Eliane Correa: “Don’t be afraid of being passionate”

Eliane Blog

Eliane Correa is a Latina pianist, MD and composer based between London and Havana. She trained classically at the Luxembourg Conservatoire, went on to study piano and composition at Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba, and then moved to London to study a BA & MA Ethnomusicology at SOAS. She is currently a SOAS Global Community Fellow. 

Eliane’s unique sound and compositions reflect her Latin heritage, London musical melting pot experience, and classical music upbringing. She has played more than 6 UK tours, 4 Europe tours, Glastonbury Festival, Canary Wharf Jazz Festival, the Olympics 2012, the Barbican, the Roundhouse, the National Theatre, the Hackney Empire, Secret Garden Festival, the Jazz Café and is a regular at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.

In the run-up to her upcoming concert of contemporary Cuban Timba with La Evolución Orchestra at SOAS, we asked Eliane about her phenomenal and prolific career and what advice she would give to aspiring musicians. 

How would you describe your musical journey so far?

I started out studying to be a classical pianist. As a teenager two things steered the course of my music career in a different direction: first, I developed a chronic injury on one of my wrists which meant I couldn’t practice the (crazy!) amount of hours required to be a classical pianist, and secondly, I moved to Havana to continue studying music.

I crashed (in a good way) into a whole different universe of music that became central to my work. I’ve had one foot in Havana ever since, and this is still to this day one of the definitive factors of my creative output. I’ve diversified quite a lot in my adult life – I now do a lot of production and arranging work, compose for film and theatre, I tour as a soloist with The World of Hans Zimmer and play keys for an array of artists (anything from free form jazz fusion to Ghanaian pop!).

For example…just this week I handed in an ironic reggaetón song about disability, an arrangement of a reggae classic for string quartet, played at EartH in Hackney with a 20-piece old-school mambo orchestra that I arrange for, directed a salsa classics rehearsal for next week and sent out final edits for a Timba song I’m working on. I never get bored!

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

  1. “Good evening, Wembley!”
  2. My mum cried at my concert.
  3. In the pandemic, I wrote an entire timba album from scratch for a band of 20, coordinated the recording across several countries with 30+ musicians and edited the whole lot. It’s the largest project I’ve ever taken on, and it comes out next Spring!

How do social justice issues influence your work?

For 10 years I was the bandleader of Wara, a female-fronted Afrolatin pop fusion band with which we released a bunch of music and toured the UK and Europe quite a bit. This is how it all started for me in the UK really. Our lyrics were unapologetically feminist, pro-immigration and anti-racist. All of us in the band have developed solo careers now, and even though we are no longer working as Wara, I think we took the socially conscious concept with us. I know I most definitely did.

With my Timba orchestra La Evolución I don’t deliver 10-minute speeches on the Border Force into a megaphone mid-song like I used to do with Wara, but one of the reasons I felt the need to push forward with La Evolución (asides from my undying love for timba music) is because there are so few orchestras of this genre in the world that are female-led and female-fronted. The lyrics of the vast majority of Timba and Timba-influenced bands speak from a male perspective. My lyrics with La Evolución, whilst not being boldly political all the time, often speak of female empowerment and/or from a female perspective. It’s my little contribution. As a woman of Latinx heritage who composes, produces and plays an instrument for a living, I feel like the space I take up in this industry is already a little grain of sand against the status quo. I also continue to prioritise Cuban, Afrocuban and/or generally Latinx musicians when my team gets booking requests because even when I’m not being vocally political in my lyrics, I feel like we the bandleaders have a duty to put our money where our mouth is!

At what point in your career did you decide to study Ethnomusicology? Why did you choose SOAS?

I never decided to study Ethnomusicology. Someone told me about SOAS at the same time as I watched my musician friends and acquaintances in Cuba emigrate by the dozen and I guess it all just fell into place. I barely knew what Ethnomusicology was when I first set foot at SOAS. I assumed this was a place where I could play my batá drums whilst learning Kora and tabla and gamelan and so on, and once I arrived and started studying I fell for the theoretical and anthropological side of it.

Congratulations on your new role as Global Community Fellow at SOAS! What are you most excited and are there any lessons you hope to give the students?

Thank you! After I graduated from SOAS I went off to be a musician for ten years and now I’m slowly making my way back towards academia; it feels natural, in a way. I like the idea of having a whole decade’s worth of experiences outside the academic world that I can bring to the table. I think the best piece of advice I ever received is to not be afraid of being passionate, and this also applies to academia.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring musician, what would it be?

I’ll give you three:

  1. Practice.
  2. Meditate. Your insecurities are never going to go away no matter how much you practice, so at least by learning to control your mind you can tune them out at will.
  3. Remember there is no “best”, this isn’t the Olympics.

Find out more about Eliane Correa and follow her on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up to see
Eliane Correa & La Evolución perform at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre on Wednesday 24 November, 18:30. 

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