In new video album, Luedji Luna gives voice to black women with intimate exploration of affection, water and ancestry
By Marques Travae with Lara Teixeira, Rafaela Souza, Mauro Ferreira, Guilherme Soares and Laura Fernandes
Note from BBT: The Bahian singer Luedji Luna is another of a new generation of Afro-Brazilian artists in which the black and African aesthetic are featured prominently in their performances, songs and images. I’ve known about Luna since she debuted a few years ago and knew that she was an artist that I would need to keep my eye on. Since the start of the 21st century, increasingly, I haven’t been impressed with the direction that the Pop Music industry has taken. Too many reasons to get into here, but the fact is that, in this industry, singers and musicians are products for mass consumption that are “created” to be consumed by the largest numbers of music buyers. If one wants to “make it” in this industry, they will need to be willing to “sell themselves” in every way to appeal to the superficial world in which we live.
Many years ago, I remember reading about the problems that African-American singer Phyllis Hyman experienced with her record label, headed up by industry mogul Clive Davis, that wanted to make her records crossover onto the Pop charts. This manner of promoting Hyman and attempting to change the direction of the artist’s vision of herself as well as her material caused conflict between the artist and her label. Hyman never attained mainstream success and years later due to a bout of depression and other problems, Hyman ended up committing suicide.
Today, I’m impressed with a number of Afro-Brazilian artists, including Luna, who aren’t necessarily going after this Pop market, who are presenting themselves as they choose, and are proudly assuming black cultural elements in their presentations. A few of these artists besides Luedji Luna include Xênia França, Ellen Oléria, Larissa Luz, Jonathan Ferr, Tiganá Santana and Amaro Freitas. This is not to say that I like every single song these acts have ever released, but I’m digging on what they’re doing as artists. I also like some songs by Afro-Brazilian artists such as Ludmilla and IZA, but their music is clearly made for mass consumption and in recent years my musical tastes have tended to avoid music with the latest production trends. Between the 90s and early 2000s, I probably would have connected more commecialized music.
In some ways, where I am with my musical tastes these days can be noted in the differences in Black Music that have been recognized in the American music industry magazine, Billboard, where today you can find black artists divided into several areas such as Hip Hop, R&B and Adult R&B. The format defined as Adult R&B includes artists such as Maxwell, Kem, Anthony Hamilton, Brian McKnight and Charlie Wilson and Ledisi.
Of course, these artists can and do attain success on the R&B charts, but their music is often considered to have more success with a more adult/mature audience than contemporary artists whose music may appeal to a younger audience. Their music often uses fewer studio gimmicks and depends more on live instrumentation than technologically produced sounds and studio effects than the contemporary artists. In some ways, this is what I’m seeing in the black Brazilian music market.
If I were to divide music by black Brazilian artists into such categories, artists such as Luedji Luna, Ellen Oléria, Jonathan Ferr, Tiganá Santana and Amaro Freitas would fit into a more adult category, the latter three fusing elements of American Jazz, African and/or Brazilian rhythms into their eclectic sounds. But it’s not just the music that makes me connect with these types of artists. It is the whole of their conceptual outlooks as artists and individuals.
Luna recently became a follower of the Candomblé religion, the African-oriented spiritual system that has been demonized for decades in Brazil. The artist didn’t compose lyrics for her first álbum in 2017 that included direct references to the religion, but as she recorded her debut álbum a year after becoming initiated in the religion she feels the it influenced the recording in some way. With a new generation of artists, we are seeing a process of re-connection with African-oriented religions such as Candomblé, with many making open references to orixás (African deities) such Exu.
Following her own path as an artist, Luna also realizes that there are certain restrictions imposed upon black women in Brazil’s music industry. For many years, Afro-Brazilian female artists have denounced the fact that the industry insists on pushing them into the samba category, and when they do manage to avoid this restriction to make music on their own terms, they don’t receive the support and promotion of white artists in the more lucrative Pop market. Long-time Bahian Afro-Pop artist Margareth Menezes made headlines a few months back when she issued a statement on the privileges white artists have in Brazil’s music industry.
In an interview, Luna reflected on this not only as an artist but also as a black woman. Asked if she saw difficulties of being a black woman presenting African rhythms and religiosity to the musical environment, the artist repsonded:
“I think there is difficulty in being a black woman, northeasterner, candomblecist in the world. The difficulties of being in this world that is racist, be it religious racism, and that that is machista, is something that has been imposed since I was born, but that we continue to live despite the resistance of society and the world in accepting our expressions, whether religious or artistic. The difficulties are the same as those faced by my aunt, who wakes up early in the morning to take a bus and go to work in the home of white people. But now the challenges are different, I think that this place in which I’m being able to be listened to and have visibility in the media, this is only happening now, even though I am a black and candomblecist woman, because there was a previous social pressure, from the Movimentos Negros (black movements), from the militancy, that opened doors so that we could be here, to speak a little more, to “break down” these doors even more. So the difficulties are perhaps a little more mitigated because of these struggles that have happened before. For sure it was more difficult for Elza Soares than for me, but she is still Elza Soares and I am still Luedji Luna and we will continue doing what we have always done, resisting and existing in spite of the sorrows.”
With her outlook, it’s only natural that she would connect with other artists who share her vision to some degree. Last year, Luna did a series of shows with fellow visionaries Larissa Luz and Xênia França in a project that intended to redeem the place of black female singers from Bahia. Furthering her connections to Africa, she has also collaborated with a number of African musicians as well as an another Bahian musician, Tiganá Santana, an artist whose manner of composing she identifies with. Santana’s producer would go on to produce music for Luna.
I had heard about Luna’s new album and video last week and went to YouTube to watch the clip. I was immediately stuck by the serene sounds of the title track and the video of the artist, pregnant at the time, dancing on the shore of a beach and then immersing herself in water. For those familiar with the theme, the symbolic connection is there, as for many cultures around the world, life itself began at sea. The very term for “sea” in many languages is feminine, as it is in the Portuguese “mar”. “Mar” is also the root of the various virgin goddesses in mythology such as Maya, Maria, Mary, and Myrrha. (Luedji Luna gives voice to Black Women with intimate Exploration)
What I didn’t realize is that the track had two different versions of the video. The video I saw clocked in at about 4 and half minutes. But then I read a review of the scenes of the video that described it as 20 plus minute video album and was like, “Huh?”. I immediately went back to YouTube and realized that there was a much longer version of the video. This version was almost a suite, a masterpiece, incorporating different settings, scenarios and songs. The varying musical arrangements throughout the tracks included strings and horns giving the tracks a lush, emotional value and becoming the backdrop to a story that is open to interpretation.
With her new album and long-form video, Luedji Luna marks her arrival as one of Brazil’s most new promising artists.
Partnerships with black writers and poets in album immersed in water references
Characterized as a fluid disc, immersed in aquatic references, as indicated by the cover that shows a photo taken by Peu Fernandes in Bahia, Luedji Luna’s second album builds a narrative created with the objective of giving autonomy to the black woman so that she expresses her own feelings and desires in a society still ruled by machismo.
In order to strengthen this concept, the Bahian singer and songwriter establishes partnerships with black writers and poets in the creation and recording of this album entitled Bom mesmo é estar debaixo d’água (Really good is being underwater) and scheduled to reach the music market on Wednesday, October 14, with the mission of maintaining the status achieved by Luedji Gomes Santa Rita (artist’s birth name) with her first album, Um corpo no mundo, released in 2017.
Designed and recorded during her pregnancy, the new album is available on all digital platforms. “The uterus full of water, the place of comfort, of a baby’s safety”, compares Luedji. Curious is that the song appeared long before the singer thought of being a mother. In fact, all the songs on the album were ready a long time ago, so they don’t have motherhood as their theme. The love and affection of the black woman is what stitches the album together.
Announced in September with the edition of the single with the title song “Bom mesmo é estar debaixo d’água”, the artist’s second album incorporates a poem excerpt from Minas Gerais writer Conceição Evaristo in the re-reading of the song ‘Ain’t Got No”, eternalized in the voice of Nina Simone (1933-2003). Simone is an artist that has been praised in black Brazilian women circles in the past decade. “Ain’t got no”, one of the two songs in which Luedji is only an interpreter (the other is “Origami”).
With Cidinha da Silva, another writer from Minas Gerais, the artist opens a partnership in “Lençóis”, a song recorded with the participation of the Brazilian poet Tatiana Nascimento. “Recado” is Luedji’s composition with the Bahian poet Dejanira Rainha Santos Melo.
The song “Erro” remakes the artist’s connection with the singer and composer from Brasília (raised in Bahia) Marissol Mwaba, present on Luedji’s previous album as the writer of the track “Notícias de Salvador”.
Luedji Luna’s intention was to mix jazz with African rhythms throughout the 12 songs on the disc, formatted between Africa – more precisely in Kenya – and Brazil, with music production by Kenyan guitarist Kato Change with Luedji Luna herself.
The strings and woodwinds were arranged and inserted in the disc in a studio in the city of São Paulo (SP) without losing sight of Africa and the water, an element linked to Oxum, an African orixá associated with love and motherhood (Luedji gave birth to her first child, Dayo, in July).
Having contemporary Africa as its motto and guide, the album Bom mesmo é estar debaixo d’água was recorded with musicians from Kenya, Burundi and Madagascar. The exploration of African influences continues with the title track of the álbum which Luna composed with musician François Muleka. Muleka was born in São Paulo to Congolese parents. The musician, who has also lived in Bahia, always had a connection with Brazilian music, which he says he “remixes” with African music.
From this second album, Luedji Luna made a film directed by Joyce Prado, the filmmaker responsible for directing the clip for “Banho de Folhas” (Luedji Luna, 2017), a song that drove the first album by the Bahian singer and songwriter.
The Brazilian ‘Black is King’ in new visual album
A continuation of the CD, the extended video, talks about affectivity of black women, presents red as a link to ancestry as well as scenes from the streets of Salvador, a city considered the African center of Brazil.
For Guilherme Soares Dias, the Bahian singer’s visual album is her own type of “Black is King”, the Beyoncé video production, another inspiring short film that black Brazilians defended when the film was criticized by a famous, well-respected white, University of São Paulo/Princeton professor.
The video album’s director, Joyce Prado, who has accompanied Luedji since her first CD and video says that the inspiration was another work by Beyoncé, Lemonade.
Luedji talks about loves and disaffections and connects with the divas of other countries by understanding that today the consumption of music is also tied to the image. Despite having easy lyrics like the one on the album’s title song, Luedji doesn’t seek Pop acceptance, but makes conceptual records like the queen of American pop.
Part of the album was recorded on Ash Wednesday in the historic Pelourinho region of Salvador. There are scenes in which Luedji interprets the pomba gira (see note one) recorded in the samba de roda (samba circle) for Exu, the orixá. The song is about disaffections and says “you will pay me, I will plague you, I will make a spell”. Affection exudes the scenes and the singer’s mouth.
“This project taught me a lot about self-esteem, self-knowledge, the affection of black woman herself. After all, society makes us have a bad relationship with our bodies and with our life,”says Joyce Prado. This premise, according to her, is that it doesn’t allow being in abusive relationships. “It’s something that needs to be within us first of all,” she points out. (Luedji Luna gives voice to Black Women with intimate Exploration)
Luedji says that the CD’s intention is precisely to bring back the humanity of black women. “There are erasures of loving and affective experiences. It is very difficult to see portrayed in cinematography the black woman being loved, being a muse, speaking in the first person. I want to build that imaginary,” she claims. And those who know Luedji more closely, knows that she loves intensely, dances freely at the Carnival and lets loose with fervor.
In the lyrics of the record there are different women: the independent one who comes out “without a shoe and without a ring on her finger”; the one who denounces being “the black woman you fuck but doesn’t want to be with”; and the one who declares herself to the “father of my children”. Luana’s declarations are clearly references to the expresses of loneliness and abandonment expressed by tens of thousands of black Brazilian women on the theme of the “solidão da mulher negra” (solitude of the black woman). In past decade, in numerous texts, black woman have spoken with anger, sadness and disappointment of being treated as sex objects by Brazilian men, but specifically black men, who many feel have abondoned black women in pursuit of society’s “trophy wife”, the white woman.
“This record is a look at my own experiences, affective and loving, crossed by machismo and racism,” explains Luedji. “I think it’s important to bring up the theme of love from the perspective of the black woman, because there is an absence in literature. This woman speaking as she loves, who loves. When one thinks of struggle, it exists, but not in the sensitive field of affection,” she explains. (Luedji Luna gives voice to Black Women with intimate Exploration)
According to the singer, there is an erasure “as if black women were not worthy of being loved” and “this deprives our humanity, because love humanizes us. It’s a remnant of the process of enslavement and I break with this logic – first saying that I love, yes, I’m loved too and it’s not just about loneliness. We are human, we fuck, we love, are alone. We live,” she concludes.
All of this is portrayed and reflected in the songs and images. This makes the video album bring magical realism and is poetic and accurate, just like the CD. It advances in relation to works already done by the singer and director, bringing references from previous works, but more mature and translating the identity of both Luedji and Joyce. It starts by showing fragmentation. We don’t see the singer’s face and we construct her image through parts of her body. Then she goes out to Carnival made up, kind of trying to answer society’s need to be beautiful and match what people want.
When she looks at herself in the mirror and sees that her face, hips and body are not going to meet the standards, she revolts against everything she submits to and tries to adapt to. “It’s a standard that doesn’t think, nor accept them, it rethinks what is corresponding and the expectation that it wants to fulfill”, says the director of the album.
The pomba gira or padilha (see note one) shows sensuality, feelings, conflicts, opens ways to be born, to review and to love in a different way. In the end, the singer appears surrounded by other black women, all retintas (dark-skinned) and exchanges the red outfit for a white one, but the color of the blood is the same as the thread that joins them. Surrounded by her own image in other women, she begins to see herself in a loving way.
For me, as thought-provoking as the entire video is, this is the most striking part of the video. Several black women and a black child, all stand, in unity, representing a certain bond that they have maintained for centuries in the face of a Brazil that has long tried to maintain them as being available only in the kitchen or the bedroom.
A country that, in reality, has shown that their presence as full women has never been respected. In this last scene of the video, we see a solidarity and sisterhood that has maintained black Brazilian women for five centuries in a nation that openly declared its desire for black people as a whole to disappear. The look in that black child’s face seems to be saying, “Yes, I am black and I still exist.” As she closes her eyes, it seems as if she is taking a moment to exhale. After having watched this particular scene three times, I began to wonder of the intention of the scene was a show of the solidarity between black women or to portray the loneliness of abandonment. Perhaps both.
Estar debaixo d’água for Luedji of the album is being submerged and enveloped in love that black women manage to stimulate one among the others. It’s the complicity among black people. The songs and the visual album bring the possibility of looking inside the black community, with all the complexities they have and their love relationships. “The end is about my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, the desire to speak more, since communication is so difficult,” considers Joyce, adding: “When black women go under water they understand themselves as a community, they talk about feeling and construction of freedom.”
Therefore, the leopard comes out as a symbol of ancestry and red enters, which is blood and affection, pain and love. In addition to Exu, the album refers to another orixá, Iansã, and shows the maternal relationship with the womb, since all of us were once underwater. There is a desire to return to this water and red is the element that connects us and refers to the imaginary symbology. (Luedji Luna gives voice to Black Women with intimate Exploration)
So magical and affectionate that not everyone captures the universality of the work of the singer and the director. When answering about publishing this text about the visual album, an editor of a certain media outlet said: “Although wonderful, Luedji Luna doesn’t talk to our audience, which is mainstream”. I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, one of things that distances me from many black artists today is the necessity of “going Pop”, the sexualization of self and self-stereotyping that is often necessary to reach such an audience. This Luedji video speaks to black women, something that rarely happens in Brazil’s mainstream media.
Perhaps the medium in question is not read by women, or rather, black women in general. For if it were, they would know and understand at once that it is really good to be underwater, to listen and see Luedji Luna.
- Exú and Pomba Gira are Orixás that protect in African religions. They govern communication, personal power and gifts. Pombagira is represented by a sensual, independent, and dominant woman.
Pomba gira emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, symbolizing a woman liberated from submission and the oppressions and prejudices imposed on the female sex by a macho and patriarchal society. She is represented through attributes considered of female sacredness, such as personal power, beauty, sensuality and social work.
Maria Padilha is one of the best known phalanges of Pombagira. The Pomba Gira and Maria Padilha express themselves sensually and use seduction to achieve goals.