Tammy Weis composed the 11 tracks of Soul Whisper in Lisbon, where she lives, and called upon many talents from all over the world to play them.
“I think, with this album, I was very fortunate,” Weis said while speaking to The Portugal News, “We have a very broad international range of musicians, here it was incredible because we were able to include top-notch Portuguese musicians, and then Rui Veloso, my producer, and I went to Canada and we incorporated Randy Bachman,” known as a member of The Guess Who, among other accolades, “and his team there, then we have Antonio Serrao, beautiful Spanish harmonica player, then we have Brittan of course, from the UK,” this being Grammy Winner Terry Brittan, author of several hits for the likes of Michael Jackson and Tina Turner.
For example, Hope is a rich blend of Portuguese folk, Canadian country, not to mention Mediterranean influences from the Portuguese and Spanish artists, including Veloso. “For obvious reasons, I love that one,” Weis stated about the song, “Especially now with everything that’s going on I believe it’s a very important poem.”
When talking about the process behind the making of the album, Weis could only describe it as “intense,” as the singer has a large responsibility in adapting the works of Portugal’s most acclaimed modern artist, but thanked those who had been with her through the whole journey, such as the musicians she worked with, Casa Fernando Pessoa, the house-museum that preserves the writer’s work, Luís Miguel Rosa Dias, who was Pessoa’s nephew, and the Canadian Embassy, which sponsored the project to deepen the cultural ties between the two countries, since Canada has around half a million Portuguese people. She also highlighted Richard Zenith, who wrote a biography on Fernando Pessoa and who provided much appreciated perspective from a translator.
But how did this all start anyway?
Well, Tammy Weis was attracted to life in Portugal by the kind spirits of the Portuguese people, describing Lisbon as “the light, it’s the wind, it’s the shadow, it’s the culture, it’s the beaches, there’s a real spirit to it that draws you in, it’s hard to explain. It’s a very magical place, really.” She further explained her discovery of the works of Fernando Pessoa: “It’s been a very interesting journey, very spiritual, magical journey. I’m actually writing a book about it as well, I call it the Pessoa Miracles, because it seems as if with Fernando Pessoa doors just keep opening, so it’s sort of a natural progression to the next level,” she went on to narrate her first interaction with the poet’s legacy. Weis was staying in Lisbon with a friend when she found this art gallery that did paintings with red wine and coffee. There she met someone working there playing the guitar, and teamed up with him for an impromptu concert, before the resident painter told the guitar player “Tell her she must do songs of Fernando Pessoa.” She didn’t know who the poet was, but he said, “look around you” and it turns out the paintings in the gallery were all of Pessoa. “It started that journey of ‘Who is this man?’”, Weis said, and as soon as she read his poetry “it was a natural transition of just instantly having an idea of the thought and background of Alfama in my mind.
“I heard these sounds and then I just developed from there. I kept coming back and forth between London and Lisbon because I wanted to keep exploring, I felt like Fernando Pessoa’s words were one of those moments where you would read some poetry and the hairs on your arms would stand up because it was just like ‘wow’, he makes you think about things in a completely different way.” She spoke of the coincidences that fortunately had her in the right place at the right time. She met Pessoa’s nephew through a stroke of luck after a carer of his had been in the same nail salon as her, and she ran into the Canadian ambassador to Portugal on the street.
She went on to explain her main intention with this album: “I wanted to sort of be able to make sure that a lot of people know his work and do my best, do my part to bring his work to as many English-speaking people as possible, because if they could feel even close to what I feel in terms of inspiration from him, that for me would make it all worth it, really. I’ve learned so much about myself during this process as well, so I felt like it was a real sort of joint connection for Fernando Pessoa to help me and enrich my life, and hopefully for me to enrich his legacy as well.”
The album debuts on May 31st in Lisbon’s Belém Cultural Centre. After that, events will be planned for Portugal, Canada and the UK.
When asked for words of recommendation, Tammy Weis had this to say about Fernando Pessoa’s work: “I think, if you literally go to any bookstore, anything that you pick up of Fernando Pessoa, you will just read his works. Read a little bit into his backstory, go to his cafés, you know, I live very close to Chiado, so of course a coffee shop there, but also to Café Martinho da Arcada, near Praça do Comércio, that was reportedly the last place he had a coffee before he passed. They have a special table there honouring him.
“I’ve been very fortunate because whenever I found I was having difficulty getting motivation or inspiration or difficulties with the project or being away, literally I would show up there and they’d point me to the table and say go sit down and I’d sit at the table, I’ve actually written some three or four songs from that table – some happy, some sad, some questioning – so my point is Fernando Pessoa’s energy is everywhere once you actually learn about him and about the places he used to frequent.”
She went on to elaborate using a personal experience as an example: “My father recently passed away. When I came back from Canada, I found there was a support group in Chiado, so I literally went to take my first group session there and there was a plaque outside the building, the meeting was on the second floor and on the second floor is where Fernando Pessoa met Ofélia, like seriously? Once I was open to really understanding him and his work, it makes life really fun and interesting, because again if you’re open, what are the chances of me going there and seeing this sign, it’s like these wonderful reassurances in life that we don’t usually get very often, and in a world full of such uncertainty, for me I find these little signs or miracles a little but of certainty in life that makes you feel a little more reassured and grounded, like you’re on the right path.”
“If other people can feel even a small part of that then my job is done,” she finalised, “so I would encourage them to at least begin the process. Go to a bookstore, find those books, read about him, read some of his words, go to some of the places where he’s been because his essence is still very much a part of Lisbon and this country, and see if you can’t learn a little bit about him and a little bit about yourself at the same time.”
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.