Spanish diva Paloma San Basilio: What we do is tell stories

Spanish diva Paloma San Basilio will perform her first — and probably her last — Turkey concert when she takes to the stage in Istanbul at the end of this week. Having made her Turkey debut in 2011 with the release of her 2007 album “Invierno Sur,” the singer will mesmerize her Istanbul audience on Friday at the İs Sanat cultural center as part of her farewell world tour “Hasta Siempre” (Till Forever).

A multi-talented singer of the Latin music scene, with both acting and painting skills, San Basilio is leaving behind nearly four decades in her remarkable music career, with more than 30 albums to her name. A world-class performer with appearances at famous venues like New York’s Carnegie Hall, the diva gained acclaim for her successful representation of her country in the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest, where she ranked fifth for singing “La fiesta terminó” (The party’s over).

San Basilio says, “Dedicating 40 years of my life to music is enough for me to feel satisfied and grateful,” and she believes in the power of emotions in music. She underlines the significance of leaving her space to the others so that she can “keep evolving and growing.”

Speaking to Today’s Zaman ahead of her Friday concert, the diva talked about her singing and acting career and her thoughts on Istanbul.

You have had a very long career full of achievements, but you say you have never been ambitious. How do you describe yourself as a singer?

I believe that I am creative, hard working and a perfectionist. But for me, the most important thing is to transfer feelings and emotions to the audience. I never thought of myself as if I was in a competition.

You [have] almost 40 years [behind you] in your music career, and now you are on a farewell tour. Isn’t it still so hard to say goodbye to music?

For me, a human being’s life has many different stages and some need to give their space to others in order to keep evolving and growing. I think that dedicating 40 years of my life to music is enough for me to feel satisfied and grateful, but there are also other things I love doing in life, such as painting, writing, traveling [and] spending more time with my family and friends.

What are your most important sources of inspiration in music?

The melody is really important in a song in addition to the story behind the lyrics. But I could say that it is more about the feeling music gives me when I enjoy it, and it is something that is beyond words.

You’re a powerful and versatile singer with an acting career that includes appearances in famous musicals like “Evita” and “My Fair Lady.” Do you think that being a singer also requires some acting?

For me, musicianship is as important as acting skills. The truth is that what we are really doing is telling stories. It would be impossible for me to separate a singer from an actress. Such a symbiotic relationship helps the artist communicate with the audience at a deeper level.

How do you describe your experience portraying strong women, like Evita in the musical of the same name?

I love characters that have strong personalities. For me, they are very natural to breathe life into because I also feel that women’s role in society is very important. I like representing women who fight for their rights and want to have their own space. This is maybe because I am also [living] in this way.

You are one of the superstars of the Latin music scene. What attracts you most to Latin music?

The cadence, atmosphere … the rhythm and the emotional expressions.

You have performed with legendary names like tenors Placido Domingo and José Carreras. Are there any other names you would like to perform with?

Throughout my career, I have performed with wonderful and well-known artists from Spain and outside of Spain … I like to perform with people I admire, but it is not a goal per se. These former performances were never a part of an elaborate marketing plan but more about sharing the beauty of music with my fellow artists.

When we look back at your career, we can say the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest is one of the shining moments. What did you feel during the competition?

It was something that I did in the early years of my career, and it was an unusual move for me since I am not very [big] fan of contests and competitions in general. At that time, I was recording an album with the great Spanish songwriter Juan Carlos Calderon, and a member of the Spanish TV asked us to bring a song to Eurovision to represent Spain. It was an interesting experience.

Also as painter, you [have] presented exhibitions in Madrid and Seville. How long have you been into painting?

I have always loved painting, since I was a child. But I’ve been focusing on it intensely for the past 10 years, taking inspiration from my house in the southern Spain. I use acrylics and create abstract compositions.

As a singer and actress, you have also penned articles for prestigious Spanish newspapers like El Mundo and ABC. What do you like writing about?

I like to write about situations and circumstances going on around me, about social issues, and sometimes I also like writing simply about things that I think or feel.

Previously, you were in Istanbul for a special photo shoot. You must have known about the historical places of the city, but what comes to your mind first when somebody speaks of Istanbul?

For me, Istanbul is a magical word which is filled with a vast cultural variety. It is the best fusion between the East and the West, and [Turkey is] a country that I want to know and enjoy.

You are going to perform for the first time in Turkey. Are there any surprises for the audience?

I am really excited about this opportunity to bring my art to the people of Turkey. If you want to know what is the surprise, come and see me while [I am] performing.