier this year and a few corporate events, I haven’t performed around town much. But I’m trying to get something together with some of the local jazz musicians at the moment.
Do you have any plans to do live performances any time soon? No dates are set at the moment, but I am planning some performances in Europe for early next year. I hope to bring out my band for a Dubai concert and small Middle Eastern tour in the first half of 2010. I’m working on some sponsorship deals to make it happen. It’s Time is available in stores or online at www.tiny.cc/lisahugoalbums. Stream Lisa’s Christmas song at www.bandletter.com/lisahugo