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Photography Leila Penteado

Liniker is the Brazilian soul musician whose love songs will liberate you

In the country with the highest rates of LGBT hate crime in the world, a trailblazing trans soul singer is capturing hearts and minds

“I met Liniker for the first time at her birthday party in Lisbon. It was held at a quaint tavern in the old part of the city, apparently a favourite haunt of Madonna’s when she’s in town. Surrounded by friends, Liniker was so warm and welcoming, qualities that come through her music. I was enchanted by the Brazilian artist, and my partner would lay in bed next to me translating her lyrics of love, flirtation and the dance of life. At just 23, the international sensation is poised for global stardom” – Mykki Blanco, guest editor of Dazed, August 2018

If you could tell your 15-year-old self one thing, what would it be? “To believe in yourself and never give up,” says 23-year Liniker Barros, the lead singer of Brazil’s samba and soul group, Liniker and the Caramelows. In just one line, the strength and resilience that underlines Liniker’s entire career beams through. As a black trans woman from the São Paulo city of Araraquara, Liniker and her powerful voice have flourished in what is statistically the most dangerous place in the world to be queer. Today, she’s one of the country’s fastest rising stars.

Born to a family of musicians in 1995, the sounds of black soul and samba run through Liniker’s blood, particularly influenced by her mum. “My mother danced samba rock,” explains Liniker. “So many of my references come from a black Brazilian vein, like Itamar Assumpção, Clube do Balanço, and the divas of soul and black music.” Before she formed her band, Liniker would record videos of her singing covers of her favourite songs to upload to YouTube. Liniker’s mother is more than just a musical influence – she also played a critical role in the artist’s transition. “My mother is a key role in my life. Beyond the music, she gave me my first mascara. She put it in the bag without me knowing. When I found it, I was moved, as if she said it was okay for me to be me.”

Liniker and the Caramelows formed in 2015; mere months later, they put out a video for the song “Zero”, from their first EP Raw, and it quickly went viral, amassing over 18 million views on YouTube. “When we released our first EP in October 2015,” explains Liniker, “we were expecting to achieve an audience, but not to become viral the way it happened. From there, we got to travel all over Brazil, and since 2016 we’ve been travelling all over the world too. I’m so grateful to see what we’re doing, to be going so many places and reaching so many people.” 

What Liniker and the Caramelows bring to Brazilian pop music is an undeniable soul. Their sound recalls Brazil’s king of soul, Tim Maia, with lyrics that explore the wholly consuming power of love. Take the band’s greatest hit “Zero”, whose lyrics are so piercing, they make you relive your greatest heartbreak: “We get bitten,” announces the song’s first line. “Your teeth, your lips, your way of looking. I remember the kiss on your neck.”

By focusing on love, Liniker’s poetic reflections normalise the conversation around trans people in Brazil – she, like any other Brazilian, is living and loving just the same. “So many people ask, ‘When are you going to do music about politics?’ But a trans black woman singing about love, crowding shows all over the country, and world is already very political,” she says. After releasing Raw in 2015, Liniker and the Caramelows released Remonta in 2016, which has been been received amazingly around the globe. In October, the band will tour America for the second time, and they have also started working on a new album. “My dream collaborators are Erykah Badu, Moses Sumney, Jorja Smith, Sudan Archives, and Solange,” says Liniker.

“So many people ask, ‘When are you going to do music about politics?’ But a trans black woman singing about love, crowding shows all over the country, and world is already very political” – Liniker

While the law claims that Brazil’s LGBTQ community have the same access to legal rights as its straight community, queer Brazilian life is commonly characterised by violence. In November 2017, the Trans Murder Monitor, run by NGO Trans Respect, reported that Brazil had the highest killings of trans people in the world: between 2008-2016, 868 trans lives were lost in the country. This sadly comes as no surprise, given the fact that in 2016, Brazil held the world record for hate-based LGBT crimes. “I think every day, more people have a voice in Brazil’s LGBT community, but we still need to progress a lot,” Liniker reflects on the state of Brazil’s LGBT rights. “Brazil is the country that kills the most LGBT people in world. As a singer, I pass through intolerant situations, so just imagine someone who doesn’t have this artist status. You don’t see a trans woman, for example, being a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer. Trans women still live in a marginal place.”

Against a backdrop of violence and oppression, Liniker is a breath of fresh air. Right now in Brazil, it’s impossible to escape her sound – and rightfully so. When looking back over her trajectory, Liniker reflects on how important it is that she is a singer for those in her community who have to live in silence in order to survive. “We always dream about being conquering things, but reality is very different from our dreams,” she says. “My process of transition and understanding about my body is new. At the same time as I was understanding myself, we were travelling the country with our concerts. It was not easy. But I took on a position about the importance to be in this place, a privileged place, which black women, trans women are not getting. It’s a question of representation. It’s very important to be a singer projecting a voice in a place where extreme intolerance still exists.” When looking to the future, Liniker’s sentiments echo the way in which her work goes beyond just progressing the artist, but progressing society too. “I hope for a free world,” she says – and may her work be the soundtrack to Brazil’s queer liberation.

Liniker and the Caramelows will start their first US tour in Dallas on August 23rd. You can find all the dates and links to tickets for that tour here