Our music is no souvenir from sunny Brazil

15 November 2023, 2:00

Our music is no souvenir from sunny Brazil

Baladas da Luta, Fighting Ballads, is the title of the sixth album by Brazilian singer Mariana Da Cruz and her Swiss-Brazilian band Da Cruz. It is a combination of modern music that combines Latin American tradition and contemporary electronic elements with strong lyrics. In them, the author fights for women’s rights, stands up against dictatorships and specifically criticizes the atmosphere that has evolved in Brazil under the now former authoritarian President Bolsonaro. Da Cruz performed at Brasil Fest Brno in August 2023. We revisit this festival with an interview conducted following their concert at Zelný trh. Singer Mariana Da Cruz and keyboard player and producer Ane Hebeisn, performing as Ane H, responded to our questions.

Your latest album is titled Baladas da Luta, Fighting Ballads, but there are very few ballads on it. You work with elements of electronic dance music, Brazilian rhythms and the lyrics are often quite harsh. So how is it with you and ballads?

Ane: I would say that our music also has soul, it’s not just harsh. It has its subtle side, and the name expresses both. We do have a few ballads, for example the song Liberdade is a sort of “quasi-ballad”. However, right now we’re working on an album that will be full of real ballads, with only acoustic guitar, trumpet and bass accompaniment. And it will be very, very, very peaceful indeed. But otherwise, I like the title “Fighting Ballads” because it really expresses the two sides of our music. On the album we talk about the last four years in Brazil. It was a very challenging and dark time with two epidemics. One was Covid and the other was President Bolsonaro. So we wanted to express the feelings we had.

Mariana: Above all, I see hope in this album, because I can’t live without hope. We created the Battle Ballads album to give people hope and strength. We need to wake up, open our eyes and fight - not for ourselves, but for our children, for better schools, for a better life for all the people of Brazil. I put a huge amount of energy into this album, but people are giving it back to me. My songs explain which side I’m on, that I’m fighting for progressive causes.

Ane: It’s also a political album. We have played at several festivals in Brazil, where we witnessed that many Brazilian artists do not have the courage and strength to talk about the political situation. They know that if they try, they will lose half of their fans. For those of us looking in from the outside, it’s much easier. And so we speak about these topics.

Mariana, is it really easier for you to sing about Brazil when you live outside your native country?

Mariana: Yes, it is easier. I have lived in Switzerland for many years, but I have family in Brazil and I go there once or twice a year. I see my friends and talk to them. It’s not that I made my life easier by moving to Switzerland. I have my own life, but I need to share my Brazilian friends’ concerns. I feel the need to help them. I want to speak to them about it. And they are also helping me by talking to me about it. This is how we’ve been fighting together for 20 years...

Ane: We never actually sing about the sunny side of Brazil. Or perhaps we do sometimes, but we focus more on darker corners of Brazilian society. That’s why we were a bit worried when we came to Brno, about how our music would be received. After all, this is no colourful postcard, no souvenir from sunny Brazil. We look at the negatives and it is important for us not to fall into clichés. This has been essential for us since our band was formed.

Mariana: The crucial time is now. The future we are talking about must happen now. People can’t wait any longer, another four or six years. We’re wasting time. We’ve already lost a whole generation in Brazil. Young people don’t have jobs, they don’t have power, they don’t have schools, they don’t have a good life. And most importantly - they don't have hope. So the future we want must come tomorrow. It must be in the very near future.

Are things really better in Brazil after the return of Lula da Silva to the presidency (he was president from 2003-2011)?

Ane: There is still work to be done, of course. Those four years caused really deep wounds. Society is divided in two and one presidential election will not cure it. But there is hope. It’s actually quite funny, because the current President, Lula da Silva, is 78 years old. And we wonder if such an old man can give hope to such a great country. But he really does. Even when he first became president, he managed to change an awful lot in those four years.

Mariana: Lula brought poor people, black people like me, into the schools, into the universities. It was the first time ever someone clearly told them: You have a chance to study, there is room for you in the schools. And these people finally realized that they too can study, they can find good jobs, they can travel, they can fly to Europe. I think the rich people in Brazil don’t like it. When I sit on a plane, they look at me with indignation. How can I, a black person, with a hairstyle like this, be on the same plane to Europe as them. They ask me where I’m going, and I say Switzerland, because that’s where I live. And you should see the surprised looks on their faces. - So I think that President Lula will make the people stronger and that the old order will not return. Four years is not enough, but I have a feeling that Lula wants to groom a successor, that he’s already preparing someone. Someone to replace him after the four years. People really need help. We need to unite and do something. And for the last seven months, I feel like I’ve perceived a change. Something is really changing. But in Brazil, the Congress is also a big problem. Three hundred politicians who once again pander to the rich. That’s the problem.

Ane: But we are also critical of Lula. For example, his attitude to the war in Ukraine is very strange. So we certainly don’t approve of everything he does, we don’t deny criticism. But we want to say that we hope that many things will change for the better in the country because of him.

Mariana: We think that people now have the power to stand up and strengthen music and culture in general. Music can play a stronger role in society, festivals can be important. Artists can show what power they have.

Ane: The cultural scene in Brazil has suffered a lot under Bolsonaro. He sought to destroy its “rebellious” side. Now I have the feeling that people are starting to build something again and that they are doing it together. We really feel the strength, the new energy and we hope that this energy will continue to grow.

You want to say quite a lot with your lyrics, but in concert people dance to your music, and people in many countries don’t understand Portuguese. How do you make sure they know what you want to tell them?

Mariana: Music has a power that does not depend on a particular language. Whether I sing in Portuguese or English, it doesn’t matter. What is important is the energy I give to people. For example, people don’t understand my Portuguese lyrics, but when I look them in the eye, I can see that they understand what I want to say and they show me by smiling. In fact, they’re signalling to me that they understand. And it is in this connection that the power of music lies. Dancing is also our strength. So let people dance, let them rejoice, let them talk to each other, let them smile at each other. It all counts.

Ane: I think Fela Kuti was once asked something similar - that he has politically tinged lyrics, but people dance to his music, so they probably don’t actually listen to it. I don’t know exactly how he responded, but it was something to the effect that when people dance, they start to think at the same time - that’s important and he has accomplished his mission. And I think it’s similar in our case. Those who understand Portuguese can think about our lyrics while dancing. And we explain something to the others now and then, although we usually don’t have much time to talk about politics at concerts.

Your music combines traditional Brazilian rhythms and electronic pop. So what is your recipe for a song?

Ane: We have many different recipes for how to compose music. Sometimes the musicians jam together with Mariana, and that’s how the song comes about. Other times, I’ll come up with a beat, then play it over and over all day until we come up with a new song based on it. So it’s different every time, we don’t have one single recipe. This is also a bit of a problem for us, because our music is not easy to describe or classify, it doesn’t have a uniform mood. In the age of Spotify, when we need to fit into one box, this is unfortunately not good.

And how are the lyrics created?

Ane: I’m a journalist by profession, so I’m used to working with words. Hence, I often have an idea for lyrics, but I need to translate it into Portuguese, which is very difficult. Portuguese is not an easy language. It’s beautiful, but it’s not melodic of itself. So writing lyrics is the most challenging process for us. Sometimes we already have an idea for a song, we have a melody and a rhythm for singing, but we are unable to find the lyrics. Other times we jot down a few ideas and the song comes out completely different. The approaches are therefore different.

You said you were working on an album of real ballads. What can you tell us about it?

Mariana: The project was started during the pandemic or even before. A friend of ours invited us to play at a museum, but it was just supposed to be quiet songs. We told ourselves we didn’t have any. Or maybe just two or three. So we had to write another one. We’ve created a new program titled the Amazonas Project. A friend of ours put together an exhibit about the Amazon, spoke about it, and we played in the exhibition hall. The performance took place three times - once for children and twice for the public. It was beautiful and it was a great experience to play only quiet songs and put all the energy into just the voice. So we figured we’d do a bit more with these ballads. And we worked on it a lot during the pandemic.

Ane: I think it’s going to be one of the saddest Brazilian albums you’ve ever heard. We don’t even know yet if it will be released under the Da Cruz banner or as Madame Da Cruz. We want to separate this project from the rest of our repertoire. But we’re actually working on three different albums right now. One will be this album of ballads, Madame Da Cruz. Then we are creating a very electronic album, based on Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Really distinctly electronic, but still melodic. And the band Da Cruz is working on a samba-rock style album that will be a bit more traditional. We already have a lot of material ready and many more ideas.



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