Serah doesn’t care much for neatly fitted musical categories. She’s not pop, she’s not new age. She’s not another Enya. She’s Serah, plain and tall.
While marketers and promoters at her label, Great Northern Arts, may grapple with what to call her music, she’s genuinely thankful when mentioned in the same breath of Peter Gabriel, who similarly has merged world music into his melodic pop sound.
“I’ve never known how to categorize my music,” Serah said recently from her home in upstate New York. “The marketers are always trying to categorize it, because I guess they don’t consider you pop unless you’ve sold a gazillion records. Until then, they’ve got to find something else to call you, and the category choices are not very big. It’s country, jazz or new age.
“A lot of people compare me to Enya, and I respect her greatly, but I don’t think I’m like her because the lyrics are important in my songs. I’m not sure the lyrics are quite as important in terms of how she zeros in on things when she’s producing her music.”
Serah’s latest album, “Senegal Moon,” travels the same eclectic terrain taken on her 1991 breakthrough LP, “Flight of the Stork,” named the record of the year by Germany’s music trade Stereoplay. Produced by Serah, Bernard Paganotti, Bertrand LaJudie and Grammy winner Neil Dorfsman (Sting, Dire Straits, Bruce Hornsby), “Senegal Moon” accentuates Serah’s lilting vocals and global-village outlook.
“I lived in Africa for a while in the early ’80s,” Serah said. “I was working with some friends in a drought area, and I got to know a lot of people in the bush and shared a lot of music. I would back them up and they would back me up. It was so wonderful, I thought, I would love to incorporate that into my music. Then when I started working in France, I discovered that there were these singers from Senegal, and that I could do this. We started using that as part of the tapestry, an ingredient.
“The first album that I did, ‘Flight of the Stork,’ had a lot of themes based on the blending of cultures from Africa and France and Europe and the Old World. The beauty of the Old World culture and the spontaneity of the African culture, the whole idea of cultures being able to blend, it became a metaphor for the human spirit, to be able to blend more harmoniously with one another, whether it’s in your personal life or culturally or politically. ‘Senegal Moon’ touches on those elements as well.”
Raised in the Midwest, Serah was destined for a career in music: She was singing before she could talk. In her teens, she moved to the East Coast and sang in coffeehouses before touring much of the ’70s with Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”).
“I lived in Canada at the time,” she said, “and then in ’77 I had a hit in Canada called ‘Nova Scotia.’ By the early ’80s, I felt I needed to do something hands-on, in terms of helping with world problems. That’s why I joined my friends in Africa. That was a very challenging but fruitful experience.
“I had this romantic notion of running off and saving the world by singing them songs. I realized that problems aren’t always easily solved as much as we wish they could be, no matter how much love you pour into them. At any rate, we did manage to solve finding homes for a lot of children. There were like 500 children who had lost their parents during this drought and we were able to find families to absorb them into their homes and lives and give them a sense of family. I was grateful for that.”
Having seen how the other half lives, Serah doesn’t take anything for granted.
“As much as we complain about our country,” she said, “you don’t know what it’s like till you go to a Third World country. You can’t help but wish you could help, and yet you feel pretty helpless. It’s pretty devastating.”
BWF (before we forget): For more on Serah, visit www.wvtc.com/~arts.