Note from BW of Brazil: Talented singer/songwriter Larissa Luz paid her dues as the lead singer of the popular bloco afro Ara Ketu and is now carving out a name for herself as a solo artist with her own eclectic style. Get acquainted with her in the interview below and check out a few of her songs and performances at the end of the interview. Axé!!
Born in Salvador, Bahia, Larissa Luz grew amid books and music. At age ten she began to take singing and keyboard lessons and never stopped. She followed on a path to become a singer and took a free guitar course in UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) and theater. She then began to appear in malls. She participated in other means of artistic expression, such as drawing and her pieces became known throughout Bahia.
Over the years, she honed her skills in music and theater, leaving drawing behind. She sang in bars Salvador and joined the group Interart where she made several performances on cruise ships and eventually received the invitation to lead the band Ara Ketu (1), a group she would lead for a few years before embarking on a solo career.
How did you discover that you liked music?
Since very young I listened to music and had a pre-disposition for art. I started writing when I was six, then, because of this precocity, I started in theater and there I discovered the desire to sing. There was a jump to the start of lessons. All my dolls were singers.
In childhood who were a fan?
I was a superfan of Xuxa and wanted to be Paquita (2). I got frustrated because none of them were black. I said: ‘There are no black girls, my God? I won’t get it that way. There are only blondes’. I have not even tried, because I thought my hair was duro (hard or curly/kinky). They all had straight, blonde hair and I, with this bush of hair, steel wool (laughs) (3). So I only sang the songs of Xuxa.
What are your musical influences?
Xuxa was a big influence in my life, but, as a rule, children do not listen to anything infantile, besides, of course, Xuxa and Mamonas (Assasinas) (4), a great success of my era. I really liked (singer/musician) Djavan and listened to an album that was in the house of Richard Clayderman (French pianist). My mother said, ‘What does this girl want from life, Jesus? At age 12 I loved this kind of music.
We can say that your musical influence comes from your mother?
Yes, everything that Dona Lourdes Luz listened to, I listened to as well. My father was more into the brega songs, he liked the romântico-brega (5) type music, which I didn’t identify with.
How did you start your artistic career?
After the singing lessons, I started performing in malls and bars. When I was about 14 years old, I went to the Companhia de Dança Internacional (International Dance Company), Interart, where artists like Emanuelle Araújo, Daniela Mercury e Alyne Rosa trained. I was a child, I knew nothing. There I started doing shows on cruises, hotels and conventions. Parallel to this, I had a rock band called Lucy in the Sky. I left the band and only went to Interart, where I sang MPB (Brazilian Popular Music). At 16, came this proposal to sing Axé music on a Carnival cruise.
And as it was doing Axé?
The beginning was difficult. I thought I wouldn’t do well. But I received good paychecks and could prove my mother that singing made money, yes. She thought that poor people had to put their face in the books and only come up to breathe (laughs). But I put in the effort and I picked it up all very easy. I looked and ‘poof’, I got it and learned. Even so, it I did Lambadas (6). Remember being called ‘Tonton’, for being giddy, and Alice, in reference to the character in the movie Alice in Wonderland. All of these nicknames were because at first I could not pump up a show. I forgot the microphone, the lyrics, I didn’t interact with the crowd. I really didn’t convince my audience.
When did you think your performance improved?
When I sang Axé in the first Carnival cruise. It was a knockout in my life, I generally rocked it, I loved it. When I picked up the language of the crowd, the way you talk and interact with the audience, I thought it was fantastic. It wasn’t just asking them to throw their hands up. The pulse was higher. It was the look, the feel and believing in it. After this experience, I participated in an Axé band called Tempero Nagô. I was in it until I came to Ara Ketu.
And how did you end up with Ara Ketu?
I was recommended by a friend of Tempero Nagô to audition for the Ara Ketu company. When they called me back, I was walking up a hill in the full sun of midday, full of books in my hands. I did the audition thinking it was for the band Ifá, but then it was quiet. Dona Vera (President of Ara Ketu) loved my voice and I did another audition and another and another. Only after that did they tell me that Tatau (ex-vocalist of the band) was leaving and someone should replace him. I had great chances.
And how did you feeling?
Oh, Jesus! Such fear! I was surprised, because Tatau is a great artist, he’s an icon that has an outstanding voice, one of the best in Brazil. Then I thought: ‘My God, how will I replace him?’ I preferred to believe that it was not a question of replacement but continuing. Now it’s my journey, because he is irreplaceable. His place is there. He is a strong reference. I never thought I would take his place. At Carnival 2008 we got together and he passed the baton to me officially.
You are a neighbor of Carlinhos Brown (7). Do you two talk about music, does he gives you any tips?
Yes, he influences me a lot. Since the beginning of my career he was very cool with me. Carlinhos went to the studio and gave me a lot of tips; he talked about posture and engagement between the artist and the audience. Brown is a master. I have great chemistry with him. He even gave me a song as a gift, “Nirombá”.
Do you write songs well?
I was embarrassed to show my songs, I thought they had a lot of me and it was like I was taking my clothes off. Once I came in second place with my song at a festival and I begin to have more courage. I started recording and showing (my songs).
Axé Universe: Is it true that you have already been an actress?
I started very early in the theater, until I discovered singing in the theater because they needed someone to sing and I ended up doing an audition. I was about 12 at the time and I started to think that it would work out and I believed in this story which was crazy until then. I did theater for a good while and I still have plans to act.
Universo Axé: In recent interviews, the singer Durval Lelys said that Axé music has lost ground for having become elitist. In your opinion, what is happening with the Axé?
I am new to Axé, I have only led the band for three years and until then I didn’t know this universe, I came from bars from many better things, so I observed everything from a distance, I really couldn’t assess it from within as an artist, I don’t have the (career) path nor the experience of Durval to evaluate or make judgment as an Axé artist. But I believe we are in a good phase and that the movement has renewed itself every 10 years…I think the Axé will never fall, it will never die because it is strong throughout Brazil.
What are the difficulties that a young, black singer from Bahia faces in a market where the main singers do not have this feature?
Being young sometimes implies lack of experience and ability to deal with some issues that arise along the way. Being black and from Bahia requires savvy to handle the routine prejudices that are ingrained in society today, and become noticeable in all kinds of action come from anywhere: from the media to the public!
Have you faced prejudice in his career? What?
Our society is full of old customs and rooted prejudices. It is a daily job to show our value in the world, and contribute in whatever way possible to educate people to respect for others.
The market for black artists, has there been any ascension?
Ascension? I cannot say how much ascension there was, or what those numbers really mean, but I’m sure that the artistic life of the negro is full of challenges that are present as well. I don’t see significant changes in the TV, film, dance shows us regarding inclusion of black people in the arts sector. I believe there is still much to be done, showing the diversity and overlapping obstacles with dedication and hard work.
In an interview, Larissa Luz says that she left the band Ara Ketu to perform more of her own songs and try new rhythms. “I wanted something new and to do my own songs. Making my songs I decided that this was the time and I would take the risks of it.” The singer left the band Ara Ketu in June 2012 and today the group is led by Tatau, the former singer of the band.
“The independent career is more difficult to achieve because of the structures and the possibilities that we have. We must turn to ourselves to do many things at once and we end up being the producer and ultimately end up having to play a thousand roles,” says Larissa , who also spoke about the importance of her passage with Ara Ketu.
“Even lacking things being the way I imagined, my time with Ara Ketu only brought positive things. I met many nice people who today are giving me a hand, are supporting me and are supporting me, helping me in this new work. People see me and say, ‘This girl has a business,’ she jokes.
Larissa also says that her new work will have many references from Jamaica, Candomblé (8), and also the Rock n’ Roll. “It has a hint of rock I always had. I started there as a teenager with my women’s Rock n’ Roll band,” he says.
“Black music is Rock n’ Roll. Bloco afro is very much Rock. The attitude, speaking without fear of thinking about the racial issue, which is something that is not yet well settled here in Brazil, which has a huge black population,” adds Larissa.
Even working out of Bahia, the singer says she cannot let go of her state. “I cannot let go and I want Bahia to like my sound, I want Bahia to recognize me, to see me, that black women feel represented by me too. I want to win, I want to grow for this, to represent our music in a universal way,” she says.
Currently, the former member of the band Ara Ketu splits her time between Salvador and Rio de Janeiro and is forging ahead with new musical experiences and sounds that blend electronic beats, sensitivity and her own compositions.
Larissa Luz sings “Trança” in Salvador
Larissa Luz – Filha de Oyá – LUPA SESSION
Larissa Luz – Dança Livre
1. The bloco-afro Ara Ketu or Povo de Ketu (Ketu’s People) was founded in 1980 by residents of the Salvador (Bahia) suburb Periperi. The bloco paraded for the first time in 1981 in which it homage the king hunter, Oxóssi which is the protector deity of Ara Ketu. Therefore the symbol of the bloco is ofá and the colors are blue and white. Similar to other blocos afros like Ile Aiye and Olodum, the bloco Ara Ketu also developed social work toward their community. Although during the 1980s blocos afros were almost invisible to the general public in Brazil, their songs were sung by other artists such as Banda Reflexu, Margareth Menezes and others. For example the song “Uma história de ifã” recorded on the first Ara Ketu LP in 1987, was released on a Margareth Menezes CD the year after having her greatest success in Brazil and abroad. Initially constituted by a percussion bloco, dancers and associates of “Ara”, as they are known, also incorporated brass instruments, drums and keyboard to reformulate itself. Ara Ketu was one of the first blocos to change their musical style from the African aesthetic mestiço rhythm such as Pagode and Axé in 1990. Source
2. TV host, singer/actress Xuxa is one of Brazil’s most popular personalities of all-time. She has hosted a variety of children’s television shows and movies and sold millions of albums and CDs also targeted at the children’s market. Xuxa and her former backing dance troupe, the all blonde Paquitas, are mentioned as influences by many girls and entertainers. The complexities of the intersections of beauty, success, whiteness and blondness are approached in an interesting short film about a young black girls who dreams of being a Paquita that didn’t feature any black girls. See the film and analysis of the Xuxa phenomenon in a previous post here.
3. Although Larissa speaks of this ideology about hair in a light-hearted, joking manner, the comparison of natural black hair with a steel wool cleaning product called bombril speaks volumes about how African derived physical aesthetic continues to be degraded in Brazil society. A number of articles mention or discuss this. See here.
4. Mamonas Assassinas was a satirical Brazilian rock band. Their lyrics, music and live performances were as famous as their tragic end: on March 2, 1996, the plane in which they were flying, crashed into the Cantareira mountain range, near São Paulo. The band’s name carries a double-entendre as, in Portuguese mamonas can be either the name of the Castor oil plant, which contains the highly toxic comount ricin (their logo incorporated a castor bean) or the augmentative for mamas, meaning breasts (which were prominently pictured on the album cover). The band mentioned model Mari Alexandre as an influence to the name, and even translated the name into English as “Killer Big Breasts”. The musical style of Mamonas Assassinas members employed a humorous mixture between rock and a wide range of styles. They often borrowed elements from other music, among which were the main riff of the Portuguese Vira (“Vira-Vira”), Northeastern Brazilian rhythms like forró (“Jumento Celestino”), Mexican music (“Pelados em Santos”), heavy metal (“Débil Metal”), sertanejo (“Bois Don’t Cry”), and even pagode (“Lá Vem o Alemão”). This combination can be easily checked at their videos, where various references to many cultures were found. Source
5. Brega: Initially, the term designated a kind of romantic music, with musical arrangements without much elaboration, very sentimentally appealing, strong melodies, lyrics with easy rhymes and simple words, in other words, a supposedly “tasteless” and “tacky” song. But from conceptual imprecision that carries the term from its origin, it could encompass artists from other genres of Brazilian music, which, in fact, only reinforce the imprecision of categorizing the genre. Source
6. Lambada (About this sound pronunciation (help·info)) is a dance music from Pará, Brazil. The dance became internationally popular in the 1980s, especially in Latin America and Caribbean countries. It has adopted aspects of dances such as forró, salsa, merengue, maxixe and the carimbó. Lambada is generally danced with arched legs, with the steps being from side to side, turning or even swaying, and in its original form never front to back, with a pronounced movement of the hips. At the time when the dance became popular, short skirts for women were in fashion and men wore long trousers, and the dance has become associated with such clothing, especially for women wearing short skirts that swirl up when the woman spins around, typically revealing 90s-style thong underwear. Source
7. Carlinhos Brown (born Antonio Carlos Santos de Freitas, November 23, 1962) is an Oscar-nominated Brazilian musician, songwriter and record producer from Salvador, Bahia. His musical style blends Tropicália, reggae, and traditional Brazilian percussion. He has also been nominated for an Academy Award for his musical contributions in Rio. He founded Timbalada and Tribalistas, and is also a solo artist. Source. Carlinhos Brown is also discussed or mentioned in these articles.
8. Candomblé is an African-originated or Afro-Brazilian religion, practiced mainly in Brazil by the “povo do santo” (people of the saint). It originated in the cities of Salvador, the capital of Bahia, and Cachoeira, at the time one of the main commercial crossroads for the distribution of products and slave trade to other parts of Bahia state in Brazil. Although Candomblé is practiced primarily in Brazil, it is also practiced in other countries in the Americas, including Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama; and in Europe in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.The religion is based in the anima (soul) of the natural environment, and is therefore a kind of Animism. It was developed in Brazil with the knowledge of African Priests who were enslaved and brought to Brazil, together with their mythology, their culture and language, between 1549 and 1888. Source