“Did You Hear That?” – Charlotte dos Santos Interview

Music interviews: often they are nothing but boring walls of text meant to promote albums and/or artists. Sure, we at Soul Feeder also wish to give the spotlight to artists we believe deserve it. However, we also wish to get to know the artist. By sharing 3 random tracks with the artist, we wish to ignite interesting discussions regarding relevant themes, lyrics and the song itself. What does the artist think of the tracks we love? This episode: Charlotte dos Santos. What are her thoughts on tracks by Arthur Verocai, Oscar #Worldpeace and Princess Nokia? Also, what song would she recommend himself?

Several music magazines have tried to properly pinpoint her style but, in my honest opinion, most of them have fallen short simply because so many different and often contradicting words are applicable to her work. Sure – a word that’d always make sense is “soulful”, but other than that, Charlotte dos Santos has already proven herself to be an incredibly versatile artist. One that is capable of working with different styles, lenses and topics while never failing to intrigue. Cleo, her debut EP, showed a remarkable potential and therefore it’s very exciting to speak to her.

 Thank you for finding the time to do this interview with us! 2017 was your breakthrough year with the release of your EP Cleo. What have you so far been up to in 2018?

Right now I am finishing the recordings for my next LP. I just wrapped up recording strings this week and they sound so heavenly, it is pretty absurd and quite surreal to hear musicians play my written music. This year has been very introspective, I have been blessed to travel a lot. I came back earlier this spring from an artist residency in Japan and went on a brief soul searching trip to Morocco in March where I did a past life regression so I have been taking time to reflect, process and harvest this year. There are so many changes in my life right now that I am trying to deconstruct and reconstruct the things I want to keep, I am very excited to share the first single from the new album the end of the summer. Some shows in Europe with Cleo this fall are on the list, so very excited to be playing again.

The first song we wish to share with you is related to your Brazilian background. This song, written and performed by Arthur Verocai, has been sampled several times by hip-hop artists such as Curren$y, ScHoolboy Q and even Ludacris.

What do you think of this song and have you heard it before?

Arthur Verocai has been in my playlists for years and particularly this legendary album. I first discovered him through the concert DVDs series Timeless where I initially wanted to watch J Dillas “Suite For Ma Dukes” arranged by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. I’d had been a Dilla fan for years so when Verocai came on with his arrangement for “Sylvia” I cried. I immediately fell in love with his music. Personally “Caboclo” and “Dedicada A Ela” melodically hit me the hardest. The whole album is purely such a beautiful journey through orchestrated Bossa, jazz fusion and Afro Brazilian music so it’s definitely an album that has inspired me a lot.

Recently, Latin American music has massively increased in popularity – not merely Puerto Rican and Colombian reggaeton but also more alternative or traditional Latin American music have received attention, partially due to the promotion of DJs such as Gilles Peterson. Your album clearly has some Latin American influences (among many other influences). Do you think it would’ve been as successful and critically acclaimed if you had released it for example 10 years ago? 

Many of the first tracks that formed Cleo circulated the internet amongst the soul collectors and hip hop heads a few years before being heard by the commercial market. I first released a song called “Stay” on Soundcloud in 2012 which was a Shuggie Otis tune that I recorded melody and lyrics to just straight on top of the instrumental. At the time I was a part of the Oslo collective Mutual Intentions and was working with producer Fredfades and we made “Take It Slow” “Move On” “Watching You” and Cleo” which are all sampled based and I really thought they would forever stay within our “niche geeky collectors scene”. But then they didn’t. Granted it did take a few years of circulation! When writing the rest of Cleo, which came together over a time span of three years, it was important for me that I got to express how free and varied I like to be as a musician and wanted to put that on the project as this would be people’s first introduction to my music. I don’t particularly have one style or type of music that influences me. “King Of Hearts” was melodically inspired by a 1930s Russian avant-garde film on the revolution in Mexico that I watched in my apartment in Brooklyn and simultaneously dealing with emotionally unavailable people and that song came out. “Sumer is Icumen In” is a Middle English reading rota from the 12th century which started out as a school assignment on my exchange semester in Valencia that ended up as the intro because I liked my re-harm so much. “Red Clay” is partially a Freddie Hubbard tribute, who is one of my favorite trumpet players, so when I wrote it I definitely was surprised it got such a warm reception from the commercial market. I think because all the songs are so varied they keep resonating with different people from different scenes, but I do think there is a time for when people are receptive to certain types of sounds and music, yes. It’s a little difficult for me to debate whether or not people would’ve been as receptive to my music ten years ago, as I think it just depends on what people are going through personally that makes them being able to connect lyrically.

Do you think you could’ve even made this album yourself 10 years ago? 

Hard to say. I have always been interested in researching music and been inspired by various genres like psych, folk, hip hop and soul for years – early on I experimented with making beats and music, thereby even trying out the MPC1000, but I was too scared to release anything because I was concerned about other people’s opinions and I honestly thought most people wouldn’t understand. I personally was not ready and needed time to grow and be comfortable with my own expression and what I really wanted to say. “Cleo” is a compilation of my personal experiences, almost operating like a diary, so lyrically it certainly would not have had the same content ten years ago. Ten years ago I think I was mostly too concerned about what music school to apply for after high school.

To what extent have recent developments such as social media contributed to your multicultural approach to music?

I think social media has not particularly contributed much to my personal “multicultural approach” to music, I have my parents to thank for that. I am lucky to have a mother and father who came from two different worlds. My mother was a huge admirer of North African music and culture and took the time to take my sister and I to unconventional travel destinations growing up. My father was being very invested in making sure I was familiar with the multicultural milieu in Oslo and had such broad musical knowledge so he introduced me to so much different music. The curiosity they somehow passed on to me I am very grateful for. I think the fact that I am such a history nerd as well just makes doing research a natural thing for me, and ethnomusicology comes along with that.

Some songs on Cleo have a similar vibe as hip-hop songs that make use of heavy sampling, such as the tracks that sample Arthur Verocai. Other than the fantastic Freddie Hubbard sample on Red Clay, are there more samples on Cleo?

Yes, Cleo has a lot of samples which is something my debut album does not have. I worked with Oslo producer Fredfades on four tracks, Move On, Take It  Slow, Watching You and Cleo – the latter the title track which was recorded in 2015. The song actually got its name because Fredfades had named the track Cleo after the sample he had used. I had fun with it and eventually it became an eclectic mix of both samples and productions turning it into a mini album consisting of 10 tracks. On contract, it is an EP though.

In an interview with Utopie Tangible you cited a wide variety of soul artists as your influences, but also renowned hip-hop producers such as J. Dilla and Madlib. Have you ever considered adding a rap feature to one of your songs and is there any hip-hop artist in particular you’d like to work with someday?

No I haven’t considered that actually. I think it’s funny, just because you are an admirer of an art form or impressed and inspired by it doesn’t mean that I should take that and embed that in my own music. I heavily grew up on rap and hip hop and will always continue to listen. But we don’t always have to take on things that we like. To me it is the same thing as just wanting to be a part of everything and not having enough insight to watch it, admire it, and let it be what it is. Like a flower, you wouldn’t rip it up and take it home just because it’s beautiful. At least that’s what my father told me.

In an interview with Black Girl Magik you spoke about your heritage but you also briefly touched upon your racial background and personal but also societal empowerment. A huge amount of artists have used the subject of racism as a topic in their songs in a wide variety of ways. A recently released song by a UK rapper named Oscar #Worldpeace takes a rather aggressive approach which has both been praised and criticized.

What are your thoughts on this track?

Well it quite literally just states facts and seemingly documents his experience as being young and black today and portrays that in his lyrics and visuals. I think it is important to be political and vocal about issues when you have a platform to reach a bigger mass. I had my own approach to how I chose to be political when I created “Cleo”. I created this partially fictional character as I wanted to “design” a woman I felt I was missing in the media myself. Cleo is a woman who represents divinity, ambition, power and being unapologetically present and making space for all kinds of women of color. For me she was important because I was doing so much on my own from producing, recording, writing and arranging to directing my own videos and trying to make everything work without compromising. I initially created her during a semester spent in Valencia while doing a minor in Spanish art history and Mediterranean arranging and there I was confronted with the fact that people of color were mostly removed from history and rarely depicted in scripts and images. I was tired of that. In my head she started out as this concept of being a Moorish medieval queen who could conquer and do whatever she wanted to do, as a metaphor for what I felt I was doing and also as a motivation to keep on going. Which is why I, in the visuals for ”King Of Hearts”, depict her in this medieval gothic setting. I chose to shoot the video at the MET cloisters in NYC, because it shouldn’t be an anomaly to see a WOC in this type of environment as we were very much present during medieval times. No matter how you choose to be vocal, bottom line is to me it definitely is important.

In an interview with Noisey, Oscar #Worldpeace stated: “I don’t want to put anyone down, but rather than making the same old materialistic rubbish, we should be empowering our people.” Do you feel like this is a right way of empowering people? Should the fight for equality quite literally be a fight?

I think it depends on your audience and who you are trying to reach first. Sometimes it is necessary to have a more aggressive approach in order to be heard. Using Kanye as an example, I think he is moving quite aggressively with this whole Trump affiliation without even saying too much. All communities respond differently and in the end it comes down to what you affiliate yourself with and what resonates with you. It’s a complicated debate and there is no right answer to how to do this, but I think the important thing is to have different forms of empowerments and different ways to empower. In the end I think we all just want the same: union, equality and respect.

In several interviews you’ve stated that you wish to be a role model for people of color by showcasing that by working hard, anything is possible. Are you, nevertheless, not afraid of ever being seen as a “person who made it in a white industry” rather than an actual role model? 

I don’t even know what that means. The music industry is an industry at the end of the day, and has been dominated by black culture historically. The entertainment industry has been the only platform through which people of color have been able to claim respect which has been a part of the problem for so long. As black and POC we were accepted either as athletes or musicians but what happened to seeing black and POC doctors, scholars, presidents, businessmen, prime ministers? They weren’t seen even though they thrived in sectors that have been outwardly dominated by white people due to racism. Being a part of breaking that image is what is important to me. That is the metaphor for me behind Cleo – being able to do whatever I/she likes. In the end if you are in any industry moving towards being true and uplifting people you are already a role model to somebody, but I have been focusing on uplifting WOC musicians especially back home in Norway where there are close to none, and I grew up without any role model in my field so I try to be the change I would like to see.

That is to say – do you think positive change can happen within the current frameworks or should our society change altogether to move towards equality?

On a greater spectrum change happens slowly and statistically we do see that things are changing but in each corner of the extreme. We see a strong right wing movement rise in the world but we also see positive changes and awareness because of these extremes. How is society supposed to change altogether to move towards equality? We haven’t been this individual in the history of human kind so how to collectively navigate the world towards “equality” is definitely a challenge and an ongoing process. But as musicians we have the platform to raise the collective consciousness so that is very much a goal for me and why I feel the need for conversations and bonding.

What are your dreams of achieving in regards to this topic in your career?

I’d like to be a part of opening up for conversations, promote being courageous and not being afraid of honesty, self-expression and different forms of spirituality. To be a part of eliminating the inferiority complex that many of us suffer from. There are so many ways to encourage and uplift each other and just seeing others taking an unconventional route or a harder route is also important so that we’re not as afraid of trial and error and understand that there is a timing for everything. I have my personal goals but in the end I hope to inspire.

Finally, you’ve also spoken about the topic of female empowerment several times. An artist who has been promoting female empowerment is the rapper Princess Nokia, who in the past few years has created a lot of buzz. Fearlessly and charismatically she shows her “flaws” to the audience and this, naturally, is very inspiring. This song, G.O.A.T. is an absolute banger.

What do you think of this song and have you heard of Princess Nokia before?

Of course! Any woman who is doing her thing unapologetically has my ears open and Princess Nokia is a huge inspiration to so many women out there – if you’re a woman and can uplift us in any way I’m all in.

Do you feel like, with the rise in popularity of hip-hop which is often seen as a genre with still a lot of sexism and misogyny, the music industry but also society as a whole have become more sexist?

I don’t necessarily think it has become more sexist. Hip hop unfortunately quickly turned pretty hostile and misogynistic early on and the hip hop scene now obviously has more women present but I think it has become more extreme. In all its elements lyrics, visuals, branding etc.

In a recent interview we did with Aïsha Devi, she stated that one of the reasons why hip-hop often has so many elements of violence and sexism is because it’s related to the “struggle” – a particular street mindset that also comes with a certain amount of aggressiveness. What do you think of this statement?

I think at one point in time that may be why it went from being party music and who were the best MC to using it in a biographical matter and maybe even sometimes as therapy, but popular culture quickly jumped on that and misunderstood and made it a trend so it is hard to debate, especially now since rap isn’t necessarily biographical anymore but rather made up stories. So to me, it now almost resembles theatre, a dramaturgical piece to keep people entertained.

Do you reckon hip-hop could make a perfect genre for female empowerment because of its potential anti-struggle nature?

I think it makes it a perfect platform because everything is allowed. Nothing is shocking, better yet – that is the point. To shock. What makes you stand out? What makes you heard?

And you personally? Do you have any ways in which you wish to empower your listeners? And who are the people that inspired you the most in this regard?

Truth. Honesty has always been the most important thing to me and what drives me and my writing. I personally believe that genuineness is recognized and heard, so all I can do is try to be my best self and tell my story and encourage listeners not to be afraid of doing the same. In terms of honesty I think Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan are my idols in this regard. If you dive too deep things can get dark and keeping the balance between creating, sharing and being a vessel for a lot of information can be destructive so that balance is hard to find.

Finally, is there a song you wish to recommend to our audience yourselves? If yes, which song and why?

A song I always keep coming back to is Yusef Lateef -The Plum Blossom.

Another recent repeat is Humility by Kamasi Washington.

 

Stream Cleo down below:

 

 

 

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