Here at LOCK, we like our musicians loud, outspoken and unapologetic. We couldn’t really do much better than Sa’ra Charismata and her unique musical genre of protest pop.
Self-love, personal power, existentialism or understanding of life’s greater organisation – it’s all there in Sa’ra Charismata’s one-of-a-kind sound.
Sa’ra Charismata is of Eritrean origin, born and raised in Sweden. Her parents fled the war in Eritrea and came to Sweden as refugees in the 1970s. During her teens, she lived in Eritrea for a few years. She then moved to the United States (Colorado and Brooklyn, NY) where she ran her own network of social activists and studied law. In 2014, she returned to Sweden to focus on her music.
Now, she’s set to return to the UK scene with her track about coping with anxiety, ‘Life Is Not About Control’. It’s an upbeat track which takes clear influence from Swedish dance music as well as black gospel songs. Charismata consistently acknowledges the bad times she’s had, but, through her music, never stops to let them drag her down.
We caught up with the singer, musician and activist to find out more.
Hi Sa’ra! How are you doing today?
Hi! I am fantastic! Thank you for asking. I hope you are well too.
How are you looking after your mental health at the moment? Do you have any advice for anyone who might be struggling?
My advice is to be mindful of less helpful habits that we engage in to alleviate a sense of overwhelm, or anxiety, which then makes the anxiety worse.
Before, I have tended to eat my feelings, a quick fix to numb anxiety or sadness. But it wasn’t helpful. In fact, it made matters worse because it wasn’t feeding my true needs.
Now I personally try to eat mindfully and balanced, fuelling myself with the nutrition my body needs to feel good and help keep me in the present. For me, thoughts tend to wander in places they shouldn’t be when I am unbalanced nutritionally, which in turn, affects my ability to act in alignment with my wants and needs.
I also move around to feel good. I don’t overdo it. Just the right amount to keep me joyful. I also try to focus on my breathing, but I don’t always remember. It is interesting though how thoughts mount up and cause discomfort when we are not breathing adequately. It is as if the body screams, “Hello, remember me?? You need to give me oxygen for US to feel good”.
But most of all, I am allowing myself to be loved by myself and others. I also pour as much love as I possibly can into others. There is no feeling more powerful than loving others and feeling loved unconditionally.
How do you balance yourself when you speak so frankly about such difficult times?
The silence and shame surrounding my difficult times kept me prisoner in it longer than I needed to be. There were so many years of my life that were less than glamorous that I felt I couldn’t speak of. I was stuck in a harmful mindset in that I felt I couldn’t be seen unless I had something to show for.
Today, I allow myself to be vulnerable. And it is the vulnerability that keeps me balanced, ultimately. To me, being vulnerable isn’t always expressing my thoughts and feelings or being immune to feelings of rejection. But rather, it is daring to release myself of habits that no longer serve me. Habits that I, in my unawareness, mistakenly perceived as a necessary shield.
When did you decide to start combining activism and music? Did it come naturally to you?
Music was always around; it’s been my preferred medium of expression ever since I can remember. Growing up I was hassled a lot, so I just avoided confrontation as much as possible. Eventually, I stopped speaking up for myself. It is almost as if I was reprimanded if I didn’t exist to please others. But for some reason, when I sang, I was not only praised, but I was also left in peace. No one questioned the words of my songs looking to punish me, because for some reason lyrics were not considered real. It was the only time I could freely express myself, I felt.
At the age of 17, I moved to the U.S. for college. After a heavy, racially charged incident on the college campus involving my friends and I, my real activism began. I was really involved in everything social justice. As president of a campus organization for social justice and diversity, I lead a movement that truly affected change on university campuses statewide.
It was only a matter of time before I would combine music with activism. But it didn’t really become “a thing” until I started marketing my music as “Protest Pop”. My protest music has evolved over the years though. My music used to be more political in nature, whereas now it is more about self-healing and love. I used to be more about affecting external change, until I realized that my own inner healing journey would naturally radiate the type of societal healing I would want to inspire in others.
This song is your triumphant return from a bad bout of depression. How do you follow a statement like that? What’s next?
I am in love. With the woman I have become. So I anticipate my musical expression will be slightly softer and more love oriented. Maybe I am on the path of becoming a ballad singer. Who knows where I will end up, life is not about control, remember? ☺
In a sense, I used to feel ugly within, so my musical expression reflected that somehow by taking on a rougher punk-ish sound. It is interesting how I used to purposely yell and “uglify” my singing voice when it is naturally delicate.
I also used to cover myself in messy hair and hats. I didn’t want to be seen.
My lyrics have always been strong, but never showing me in a vulnerable light. It was easier to talk about “the system” than to be seen for what I was really feeling and experiencing.
“Life Is Not About Control” is the first of many songs to come in which I allow myself to be vulnerable in my lyrics, but also in how I sound. No effects, and no masking.
Life Is Not About Control is out now. Follow Sa’ra on Instagram to stay updated.