Channeling Magic Through a Saxophone
Water is slowly dripping from the ceiling, the silence is all-consuming. Fog creeps through the opening crack of the cave and quiet anticipation fills the mouth of this old volcano, while a young man lifts his saxophone up to his lips. The sounds he creates are not jazz-music or melancholic tunes, but rather a conversation with his surroundings. He echoes the wind and the solitude of a place that was created by the force of nature centuries ago. We all stare as he creates magic with only his breath and a vision beyond our imagination. His name is Luis Senra and he and his music are known on all nine islands of the archipelago and way beyond.
Born and raised on the north coast of São Miguel Island, in the infamous town of Rabo do Peixe, Luis is strongly connected to the Azores. As a teenager, like most young people from the islands, he dreamed of living somewhere else – but only for a short period of time. He quickly realized that his roots are stronger than anything else and that he loves the islands too much to leave for good.
When Luis was a child, he loved the sea. Coming from a family of fishermen and with a grandfather who was a sailor, his connection to the ocean was undeniable. All his favorite childhood memories are tied to the sea, from collecting crabs with his mother to sitting on the shore with his grandfather and catching fish. But whoever meets Luis now or knows about his art, would be surprised to hear that, as it is easy to see that this has changed. The compass of his heart is now pointing inward, towards the forests and caves off his volcanic home.
The Path Does Not Need to Be Straight
Luis’ story is everything but a straight line. In the beginning, there was a marching band. When Luis joined, he played the flute, but the Philharmonia needed a saxophone, so the maestro simply decided one day that Luis would switch instruments. This was the start of a whole new chapter. Luckily, Luis, who was seventeen at the time, learned quickly and fell in love with the instrument. While he continued to play the flute for three more years, the saxophone grew more and more important.
Luis attended jazz workshops, started improvising and ended up on the stage of Jazzazores, which opened him many doors – inside and outside.
Meanwhile, he dropped out of the Philharmonia, joined the music school, dropped out of that and re-joined the Philharmonia, torn between what he wanted to do and what was expected of him. He was conflicted, not finding his path.
The struggle between tradition and creativity became harder to manage. Over time, the freedom of improvising became not only a temptation but developed a gravity Luis could not escape. Every time he played alone or improvised, he would grow more into the music and himself. He even had a band called MP4 and a project “Sax and Phone” where they followed people on the street and created a spontaneous soundtrack to their walk.
When his spirituality entered the stage of his life and he was confronted with music from Arabia and India, his perception of music shifted again and the horizon of his art continued to expand.
“Sometimes I feel like I have two lives in music. One is rooted in the conservatory and the marching band and one is improvisation with all the freedom that I needed to grow up in music.”Luis on his musical path in life
A Year That Changed it All
In the year 2016, an emotional earthquake ripped through the life of Luis. Many private things came together and forced him to confront the parts of himself that were struggling. He even stopped playing music altogether and worked in a fruit store instead. One day, a man entered the shop. A man that Luis did not expect to see. Michael was on a vacation on the island by pure chance and wanted to buy some fruit. Luis and Michael were two long-lost friends from a Jazzores Event a long time ago. Michael canceled all his other plans for the day, Luis made some drastic private decisions, picked up the saxophone and stood on a stage again that same night together with the man he had not seen in years.
It was like breaking through the surface of water after drowning. Luis became alive again and suddenly, many things changed. Thanks to Michael and some new people Luis got to meet, he got introduced to meditation and spirituality. In a period of just a few months, he had life-changing revelations.
“Nature is free improvisation. Humans started to make music to impress nature. They reproduced what they could hear. When you are improvising, you do not know what will happen. Nature does the same when it combines the sounds of wind and waterfalls and all of that. I just listen and combine the two worlds.”
During that period, Luis also met a person that would become his best friend. Together, they ended up spending lots of time in nature, specifically in forests and near rivers. Luis realized that the connection he felt to this type of nature, was his. The ocean belonged to his family, but his story was more intertwined with trees, plants, mountains and volcanic activity. Deep inside his soul his passion for biology, geology, spirituality, energies and music merged and created the artist that, one year later in 2017, started the cave project many Azoreans know him for.
Caves and Crystals
Today, Luis’ music focuses on the nature that he is so connected with. The cave project made him play concerts in almost all nine islands and in many unique caves of the Azores. On different occasions and during events like the Montanha Festival, he climbs into the volcanic remains, together with guides and a small audience, prepares his precious saxophone and gets into the zone to create his magic. Due to over a hundred caves on Pico Island, he spent a lot of time on this island which became his second home.
“Pico is like my second home. Because of the people, the friends that I have there, they feel like family. I love São Miguel of course, but if Pico had forests and waterfalls, I would move there.”Luis about his connection to Pico
Since the pandemic restricted him to travel and perform as he used to, he also found another calling. Holistic therapy, more specifically Lithotherapy, the art of healing people with the help of crystals and the knowledge of energies. This new path emerged out of unusual circumstances and aligns perfectly with his personality, skills and connection with nature. Once again, life has changed the direction for Luis, but music will always remain his companion and one true love.
Music is A Language
Fourteen years after the maestro has put a saxophone into his hands, Luis is known on all islands and beyond for his art. But his relationship goes way deeper than what the audience can see on the surface while listening to his saxophone.
Not only does he secretly prefer the piano as an instrument, even tho he never learned how to play it, but music has been his language for most of his life. As a very shy kid, he never knew how to express himself. The common tools of society did not work for him. Words were never enough to truly show his emotions and thoughts, to fill the gap between his mind and other people. The saxophone changed that. When Luis creates music, his soul is able to speak. Now, he is able to communicate to the world as his true self and channel the language of music through him.
“I was a little bit separated from the world and from others. But when I started improvising, I could let the saxophone speak for me. To have music as a way of communication was very important to me.”Luis about his relationship to music
Many dreams, one home
When Luis was still trying to figure out who he was and what music meant to him, he joined a workshop that was a gateway for his entire lifestory to unfold. “Put your instruments away”, the teacher, Thollem McDonas, said in the first meeting. The musicians sat together, listened to the surroundings, created sounds naturally, spoke about silence, the in-between of reality and art, shared moments with the entire group, analyzed free play and noise rather than the techniques of music. “He told us how to listen, to communicate, how to live”, Luis says, his voice filled with gratitude and respect. This workshop has been with him ever since, whenever he plays, when he explores nature, when he talks to people and when he now gives his own master classes.
Luis has come a long way and there is still so much more to be seen and heard and learned. His heart is pulling him towards something bigger. The idea of playing in caves and natural surroundings in different parts of the world has developed into a dream that might become a reality in the near future. But São Miguel Island will remain his anchor, wherever he goes. The Azores are his home and his roots while the music are his wings and his voice. And we are ready to listen.
“I am in love with these islands. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.”– Luis about the Azores
All photos by Austėja Liupševičiūtė and Pedro Silva.
Thank you for giving me permission to use them.
Há uns bons anos fui a Rabo de Peixe conhecer as tias do Luís. Encontrei-o lá muito envergonhado e escondido atrás dos móveis. Mas dizia umas piadas giras. Ao longo dos anos fomos falando e ele disse-me que sonhava ser músico e eu disse-lhe que teria de lutar e nunca desistir dos seus sonhos. E agora ao ler esta fantástica reportagem digo apenas isto: Estou orgulhosa de ti amigo.