Photo: Paloma Vianna

Breaking Down Prejudices With Rap: A Conversation with RAPadura

By | 17 April, 2019

RAPadura‘s musicality is unique. His RAP has the characteristics of Brazil, as well as the nickname he chose (RAPadura is a typical Brazilian sweet). Not coincidentally, he has become one of the rappers who has played the most shows in Europe.

On a rainy afternoon, we find ourselves at Matilha Cultural, a cultural space in the centre of São Paulo, for a conversation about life, careers, the current political, social and cultural moment in Brazil, and his first film: Quebra-Queixo.

Was your first musical contact at home?

My dad was dating a friend of his named Zé Robô (Robot). They did some cheesy music, some old stuff … I always accompanied my father. He played under the typical fruit trees. We listened a lot to the singer Paulo Sérgio… My childhood was very good. Lagoa Seca, my neighborhood in Fortaleza, had streets of sand, because we lived near the beach and near the mangrove. My father also used to fish. So I always had this strong contact with nature.

When did you first get involved with rap?

I met hip hop in the city of Planaltina, in Distrito Federal [Brasília]. It was between 1997 and 1998 through breakdance and listening to songs from Câmbio Negro and Thaíde [pioneering rappers in Brazil]. It was a friend who introduced me. He danced and sang. I soon fell in love with it, [thinking] “Damn, this is very crazy.” Then I stopped dancing and immersed myself in rap. I started composing and did my first performance at school when I was 14 years old. Already the second presentation was in a rap contest. I was the only child who rhymed in that region and won the contest… over many experienced artists. After that I did not stop.

In that first contact, did you make a connection between rap and how to interpret repente and embolada, traditional musical genres of north-eastern culture that also use rhyme and poetry?

This is very interesting, because this mixture of rap with the imaginary north-eastern [cocomaracatu] happened because of the prejudice I suffered at home. My dad would not let us listen to rap. And my dad had some country music tapes, and we sometimes taped the raps off the radio on to them. Then when he went to listen he would angrily say: “you recorded on my tape”. So we had to listen to rap elsewhere, along with [others on] the fringe. Because the fringe people who listened to rap at that time thought, “I can not listen to rap at home, damn it.” Among my father’s vinyl records was one by Luiz Gonzaga, which is called “Eu e Meu Fole”. When I heard it, I liked the accordion. I had just borrowed a friend’s computer to make beats at home. Then I found this accordion interesting and I decided to make it follow the beat. In the sequence I made a track, “Amor Popular” (popular love), which talks about the culture from where I came, of the north-east of Brazil. I thought “maybe my dad does not accept the rap here in the house”. Then the other day my mother was playing her friends [my music] saying that I was singing and my father liked it too. That was a way to break down the prejudice I had with rap inside my own home. This also encouraged me to delve further into my culture… Go into the bookstores to buy vinyl, buy cordel [traditional, inexpensive chapbooks of poetry and folk tales].

I believe that the great majority of the generation that was in adolescence in the 90s suffered this prejudice. Their parents did not allow for rap to be played on the radio. And it’s interesting the way you found to make rap accepted, for it to have musical elements that your parents were already accustomed to. It helped to expose its own regionality. But, out of the house? How did rap friends react to this unusual mix?

All that is new causes strangeness. I heard a lot of people saying it was not rap. At that time rap was much heavier, more gangsta. But I have always felt this need to show the cultural richness of Brazil. Each region you go to has a type of culture, a type of music and a type of dance. So why not have someone to represent it? Someone who brings the traditional clothes, which is the straw hat, leather sandal, the language? Before it was very difficult to find references. That’s why I decided to go deeper and bring this up: I want to use maracatu, I want to use forró, I want to use the baião, the coco… and with a north-eastern language. Then, I saw that a lot of people who were not rap were very identified, like the older ones, the repentistas (who make rhymes on the spot, using only a tambourine as an accompaniment)… people who had a certain preconception with rap until then. Gradually the crowd began to understand, to feel what is really ours. Because we had been bringing what is out [what was common in rap] and appropriating it as our own, and forgetting what is our fact, which is here in our country. If you go to Amapá you have a drum of marabaixo… if you go to Pará you have the carimbó. Now imagine rap with all this: each state having its own particularity! If you listen to Marinês, a singer of the 1960s, she’s singing a forró, everybody is dancing, but in the letter she criticizes the government, she is talking about racial causes, is talking about social causes. So it’s interesting to mix and do what’s actually ours, genuinely Brazilian rap, from here.

Today your rap is heard in Brazil and abroad. How has this lonely walk been with “no support”, considering that when you started the Internet was only developing?

Wow, when the Internet came up, I remember that to download a song had to leave it downloading from one day to the next. There was no studio to produce music. I recorded on K7 tape. The first time I had contact with a CD was with instrumentals, beats… [a beat sample CD].

They sold with 10 tracks…

Yeah, discobox… I remember I had up to volume 5. When I saw the store I said, “Fuck, now there are some recordings of beats to sing.” But my first recording was on cassette tape from one deck to the other and I recorded the microphone with a headset. In Brasília it was very difficult, first of all because they did not understand a new style. That was the biggest barrier, because everyone was laughing. They said: RAPadura is not an MC’s name. The names had to be foreign. What I did was different. And I did it independently, alone. My parents did not have money… I remember that for many, many times I heading out to sing on foot. In order to introduce myself, I did all the walking on foot. It was 18 miles. I did not have the money to pay for the bus. So it was 18 miles to go and 18 to go back. All this to sing one track.

Abroad, Brazilian music is highly valued, and your rap has a Brazilian identity, completely different from the others. Was that essential to catch the attention abroad?

Language is a barrier. Portuguese, unfortunately, is a complicated language. No one will want to learn Portuguese to understand what you are singing. So we win in musicality. Because our musicality is fucking [great] and it’s unique, you know!? And this is what everyone wants to see in Brazil: Brazil itself! We often want to make American rappers the same, but they like Brazilian music. I played at Hip Hop Camp, which is one of the biggest hip hop festivals in the world. There are three days of shows in the Czech Republic with the biggest names in rap. At the time I went there was KRS One, Onix, Dilated Peoples, Cee-Lo, Big Daddy Kane, Apollo Brown… Just the monsters, the guys I admire. And I’m the only South American to play at this festival until today.

You are also one of the most famous Brazilian rappers in Europe…

This is because of the Brazilian musicality you spoke of. It made me go there. Because? Here in Brazil we have many other artists who are much more renowned and are more in the media than I am. But what counts for them is representativeness. It is what you take from the culture of your country. It’s the musicality here that delights the guys. And I took an accordion, zabumba (traditional forró drum), and I put it on stage at a hip hop festival. And I did the best show on my stage, which was the second biggest of the event. And all this with nothing, only by the force of music. The music took me there. And you know it’s a rare stop nowadays. Today everything is Internet, its [about] opinions… It was only with the power of the culture itself. In 2013, I went to Europe for the first time in Portugal to represent Brazil in the ‘Year of Brazil in Portugal’. And my second time on the Continent was in 2014. In Germany, there were people speaking Portuguese. They learned Portuguese to talk to me and understand what I was singing. So, in a way, we made a little revolution in that direction… And it’s the charm of the music that does it!

And you did this working alone?

The EP Fita Embolada I produced alone in my room. Then I won the free recording of a friend, who recorded the vocals and mixed it. Then I got to do a show in Brasília and with the money I earned I made a thousand copies of the CD. I went out [selling] hand to hand and I am here until today [doing that]. I must have sold some 15,000 copies.

You are 21 years old as an independent. I see that today there are artists coming and they already want to be successful with the first single. It takes perseverance and patience to work consistently.

For sure. But success is relative. Because you can make success today and tomorrow no one will remember you any more. It also depends a lot on the person’s decision, whether they want something immediate, or whether they want to build a story. They are two different things. But it is primarily to believe in you, in your work. To feel… that actually comes before believing, because you have to feel and then believe. Today we have wonderful professionals in different areas, whether in video or in photography. Everyone working professionally, something they did not have before. I’m happy because more people are coming. Our scene is self-sustaining. And this is why: everyone is singing their truth.

With all this experience, you now make a fresh start, with a team and structure behind you (the Matilha Cultural label), making a movie. Why this move now?

I never imagined myself making a movie. I’d done [music video] clips, but never with the vision of a movie. But the director Ricardo Costa heard the song “Quebra-Queixo” and watched the video. It was a very good experience because I had never seen myself as an actor. I worked with the people there in the Vila dos Picotes village in Paraíba. The entire local community participated. It was amazing to be able to have that human relationship, in fact. It was not only acting, but of feeling, of living, and of being with those people so warlike, so hard-working. The film deals with the war waged between the pen of the poet versus the weapon, which is a theme that is very present in Brazil today… violence and all that is happening, unfortunately. The music of north-eastern Brazil has this thing to convey serious messages in a relaxed way. It is a way to bring joy and show beauty among difficulties.

Is all this going to be on your new album?

Yes. The record comes with a lot of social criticism. A lot of political criticism… because that’s what we’re living, there’s no way we can be different. It’s all there. And that’s what I’m going through, living, feeling and seeing. There is no way to talk about another theme living in Brazil that we are today. This is our reality.

And how are you developing these projects?

For me it’s being a great learning experience. The experience has been wonderful because I have always done it all alone in my room. Today I have many people with me, and this is very good. Again: human relationship. Our sum is what brings a good result. Alone we do nothing.


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