Behind the Songs: Julia Sarr Talks about Select Songs from Set Luna

Senegalese singer talks about her collaboration with French guitarist Patrick Larose on the album Set Luna.

Namana (track 1)

Namana means nostalgia. This song is about being so far from your country and about roots. Your roots are so deep, and you are so far from your country. And you want to go back to Africa.

Waruna (track 2)

This song is about the beauty of the Creation. It says, ‘Even if your environment is difficult—if you do not have work or money—remember that the Creation is beautiful.’ It’s a provocation. Not everything is beautiful. But you have to say it like you want it, to make it become true. If you don’t see the beauty with your eyes, just remember in your soul, that it is. Waruna means amazed in Wolof.

Set Luna Djamonodjî (track 3)

This is my duet with Youssou [Youssou N’Dour]. This song comes from
a letter I wrote to someone who wanted to come to France from Africa. France is
wonderful; I love so many things about France. But you can be completely alone
when you come from Africa by yourself. I really wanted to talk about that,
because I think that experience is in the news a lot these days

Guem (track 6)

For the music I wanted to do something that reminded me of Mali,
like a musical souvenir from there. I asked Patrice, ‘Can you play these kinds
of African chords?’ He said, ‘OK, why not.’ We tried a couple of different
things. That was the way we worked. One of us would be remembering something or
trying to find something. And we did not always find the exact thing but it was
never too far off. The words are about faith. It is a real personal song. But I
want to clarify: When I was in New York, I spoke to a journalist and he assumed
I was a Muslim because I am from Senegal. So I want to be precise about being a
Christian. I depend on God. Anything I do in my life, I pray for it. This is
about the art of living in faith

Xalè Bu Ndàw (track 8)

This is a lullaby for sick children. A few times each
year, I sing in hospitals for children who have deep diseases like AIDS, or
cancer, or things like that. I do a concert and also go into the rooms of those
that can not move. Because I love them. I have to share something more than
music. Many of the kids have to stay in the hospital for eight or more months.
Usually if I come in December, I can find the same kids there in June. The first
time I heard that melody I asked Patrice, ‘Do you think it’s a lullaby?’ He
said, ‘Why not.’ I said, maybe I can write a lullaby, but not a simple one. This
is a lullaby for a child who cannot run. In the song, sometimes the child says,
‘I cannot run anymore, but in my dreams I am a champion

Nimala Djuré (track 9)

I am a single mother and in this song I say to my teenage
son, ‘I’m your daddy, I’m your mommy. I believe in you.’ I just wanted to give
him some strength. He needs to hear words of love from his mother. In Africa,
nobody ever said to me, ‘I love you’ or ‘You are great.’ If you want to say you
love your child, you say, ‘Go find a bottle of water’ or something like that. I
do not know if it was my family, my mother’s generation, or our culture in
Senegal. But people were scared to say ‘I love you’ to the children. So I wanted
to say that to my son. If you haven’t heard those words, you can’t usually say
them. If you haven’t received tenderness, you can’t give it. I also tell him
that he was not an accident, because I was a young mother, only 20, when he was
born. So I wanted to explain all of this. This song is really personal

Samaï Dàgân (track 10)

I always say that this song is ‘medicine music.’ I have a
friend who was very depressed, very sick. The song says to her, ‘Life is not
easy of course. You have to wake up and be stronger. God values you and cares
how you are living.’ My friend cried when she heard the song. I didn’t want
that, but she cried. That song says that you cannot win a battle if you do not
know that there is a battle. You have to work to be happy

Yow Laï Xar (track 11)

This is the only love song on the album. I used to love
love songs. But this love song is about how, in my personal life, I was looking
so hard for someone perfect that it was as if my wings were bound. And now, I am
waiting for the person that God gives to me, instead of looking for someone. It
says, ‘I am waiting for you, my charming prince.’ But then in the middle the
song I say, ‘Come on! I want you to come now. I don’t know your name, I don’t
know your face… OK where are you now?” But I have to wait anyway

[Photo by Bugs Steffen, courtesy of Sunnyside Records].