Halfway up the hillside favela of Vidigal, the three Rio girls who make up Pearls Negras are rehearsing for their Friday night show in a living-room sized bar. The densely-populated shanty town where the all-female crew grew up twinkles in the foreground, with a panoramic view of the ocean and Rio's beloved Ipanema beach stretching out below.
But don't let the small local venue or their humble beginnings fool you: these teenaged rap warriors are fast becoming one of Brazil’s most adored hip-hop groups both nationally and internationally, with last December's Biggie Apple Mixtape serving up thumping club and trap rhythms in a melting pot of baile-funk soul.
In August, the trio of 16 and 17-year-old cariocas will pack their bags to tour Europe – the only Brazilian group selected alongside artists like Janelle Monáe and Rita Ora for an international project by Pepsi. Dazed sat down with Mariana Alves, Alice Coelho and Jennifer Loiola on a stormy Rio night to talk favela music, inspirations and Brazil dropping out of the World Cup.
How did your band start?
Mariana Alves: Our producer, Jeckie Brown, had the idea to do music and rhyme classes for kids in favelas. She asked us to come to her studio and it was me, Alice and her sister (who’s since left the group). We had some experience writing and singing but Jeckie helped us improve our rhythm and lyrics. Then Jennifer came one day, did an audition, sang "Panteras Negras" and then stayed!
Jennifer Loiola: And this was six years ago! Yeah, we started when we were about 10 and 11 years old.
Mariana Alves: We were only kids but that’s when it started, it was really basic and silly in the beginning.
Where did the name Pearls Negras come from?
Mariana Alves: We liked the idea of using Pearls in the name, because it’s a rare and precious jewel, then we decided on Pearls Negras to include something that represents our colour and our roots.
How do you describe your style of music?
Mariana Alves: We have a lot of personality! We’re completely original in what we do, it’s really our own thing and we’ve created our own points of reference. It’s not that basic rap where you open your mouth and that’s that, it’s more original. It’s not an insult to any other kind of rap, but our music is just not very common. We dance, we incorporate funk, we sing in English. Some people sing rap and that’s a more traditional sense of the genre, but we’re doing something that’s original, different, and really shows off our personalities.
Where do you find your inspiration for writing music?
Mariana Alves: We write about the way we live and based on our own reality here in the favela. We protest, not in the street, but with our lyrics, because that is also a form of protest.
Alice Coelho: When it comes to writing we don’t really have a lot of influences from other artists because we’re really writing from our hearts and explaining our own lives and realities.
Who are your inspirations as artists?
Jennifer Loiola: Ciara, I love her style and the way she dances since I was little, I’ve always looked up to her as an artist and seen her as an inspiration.
Alice Coelho: Nicki Minaj.
Mariana Alves: Beyonce.
It's been the World Cup in Brazil – what does football mean to you and your community here in Vidigal?
Alice Coelho: The community is football. It’s everything and everywhere here. It’s not normally for girls but we all play also, in school and on the streets sometimes. The favela is football – look around the community right now, everyone painted the streets, hung up flags, it’s yellow and green everywhere. We all did it, we all believed.
And last week's defeat?
(All three girls cringe, and throw their arms up in the air)
Alice Coelho: It was shameful, embarrassing. I’ve never seen Brazil win the World Cup, there was 2002 but I was really young and this was the chance, but I knew the defeat would happen, I had a feeling.
Mariana Alves: I mean, come on, without Thiago Silva, he’s a really good player and Neymar is the best. 7-1! Oscar scoring that goal in the second half was basically just luck, the whole thing was a mess. In six minutes the Germans scored four goals! Four goals! (All three start screaming and cringing)
Alice Coelho: But I have to say David Luiz was a great player this tournament. When they lost he said beautiful things that we can relate to, that he just wanted to bring happiness to the Brazilian people, at least in the form of soccer because we don’t have happiness because of so many unfulfilled promises from the government.
Mariana Alves: We had the whole world watching and we lost 7-1. People were leaving the stadium.
Alice Coelho: It’s sport and teams lose but it’s usually by one goal, maybe two or three, but when it was 5-0?! It was a sad defeat. I'm so glad Argentina didn't win, that would have been unbearable.
Football and music are two of the strongest characteristics of Brazilian culture, why? How are they connected?
Mariana Alves: Music is everything in Brazil, and so is football. But to be honest, even though I love it, we’ve seen such a bad side of football recently. The government spent billions for the World Cup, we lost in the semi-final and nothing improved for us, for our daily lives. Nothing improved in terms of healthcare or education. This is Brazil, we love the game and it makes the people happy but we also have to be critical of these things when the time is right.
Pearls Negras put together a compilation for us of all their favourite tracks, including Nicki, Kendrick, Drake and much more. Check out the party mix below: