We talk to the hottest new rap trio on the scene, the Pearls Negras, about how they’re single handedly bringing the sound of Rio back to its roots, and seeing the world along the way
Hailing from the slums of Rio de Janeiro the Pearls Negras (Black Pearls) are quite unlike any other group on the musical horizon. An all-female rap trio, Alice Coelho, Jenni Loyola and Mariana Alves have repurposed the heavily macho and misogynistic style of music so prominent in the slums of Rio, known as ‘Baille Funk’ and merged it with trap beats, spitting about social injustice with flow that would make rappers with double their pedigree wince. Did I forget to mention they’re all just 17 or 18?
A multi talented bunch, they met at an after-school theatre group organised for the community in Vidigal, and started making music soon after. Spotted at a show by producers David Alexander and Jan Blumentrath (who previously worked with Yo! Majesty and Dominique Young Unique) they persuaded them to lay down a few tracks before signing them to their label Bolabo. They released their first mixtape Biggie Apple, (about their dreams of visiting New York) late last year, and since then they’ve been taking over Brazil, totally changing what it means to be young, female and rapping. We caught up with them on their first trip outside of their home country to chat favelas, future plans and why they want to change the way people listen to baille funk.
What was it like where you grew up?
We were born in Vidigal, a favela in Rio. It’s was lovely growing up in Rio and especially in our community in Vidigal. Rio has such a fantastic reputation, it’s known the world over as a place people want to visit and one of the most fun cities in the world, with some of the best beaches! We’re proud to be able to say that we’re from there, and from the favelas, and we talk about that a lot in our raps: about where we live and where we grew up, and it’s important for us to be able to represent the place that we came from in that way. It’s a point of pride, for us, being “faveladas” [girls from the favelas]
How does it feel being known internationally?
It’s amazing for us, all the things that are happening. We’re representing our hometown, our favela. Whenever we post pictures or videos people always comment being like “those are the girls that are showing Vidigal to the world!” We don’t even know what to say, honestly, it’s an absolute dream – it’s incredible!
How did you meet the guys behind Bolabo and end up working with them?
We met them in a neighbouring favela. After our show they came up to us, but could only speak in English and didn’t speak any Portuguese, and so they got a translator and booked us to go into the studio and lay down some tracks. We recorded 7 songs, then they returned to London, and then got back in touch saying they’d liked what we’d done a lot. So we arranged to shoot the videos for “Pensar em Voce” and “Guerreira” in the favela. We love working with both of those guys, they’re super talented, plus it feels like we’ve known them forever, we get on super well. Musically they’re just intuitive – they know exactly what we’re going for. Together we make a really strong team, they make us feel good about our future.
Who are your inspirations?
Beyonce, Ciara and Nicki Minaj
How do you guys know each other?
We were in the same after-school theatre club, that’s where we met.
I’ve heard one of you is in a telenovela (a type of super popular Brazilian soap opera)?
Yes! Alice, but we’re all singers and actresses. The rapping came off the back of other stuff, we’ve always been involved in acting – we’ve all had parts in telenovelas, lead roles and also smaller roles.
(Alice) We’ve all done stuff together, but recently I’ve been doing a telenovela by myself called “O Meu Pedacinho do Chao” (translates as “my little piece of floor”) and I played a part which was very different for me: a pregnant woman. I had to change everything, the way I moved and spoke, to play her – I adopted a different accent. It was hard, but I managed it. Also being on television is hard because there are so many cameras to think about and you need to be suitably natural, which is a challenge. But it was great.
You guys are famous for baille-funk, which was brought over to Europe and America by Diplo ten years ago – you’re the first band to bring it back; it has all those different influences, including funk and African music. What did you guys listen to growing up?
Funk is part of the day-to-day sounds of the favela – but it’s different now to how it used to be – it’s called the “proibidao” – meaning the forbidden funk, because its very rude, very sexual. But it’s so different to the funk that we grew up on, that our dads listened to. It’s become dirty – it never used to be. We try and mix that old funk with new beats – often trap beats. There’s a part in our show where it’s just us dancing, there’s no music its just the funk beats, and we’ll do the dances that people used to do back in the day to the funk, not the vulgar dances that people do these days. We’re more influenced by the funk from the 80s and 90s.
Have you ever been tempted to rap in English?
No, we don’t speak English. We have one song in English but we can’t rap in it yet, we’re still learning.
Is it intimidating being so successful so young?
No, it’s marvellous. It’s the best.
And your friends and family, are they happy for you?
Yeah, they’re so proud of all of us and they support us in everything we do. They worry though, when we travel, and they’re very emotional. It’s a dream for them to see their daughters travelling the world. They like seeing us in the papers and they’re very pleased for us.
Plans for the future?
We have the new mixtape and we’re shooting two videos in London. We have lots of projects coming up, it’s very exciting for us.
Who would you most like to work with?
If we could work with anyone – Beyonce, Drake and Chris Brown. That would be perfect if it ever happened.
Why did you guys choose to be a group rather than performing as individuals?
We’ve always wanted to do things differently. There are lots of samba or funk girl groups, we’re just girls that rap. We want to keep doing this till we’re old, and we like that we’re original and we’re innovating by throwing together funk, rap and trap, while keeping the message in our lyrics. We hope we’ll have lots of stories to tell our kids. Plus the best thing about what we do is that we seem to appeal to people of all ages.
I know your first EP “Biggie Apple” was so titled because of your desire to visit the states. Do you have plans to go to New York?
God willing one day we’ll manage it! That’s the dream for real.
Words: Maya Hambro