Interview: Q&A with Marcelo D2 – Brazil Is for the Strong (July 2019)

If you want to relate with and understand the present state of a country, listen to its hip-hop music. That’s increasingly becoming a rule in the current cultural scenario. MCs have indeed become intrinsic to the social fabric of their communities. They sing about them, fight for them and are chosen as mouthpieces for a specific minority, ethnic group, class, party, action…

In Brazil, MCs are all this and even more. Willing or not, they are increasingly finding themselves on the frontline, so polarising and militant has growth the country’s situation.

One of the loudest voices rising from Brazilian hip-hop and making more and more adepts abroad too is Marcelo D2, a musician who started his artistic life in 1993 with Planet Hemp and has grown into one of the main reference points of the scene.

Marcelo D2 has recently released a brand-new audio-visual project, AMAR é para os FORTES, which is currently touring in Europe (the UK launch will happen at the Jazz Café in London on 8th July). So, we reached him to find out more about his work, music and the Brazilian state of affairs.

Your upcoming show at the Jazz Café will be the UK launch of your new album AMAR é para os FORTES. How would you describe your new project, starting from its title?

The title came up in a very sad moment… a friend of mine had just been murdered during a robbery. During her funeral, Cissa Guimarães (a Brazilian actress) read a piece of text from her son, João Velho, and the sentence “Amar é para os Fortes” – “Love is for the strong ones” in a literal translation – was in it. I was very tired at that moment. I didn’t want to make music anymore. I thought I’d already said everything that I had to… But at the very moment that I heard this sentence, “Love is for the strong ones”, this feeling rose inside of me. At that point, I got the entire album. I realized how subversive talking about love was. This sentence has a wide meaning of loving each other, yourself, of taking care of each other and of yourself as well, of being generous, of sharing. 

Regarding the project, I like calling it “A record to be seen”. This is my tenth record. I would either make something different or I wouldn’t make anything. So, the idea of the movie came up, and it forced me to be innovative. I’ve decided to explore the band more; more musicians playing than making samples. We’re talking about 38 musicians involved in this album, among them names like Gilberto Gil, Seu Jorge, Kassin, Rodrigo Amarante and Marcelo Jeneci, and also more than 12 studios in which I’ve recorded. 

The soundtrack of the movie is the album. In my previous record, Nada Pode me Parar, I shot 15 video clips for the 15 tracks of the album. So, If I wanted to overcome myself, I had to go further. Why not make an entire movie then? I’m the screenwriter, the director and the executive producer of Amar é para os Fortes. It took me a while to study and to make it come true. The idea was to create the movie in the same way I make my music; sampling, making use of references from other things I enjoy. It is possible to notice references to Cidade de Deus, The Godfather, Do the Right Thing, La Haine, Kids, Kubrick… My major concern was that the pieces could have an independent life from each other; that they would make sense isolated. 

It was the greatest challenge of my career, even greater than producing the first Planet Hemp album, when I didn’t know a thing about music.

You started your solo career almost 20 years and ten albums ago. Can you sum its development up in a few words? Can you spot and tell us some of its highlights and topical moments?

I’ve already been in this for 25 years; 5 with Planet Hemp and 20 in my solo career. I think I would split it into three significant moments:

The first highlight would be Planet Hemp, having my own band for the first time. Then, the release of my second album, A Procura da Batida Perfeita, which was the boom of my career. Finally, I believe that this moment I’m living right now with AMAR é para os FORTES. It is a visual album and an entirely different experience for me. 

How has your music changed since 1998 and the publication of Eu Tiro É Onda? For example, in your latest release, you teamed up with SambaDrive and fully embraced jazz. Is that something we are going to listen to more often or was it a one-off?

When I released A Procura da Batida Perfeita (The Search for the Perfect Beat – in a literal translation), I used to say that the process of searching was much more important than finding the beat itself. I really think that this is the basis of my entire career. During these 20 years doing solo, I’ve been trying to make new things, so as not to be stuck in time. I believe that this change is positive for my creative process and everything that it involves.

In the last 20 years, Brazil has changed significantly too, sadly not for the better. How do you relate with your country today? 

Actually, I’d say that Brazil has been going through a bad moment since the Portuguese invasions 500 years ago… We’re living a peculiar and, at the same time, world-shared moment. Brazil is following a far-right tendency, from Macron, Trump and all these guys… and, such as in these countries, we’ve elected a moron as well. 

Do you think there’s some hope for change in the near future?

I believe that a country only has a future growth perspective when there is investment in education. And this government, on the contrary, is presenting budget cuts in the educational field. It is a totally fundamentalist government, full of nonsense ideals. I can’t see any changes coming.

Musicians and their lyrics have always represented a critical voice in the Brazilian social context. In the past, they have been able to move people, “soundtracking” their action against politicians and governments. Is it still the case today? Is music still one of the loudest activists and protesters in Brazil?

I think that the best scenario for me to write and compose my music is exactly this place of social critics, and unfortunately, Brazil is a perfect spot for that. It is where I work best, and I believe that the country is in need of it. I guess that, due to this change in our government, people are still scared, still afraid of what will come. So, there isn’t too much combat.

Despite the political and social issues, the Rio de Janeiro music scene is thriving as always. Can you spot any trend or new direction in particular? 

There’s always a very active musical scene in Rio. I believe that funk music has been growing a lot, but now it is the moment for rap. And rap in Rio is going through a very rich moment, full of bands, movements, places… Despite that, there are all the traditional and classic genres, such as samba.

Considering music at large, what are your most recent music discoveries? 

I really don’t listen to new things that much… I’m much more into the old stuff, but nowadays I’m listening to the latest Tyler the Creator album.

Was there any style or artist who influenced you when you were writing AMAR é para os FORTES?

Writing AMAR é para os FORTES was almost like going through each and every influence of my life, but the greatest influence on this movie would definitely be Spike Lee, his way of directing and his storytelling techniques… But it’s possible to find references to many other directors, to visual arts, musicians and so on…

Writing this movie was a challenge, maybe one of the greatest challenges of my life, since I wrote, produced and directed it. But it was an artistic ambition; I wanted to make something new, something big, different for my career. It was something that mattered to me at that moment and which made me happy. 

About non-music-related influences and inspirations, we read that you recently met former Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica, and that was a meeting that left quite a mark on you. What can you tell us about Mujica and what did you chat about?

Meeting Mujica was one of the most extraordinary experiences in my life. He is, above all, a humanist, and I left there a different person. It was almost a divine encounter. His knowledge, his consciousness…. I met him to talk about cannabis regulation, and we actually didn’t talk that much about it. We discussed more about consumption, and I was really impressed with the way he had made up the mind of an entire country to make less use of it.

We are pretty sure that your new album and relative tour are not your only projects for the future. What do you have in store next?

I’m working on new Planet Hemp songs. There’s been 15 years or more when we haven’t released anything… 17, I guess… The last album was in 2002… We’re thinking on an EP or something like that.

I intend to make a samba album. I’m writing some other stuff, and I want to direct a lot as well… I’m still planning my future. There are some new audio-visual projects that I’m excited about … After AMAR é para os FORTES, I got excited with these kinds of projects.

Your upcoming show at the Jazz Café in London will be a rare opportunity to see you accompanied by your full band. What should we expect from the performance?

This concert was created specifically for this tour. It is totally different from last year’s one. I’m going to be presenting the new album, but, of course, the classics of my career as well.

In a few words, who is Marcelo D2, and how would you introduce your music to the (few) people who have never listened to it before?

I make music, I compose, I screen-write … I’m basically the result of Rio and its buzz.