Interview: Emicida – Brazil’s Voice of Change (July 2023)

Words by Marco Canepari / Photo by Wendy Andrade & Hello Content

In the midst of the UK’s pulsating musical summer, Brazilian sensation Emicida made a triumphant return to British shores. Following his unforgettable performance at London’s iconic Barbican in April as part of Como No!’s La Linea Festival, the singer, songwriter, and MC from Sao Paulo delighted the crowd under Womad‘s Siam Stage Tent. The audience that gathered to experience his electrifying show was a diverse mix, radiating passion and energy. It was as if language barriers disappeared in the face of Emicida’s electrifying hip-hop verses, seamlessly blending with the rhythms of samba and the smooth tropicalia and MPB sounds.

Shortly after his performance, we had the privilege of sitting down with Emicida. The adrenaline and good vibes from his show still lingered in the air as we started our conversation, discussing his recent gigs in the UK and the infectious enthusiasm they generated among the audience.

WOMAD / Emicida on Siam stage / © Hello Content

With a twinkle in his eye, Emicida said “How do you say it in English, what a feeling?” He expressed his excitement as he continued, “Almost the entire audience was English, you know? But it was a test for us too, to connect with them, express through feelings, to communicate with an audience that doesn’t necessarily speak Portuguese, and to understand if the emotions have been able to bridge communication. And I think we succeeded in that regard”.

Emicida was quick to acknowledge the evolution of his performances, “Yes, we changed a lot, didn’t we? From the show in April at the Barbican to this one, we brought some new things I like to bring, for example, the song by Cartola at the beginning, who is a wonderful Brazilian composer. Today we also had the joy of having Majur on stage for Amarelo, she was here”.

However, the standout moment for Emicida was the warm reception they received from the audience at Womad. “I think there’s something impressive. Sometimes, everything is perfect from a technical standpoint, but the audience is a bit more resistant. Then you have to win them over. But here at Womad, no. From the very beginning, the audience was completely open to what was happening in the show. And that’s wonderful to experience”.

He described the experience of presenting his artistic vision to an audience completely receptive to his music, saying, “When you come to present an artistic proposal, and you see the audience is 100% open to what is being offered, it’s quite remarkable. So, in the end, you begin to captivate people, let’s say, you start charming them. But after the second or third song, everyone is united. Music has the power to achieve that. Everyone becomes one”.

Emicida also shared his insights into the unique ability of Brazilian culture to unite people through music. He remarked, “You know, there’s something fascinating about Brazil. It’s a country filled with both joys and sorrows. What’s truly remarkable, though, is how our culture has this innate ability to synchronize people spontaneously, without the need for prior rehearsal. I can journey from the northern to the southern regions of Brazil, and I’ll find people clapping in perfect harmony, forming impromptu choirs. Brazilians are inherently musical, and music is an integral part of our daily lives”.

He continued, “We express a wide range of emotions through music—happiness, sadness, longing, love, and even anger. Music serves as a versatile tool to convey our innermost feelings. So, when we travel and take our performances to other countries, we strive to recreate this sense of unity with the audience. While it may initially seem like a uniquely Brazilian trait, it’s, in fact, a fundamental aspect of human nature“.

Emicida emphasised how music has a profound ability to connect with our emotions, acting as a conduit for the expression of feelings. He noted, “You’ve probably experienced this yourself—listening to a song in a language you don’t understand, yet it resonates with your heart so deeply that, when it concludes, you find yourself thinking, ‘Why don’t I speak this person’s language?’ I’ve also witnessed people moved to tears by the sheer intensity of music. This intensity, I believe, is something truly exceptional“.

In a profound reflection, Emicida underscored the transcendent nature of music, “I think this intensity is wonderful because in the end, music is like a way for God to be present in this realm. In fact, I believe that music is the closest thing to God that exists, you know?” I believe that music is the closest to God that exists, you know? It fills the space, makes people become one”, he continued, “politics tries and often fails to do that, religion tries and often fails to do that, but music doesn’t. In music, everyone is welcome, and that is impressive, always In music, everyone is welcome, and this is always impressive. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, it can be here in Malmesbury, it can be in Tokyo, it can be in Lisbon, it can be in São Paulo, music will make everyone become one”.

As the conversation flowed, Emicida delved into the evolution of his music, expressing the importance of embracing diverse influences and musical atmospheres. “We can’t remain tied to a single form, you know? As an artist, you start to feel challenged to want to tell other stories, to visit other musical atmospheres. We’ve had the opportunity to travel the entire planet, it would be a great waste if we didn’t get influenced by any of these places”.

He emphasised how music becomes richer through these global connections, “So, I think music ends up becoming richer because it also cares about establishing thousands of bridges around the world and communicating with all these places. Learning. It’s open with a lot of humility, to visit places and get to know the culture of that place, the art of that place, and allow oneself to be influenced by it”.

Speaking of how his music and performances have changed and developed, he provided insights into his performance of Amarelo, his latest audio-visual work, describing the emotional journey it evoked in the audience. Emicida brought the show for the first time in London four year ago with a sold out show at the Jazz Cafe, followed by another sold out in October last year. “Making a differentiation between the Jazz Cafe shows that you saw and this moment, I think we managed to create an experience closer to something that has been a very old dream of mine, where we create a series of layers, starting with some positive, sweet, comforting emotions, and in some way, the intensity keeps growing, growing, growing, growing, growing, until you reach deeper feelings, right? But even at the peak of intensity, at the end of the show, the atmosphere is still positive”.

He couldn’t help but draw parallels to the vibrant tapestry of Brazilian culture, likening it to a carnival parade. He explained, “You see, it’s just like a carnival parade, where the music and lyrics, along with instruments like the guitar and cavaquinho, evoke these incredible emotions. And when the rhythm section kicks in, it’s like an invitation to experience something truly special. But all this force, all this energy doesn’t make you lose that initial feeling. And yet, all of it is surrounded by a lot of beauty”.

He celebrated the essence of the people, highlighting that even without the traditional carnival elements, “Today, we didn’t have the carnival parade, the float, but we have the people. The people are the carnival, not the float”.

The conversation then delved deeper into the multifaceted nature of Amarelo as both an album and a documentary. Emicida explained, “I think this is a characteristic that tends to become increasingly common in the music industry. Having visual support for the concept of an album”.

He continued, “For us, it’s always essential not only to create a film or a documentary but also to take a step that encourages society to reflect on itself“. Emicida elaborated on the documentary’s narrative, which focused on the occupation of the Municipal Theatre in São Paulo, sparking critical questions about the accessibility of cultural spaces in Brazil. He noted, “Unfortunately, Brazil remains an extremely unequal nation. Artistically, the documentary is captivating. Politically, it conveys an important message, and socially, it sparks transformation. Subsequently, many people began to question why certain spaces aren’t available to everyone. This action will undoubtedly inspire further occupations, both in Brazil and beyond because the most intriguing aspect of art is the questions it raises“.

He continued, “Art that leaves its audience stagnant possesses a brief lifespan. If you revisit the music of artists like Pink Floyd, for instance, you’ll find it continues to provoke numerous questions. Its enduring relevance doesn’t stem from its contemporary composition but from its precise reflection of the human experience during its era. Many of the dilemmas from that time persist as shared human quandaries. That’s why these questions endure, and I consider it a remarkable feat for an artist to create work that begets enduring, high-quality questions“.

As the interview shifted its focus to the current state of Brazil, the conversation took on a tone of introspection and hope. We asked Emicida about his outlook for the country’s future, hoping to uncover a glimmer of optimism amidst the challenges.

Emicida, with a reflective look in his eyes, responded with a measured yet hopeful tone, “I believe so. A president who presides already changes everything“. In those few words, he conveyed the profound impact that leadership can have on a nation’s trajectory.

He then turned to a significant cultural development within Brazil, noting, “So, Brazil is experiencing an interesting experience, which is the return of the Ministry of Culture, which had been closed by Bolsonaro, with Margareth Menezes, someone we support a lot“. This was a pivotal moment in the cultural landscape, symbolising the potential resurgence of artistic expression and cultural appreciation.

Emicida viewed this resurgence as more than just a bureaucratic change; it was a beacon of hope. “I think it’s a space to have hope“, he explained, his words carrying a sense of optimism, “I think it’s a space to build consensus and walk collectively, and actually Lula has the potential to do that, he has already done that twice“.

However, amid these aspirations for a brighter future, Emicida sounded a note of caution. He recognised the global context of uncertainty and division, adding, “What we need now is to be attentive because we are living a moment of the whole planet where the shadow of fascism has become… perfectly palpable, so to speak, present, because we are living a moment of pandemic, economic recession, all of this generates a lot of fear, and fascism feeds on this fear because it offers a simple answer to the common citizen“.

In his insightful analysis, Emicida drew parallels between historical and contemporary dynamics, emphasising the dangers of scapegoating and divisive rhetoric. “It elects a certain podium in general with the minority”, he noted, referencing historical examples, “The Nazis used the Jews for that. In other instances, it’s the immigrants who are to blame for everything, you know? Portugal, for example, has seen a discourse of this nature grow, which is very sad“.

Emicida’s closing message was clear, his words were a call to action, a reminder of the power of unity and hope even in the face of daunting challenges, “But I think the most important thing at this moment is first to build this coalition, to rebuild the consensus and the country as a whole, but also to have quality conversations so that we stay alert and keep this shadow where it needs to be, in the shadows”.

Emicida’s musical preferences were also in the spotlight, revealing his affinity for Brazilian rap, boom bap, and emerging artists. He enthusiastically shared, “I’ve been listening to Brazilian rap, a lot of boom bap, a lot of old samba and some new guys. There’s one who released an album today, called FBC, titled ‘O Amor, o Perdão e a Tecnologia Irão nos Levar para Outro Planeta. It’s a fantastic house album. I’ve been listening to these things”.

The interview then explored Emicida’s approach to collaborations, emphasising the serendipitous encounters and connections that often form at festivals. He explained, “We encounter each other in life, sometimes we cross paths at festivals. Festivals are environments where we make many friends, where you have the opportunity to see other shows, to meet with artists. And from these encounters, music often emerges”.

With an eye on the future, Emicida shared his immediate plans, which included a show in Belgium. However, he also revealed his deep fascination with musical research, the transient nature of time, and his ongoing exploration of creating art that resonates with the fast-paced modern world. “I really enjoy doing musical research. Because I understand that music is a place where I can find not only what we would call official history but also many emotions of the people. The way common people live their everyday life”. He delved deeper into his creative process, saying, “And I’ve been trying to understand… We live in a very curious time. Everything is very fast, and some things are extremely intense, but they’re also extremely superficial. And I’m trying to understand how to create art that speaks to this moment. A moment where people pay less attention, have less time for everything. That’s my dilemma at the moment. I’m fascinated by this time”. 


Photo ©: Wendy Andrade (cover) & Hello Content