The singer’s new mixtape is a Spanish hybrid of dancehall, trap and reggaeton sounds with production from Jam City and Dubbel Dutch
Catalonia might not be the first place that springs to mind when it comes to a burgeoning trap-reggaeton-dancehall artist, but that’s where rising Spanish star Bad Gyal grew-up. The 20 year old singer, real name Alba Farelo, is from Vilassar De Mar, a quiet seaside village about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona. The scene there wasn’t necessarily instructive. “It was more about bands playing ska and reggae on the streets,” Farelo says over Skype, dragging on cigarette. With the help of long-term producer Pablo Martínez, aka FakeGuido, Bad Gyal began to carve out a niche for herself with humid club tunes, breaking into the wider music world in 2016 with “Pai”, her Catalan reinterpretation of Rihanna’s “Work”.
Since then, things have quickly come a long way. The Catalonian urban scene is booming, Farelo says, and there have been changes on a more personal level too – speaking from her apartment, she points to the corner of the room where most of her 2016 mixtape Slow Wine was created and produced with FakeGuido and no real professional help. “We were starting something,” she recalls. New mixtape WORLDWIDE ANGEL tells a different story. A behemoth collection of bangers, the release boasts big names like Jam City, Dubbel Dutch, and Florentino; what remains constant, though, is Farelo’s brash flow, which weaves seamlessly between English, Spanish, and Catalan.
Questions over cultural appropriation swim around Farelo – trap and dancehall, after all, are genres born out of black culture. But she says she’s making a Spanish hybrid of those sounds fused with reggaeton, and it’s all done out of genuine love and appreciation. “The music that I make is not pure dancehall, and I’ve never said that I make dancehall or that I’m a dancehall singer – because I’m not!” Farelo says. “My life is not the dancehall life… I love it, I respect it, but I don’t put myself in the same box because I’m not Jamaican, I’m Spanish.”
Bad Gyal isn’t just about the music though. Indeed, her videos and visuals reveal a bold 90s-meets-00s aesthetic: lo-fi shots of her with glittery talons, giant hoop earrings, lip gloss, brands from FILA to Versace, ripped jeans, fishnets. A revealing indicator of her self-assurance when it comes to clothing was her decision to wear assless chaps to Sónar last year. We caught up with her to hear about the release of her latest tape, her love of dancehall, and the Bad Gyal aesthetic.
Could you talk about how you got into the kind of music you make?
Bad Gyal: When I was eight, I watched a lot of MTV and started to see more different types of music – sounds that were more open to the rest of the world. I discovered Sean Paul when I was nine or ten, so my parents gave me The Trinity and I started listening to this type of music – but I wasn’t that conscious of what I was listening to, I just I knew that I liked it. But then I started listening to dancehall properly, and realised what it is, where it’s from, and all that.
Dancehall and trap are obviously genres that have come out of black musical cultures – do you feel like there’s a danger of seeming appropriative? Is there responsibility to make sure that you’re referencing your influences and being appreciative and respectful?
Bad Gyal: I’ve been loving this music for a lot of years and I cannot help it! It influences me, and I think it’s obvious that I respect it because I love it – I cannot think why someone has to think that I disrespect it? I just came back from Jamaica, I was there shooting a video because I want people to see what’s happening there. I’ve wanted to go there for a lot of years, but I didn’t have any money. It’s really good to see what dancehall really is. Over the years I’ve been watching all the videos of the parties out there, but now I’ve been there and experienced it myself.
But also the music that I make is not pure dancehall, and I’ve never said that I make dancehall or that I’m a dancehall singer – because I’m not! My life is not the dancehall life, it’s impossible. I’m not in Jamaica. I always say that I love it, I respect it, but I don’t put myself in the same box because I’m not Jamaican, I’m Spanish.
There are quite a lot of big name producers on the tape – how did those collaborations come about?
Bad Gyal: With Florentino, we were playing at the same festival – I like his music so I just asked him. But with Mark (Dubbel Dutch), he was the one who found my music on SoundCloud, and he wrote me a message there. Then I started doing more shows around the world, and producers were hitting me up. That’s what happened with Jam City – and if I like what they do, then for sure.
“My music is for every type of person. It’s just to enjoy yourself and dance” – Bad Gyal
Your background is in fashion, can you tell us a bit about that?
Bad Gyal: I started studying fashion two times in two different places – first one I started in the Public University of Barcelona and I didn’t like it. Then after working for one year I started again in a good university – and I didn’t like it there either, so I just quit. I’ve been interested in fashion since I was a kid, so I try to put as much in and learn as much as possible in what I do now. Like everything I do and wear and show, I choose it – there’s nobody behind me. I sometimes ask for clothes from certain brands or certain people because I know that they have stuff that’s interesting for me, but I like to be the one that’s looking. I prefer to learn fashion like this rather than inside a classroom or off the computer.
So is your aesthetic something you ‘put on’ to become Bad Gyal? Is she separate to Alba, or is it just you?
Bad Gyal: Alba is part of Bad Gyal, but I am a person too, you know? I’m not always happy or excited, I also have moments where I don’t want to get dressed or do my make-up or be with a lot of people... but I think that everybody has that? I can spend like three days where I don’t give a shit because I don’t feel like it, but then have two days where I don’t have any concerts or work, but I’ll still be going outside with make-up, hair clothes, everything, even though I’m not ‘being Bad Gyal’. Sometimes it’s just because I like it.
Is it important to you to maintain the mix of languages across your work?
Bad Gyal: It’s not that I have to remind myself where I’m from, I just do what comes out of me. For example in this mixtape there’s some Catalan, and I didn’t have any songs in Catalan in the last one, so it’s just what goes off from me. I’m not thinking about whether I’m singing in English or Spanish or Catalan.
People from here who have seen my evolution are proud. They know that I’m from here and that I’m going far. The music that is down here in Catalonia normally stays here, it doesn’t work outside – but now it means that people from here can also go far.
Is there anything else that you want people to know about you I know about this tape?
Bad Gyal: My music is for every type of person. It’s just to enjoy yourself and dance.