Caribbean news. Karol Conka (born as Karoline dos Santos de Oliveira) hails from the Boqueirão quarter of Curitiba in Paraná state in Brazil.
Since her debut with the trailblazing album Batuk Freak (Mr Bongo), the first lady of Brazilian hip hop has been making her mark on the music scene in South America’s most populous country.
Produced by Nave, the genius behind rap greats Emicida and Marcelo D2, Karol is nationally recognised in Brazil and garnered a nomination at the 2011 Brazilian MTV Awards for her single Boa Noite which has already received over a million Youtube hits.
Though hip-hop loving youth across the world will identify with the street vibe and heavy bass lines of Batuk Freak, what makes Karol’s artistry unique is her strong identification with Afro-Brazilian folk traditions.
Bate a Poeira, for instance, begins with the unmistakeable sound of the laughing drum, the cuíca. But there is something here for everyone. Sandália is imbued with a rootsy early 1980s rub-a-dub Jamaican groove. Mundo Loco, carries the influence of percussion maestro Naná Vaconcelos, clearly one of young Karol’s musical heroes.
JungleDrums caught up with Karol for a chat about her music.
John Stevenson – How did you come up with the title Batuk Freak?
Karol Conka – “Batuk” is a Karolish way to spell batuque, which is one of the Brazilian words for “beat”. My album is just like that, a freak beat. It came when myself and my producer Nave were recording. He is sort of the Batuk and I’m the Freak.
JS – What was it about hip-hop that first got you into it?
KC – The language of the streets, the clothes, the style. I felt familiar with it, I identified with the protest thing. I always liked to talk and express my emotions and I think that rap is a manifestation of all of that.
JS – Do you think hip-hop and break beats represent a more accessible medium for young people in Brazil in general? Or does it have a specific appeal to youth who identify as Afro-Brazilians?
KC – Hip hop culture is part of black culture and is connected to the peripheries in Brazil. Most people here live on the periphery, the margins. Because of this, Brazilians identify with rap, and increase their self-respect and self-esteem with rap.
JS – What are the main themes which your music addresses?
KC – Freedom, party and self-esteem.
JS – Do you have any main influences? Have female hip hop and rap artists had an impact on you such as Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Sister Souljah, etc?
KC – Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot and Beyoncé
JS – Youtube clips of your hits exceed the one million mark. How does this make you feel? Does that recognition make you more responsible for the messages conveyed in your music?
KC – For me, numbers on Youtube are irrelevant. I feel responsible for taking my music and my message to people, but I would not say this puts pressure on me or my future work. It is actually an indication that I’m on the right track.
JS – You have included a sample of Naná Vasconcelos’s music on the CD. Why is his music important to you?
KC – He is an icon of Brazilian music. His energy gave the track something extra. Without it, I wonder whether the song would not produce the same effect.
JS – Tell me a little bit about the city in South Brazil where grew up, Curitiba.
KC – I like living there. It is a quiet town, in my view. Some people see Curitiba as a remote city, they think it’s disconnected. But actually is a very current and contemporary city. Last winter it snowed here and right now we are experiencing the hottest summer ever. So we have cold and heat. And our pre-carnival parties on the streets are getting bigger and bigger. To be born and raised here helped me for sure. It has helped me to become the artist I am today.
JS – Do you think your life might have been different if you grew up in Salvador, São Paulo or Recife, perhaps?
KC – I think I’d be the same person, but local influences from wherever I live will definitely have an effect on the sound of my work.
JS – When the history of Brazilian music is told, say, in 20 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?
KC – As a black girl from Boqueirão (a neighbourhood on the edge of Curitiba) who won and who made history in Brazilian music.