Negra Li is a major point of reference in the world of Brazilian Black Music having started her career firmly within the genres of both Hip Hop and Brazilian styled “Black Music”. Now before we get into Negra Li’s music and career, let me first describe what is referred to as “Black Music” in Brazil. In general, the musical style known as the Samba represents the heart and soul of the Brazilian people. Equal to Jazz and Blues in terms of cultural and historical significance, Samba is enjoyed by Brazilians of all races and classes and is seen as a force that unites the country. But while the origins of Samba can be traced to Afro-Brazilian musicians, descendants of African slaves, of urban Rio de Janeiro of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is not necessarily regarded as “Black Music” or “Música Negra” because it was appropriated and used as a symbol to promote national unity and even the idea of Brazil being a “racial democracy”.
In the 1970s, many Afro-Brazilians were influenced by the Black Power Movement and Soul Music that was coming out the United States. The music and styles of important African-American artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5 and many others had a huge influence on the development of black pride and black identity in Brazil. As such, many black Brazilians began to feel the need to carve out a separate music, style and identity that they had as their own as the Samba had become a national symbol rather than a black symbol. In black circles of the 1970s, black Brazilians began imitating hairstyles, handshakes and clothes that they had been exposed to through popular blaxploitation films. This influence led to several prominent Afro-Brazilian musicians and bands like Banda Black Rio starting to explore new production styles in mixing elements of American Soul, Jazz and R&B with Brazilian rhythms and creating styles such as the Samba-Rock. Other artists like Tim Maia, Toni Tornado and Gerson King Combo were recording blatant imitations of 70s James Brown influenced Soul with Portuguese lyrics.
Today in Brazil, there is a whole genre known as “Música Black” or “Black Music” (which is actually said in English) that defines imported black American music or a type of Brazilian made music that is heavily influenced by styles coming out of the United States. Throughout the country in large metropolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador and Belo Horizonte, cities with large Afro-Brazilian populations, there are clubs, parties and dances that cater to this audience and which attract predominantly black participants. It is against this backdrop that allowed an artist like Negra Li to gain prominence. The owner of a powerful voice, she drew the attention of Brazilians for having been the first female Brazilian rapper to gain wide exposure in the genre.
Born Liliane de Carvalho, in the Vila Brasilândia neighborhood of the city of São Paulo, her interest in music began as a child under the influence of major icons, such as Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. He sang in the church and participated in theater … but it was in her late teens that she met the rapper Helião, who is considered her greatest songwriting partner, where he received a special invitation and entered the rap game with the group RZO. This experience was considered her best musical education. She learned to write songs, honed her political discourse and claimed her placed in the spotlight.
2005 CD Guerreiro Guerreira with Helião
She was pursued by Universal Records when she was part of the group, but felt unprepared to initiate a solo career. After leaving the RZO, she teamed up Helião and recorded the 2005 CD Guerreiro Guerreira which further solidified her reputation in black music circles. In 2006 she opted for a solo career and signed a deal with the Universal Music label and released the CD Negra Livre, which besides being a play on her name also means free black woman.
2006 CD Negra Livre
His first solo effort caught the attention of the public by bringing tracks flavored with both Hip Hop and Pop production standards. The result of her unique personality, Negra Li purposely decided to show her other side, or rather, all of her musical nuances in Negra Livre and succeeded! That same year she starred in the film Antônia which, in the following year, became a hit series on the Globo television network.
Negra Li with husband, musician Junior Dread and daughter, Sofia
In July of 2008, Negra Li married the musician Junior Dread, and on August 25, 2009, she gave birth to daughter Sofia. Currently, she is the finishing touches on her new CD Tudo de Novo, which refers to an extremely musical album composed of tracks ranging from pop to jazz, and explores all her eclectic musical tastes.
In an exclusive interview, she introduced some of the tracks from Tudo de Novo which will soon be distributed to the major music stores throughout Brazil.
RSBRASIL: Who are your main influences in Black Music?
Negra Li: For my life, my biggest influences in the Black Music are Lauryn Hill and Jorge Ben Jor. For this CD we were very much inspired by Stevie Wonder, Corinne Bailey, Joss Stone, Michael Jackson and Lisa Stansfield. Also I love everything that Beyonce, Rihanna, Jay Z and Snoop Dogg do. The masters James Brown, Ray Charles, Jorge Ben Jor, Tim Maia, Wilson Simonal, Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos, Toni Tornado, Cassiano, Hyldon, Carlos Dafé, Gilberto Gil and Ed Motta deserve praise. And of course, I can’t fail to mention the great divas: Elis Regina, Leny Andrade, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Jill Scott, Tina Turner, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton , Kelly Rowland, Keisha, Donna Summer, Lady Zu, Sandra de Sá*, among others.
RSBRASIL: In your opinion what is the importance of Rap for the culture of our country? How relevant was rap to your professional growth?
Negra Li: In my opinion, rap is a movement of redemption. It has the power to take the youth away from the street violence and bring an occupation. It generates jobs and you don’t need much in order for this to happen. Rap was my opportunity in the music and will never forget that.
RSBRASIL: Who were/are your major songwriting partners? Is there some national or international singer or songwriter with whom you would love to compose or record a song? Why?
Negra Li: Without a doubt my greatest writing partner was Helião. I learned a lot from this teacher. I also have a friend named Adriana Pereira, who is a great partner when it comes to writing songs. I would still like to do something with Jorge Ben Jor and my dream is to write with Lauryn Hill, because they are two people who I identify a lot with musically and above all I admire.
RSBRASIL: Have you ever composed a song in honor of your daughter?
Negra Li: I wrote a few sketches, but I haven’t recorded anything. But this new CD has a song called “Hoje Só Quero Ser Feliz (Today, I Just Wanna Be Happy)”, written by Rick Bonadio, which reflects perfectly the feeling of being a mother. I’m always thinking of my little one. The song was made especially for me, which makes it even more special.
RSBRASIL: What difficulties do you face in staying in the Black Music genre?
Negra Li: Brazil has a lot of talented people, but unfortunately does not have room for everyone, so I feel a very lucky person to have achieved something despite the ups and downs that are a part of my career, maintaining me in the Brazilian music scene, especially coming from the Black Music genre. But as we all know prejudice is not a part of my career because I’m used to doing different musical styles. Suddenly this mixture is what people like. But the difficulty exists in everyday life, for example, we still find contractors who don’t really value our work , among others challenges that only those who are on the road know about.
RSBRASIL: To what extent do you have the freedom to choose the songs on your CDs?
Negra Li: Complete, they only put songs on that I approve. Of course I count on the help of professionals who are used to listening with their undivided attention. But if the music doesn’t get in my head it doesn’t end up on the CD.
RSBRASIL: Is there any pressure on you for being the first representative of Black Music to have a contract with international record label?
Negra Li: Actually it is important to clarify that I was not the first representative of Black Music, but I was the first women of rap music to sign with a major label. But speaking of pressure, early in 2004, I felt this, because they treated me like a novelty. But not anymore, I think people have gotten used to it.
RSBRASIL: Due to the great development and enhancement of Rap music here in Brazil can we expect a return to your origins in your new work?
Negra Li: Wrong. There are no rhymes on this CD. More than ever I feel free and confident to try new horizons. First, because rap is very well represented with this new generation of MCs. When I started there were very few women in rap. I think that this space was wide open and represented well by Flora Matos, Karol Conká and Lurdez da Luz, among others. And then because above all I am a singer and want to explore my talent of interpretation. In this CD there is only one composition of my partnership with the band’s guitarist Khristiano Oliveira, which is a reggae tune called “Volta Pra Casa (Go Back Home)”, the other 10 tracks, ranging from pop to jazz, are compositions of others, such as Sérgio Britto, Leoni, Edgar Scandurra, Di Ferrero, Rick Bonadio, Leandro Lehart, among others. I don’t like to limit myself to anything, I like challenges and new developments in my life. While I have my health and disposition I will do everything I want to do and God will let me. *- Jorge Ben Jor (or simply Jorge Ben), Tim Maia, Wilson Simonal, Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos, Toni Tornado, Cassiano, Hyldon, Cassiano, Hyldon, Carlos Dafé, Gilberto Gil, Ed Motta, Elis Regina, Leny Andrade, Lady Zu and Sandra de Sá are all past or present singers of Brazilian Popular Music or Brazilian styled Black Music.
Check out Negra Li and Helião in the video for the song “Exército do Rap (Rap Army)”
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview
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