Photo feature styled by Dalila Shannon
Zuzuka Poderosa is the the matchmaker among her friends. She told me so between wardrobe changes at Randolf and Varick in Bushwick; “it can get me into trouble sometimes.” That generosity, with a hint of mischief-making, says a lot about her knack for inventive and potentially explosive unions as a DJ, a cultural mash-up artist, and a raucous party instigator. Zuzuka Poderosa has the vision to see when good things make sense together and the power to blend them into something great.
Since she left for her Power Tour, she’s been bouncing between America’s metropolitan hubs, infecting listeners with a unique brand of globally cross-pollinated party rap, a cocktail of rave styles from the global South that she has come to call Carioca Bass. In the past week she’s stolen shows and hearts at The Spot, the summer pop-up venue for “alt-Latin” online magazine Remezcla.com, and at Ghe20 G0th1k, the infamous warehouse happening that represents the bleeding edge of experimental dance music in New York City.
Zuzuka’s work sounds a lot like “baile funk,” otherwise known as “funk carioca,” the gritty, earth-shattering bass music cooked up in the urbanized outskirts of Brazil’s Rio De Janiero, a sound that developed a worldwide cult with its unique logic of sample, remix, and mash. With characteristic samples ranging from 808 beats of Miami bass in the 90s, to victory horns from the Rocky soundtrack to sounds of jet planes, accordions, and gun cocks, the original Carioca style exemplified the exciting mash-up culture of the mid-2000s. But Poderosa is not making baile funk, and that’s an important distinction. She calls what she does “carioca bass.”
Zuzuka wears vintage cropped top from the Grand St. Bakery, modified vintage fanny pack from Deconize by Ari Paoletti, necklaces and bracelet by Charlene Foster
“Carioca bass is funk varioca mixed with Brooklyn bass music and other influences,” she says—”Brooklyn bass music” being her umbrella term for the diverse collection of urban dance music from Latin America and the Caribbean that local DJs and producers have brought in and reworked. With the open space that baile funk established for sampling, signifying, and clever re-appropriation, it makes sense that Zuzuka would revisit it under such an all-inclusive banner. Carioca bass is a genre Zuzuka invented; she raps and sings in the signature baile funk style over house, dancehall, Baltimore/Jersey club, dubstep, moombahton, and crunk. It is not just anyone that can draw from such a wide breadth of musical genres and movements and maintain creative control. She possesses a command and potency that makes almost anyone and anything sit up, listen, and even take orders.
Recently she has been closing all of her shows with an original vocal arrangement rapped over Dillon Francis’ dubstep remix of Bingo Players’ “When I Dip,” jumping off stage and directing the crowd to get down to the ground with her. The bass line itself is enough to make you arch your lower back, pop your bunda, and drop into a slow squat, but when Zuzuka turns her burning gaze onto you and yells “DIP, MOTHERFUCKER! DIP DIP, MOTHERFUCKER!!” sinking as low as possible becomes mandatory. No matter which venue or town she’s in, the audience surrounding her eventually makes it to the floor.
“Zuzuka Poderosa. Poderosa means power. Zuzuka Power. It just makes sense. I feel like the shows are quite powerful, too. I feel like women feel powerful when they’re there dancing, when they’re getting down [to my music]. I feel like I am projecting all this to them and it is amazing all around — for the audience, not just me.” Pause. “I just want to bang it out.”
Zuzuka wears vintage Versace top from Grand St. Bakery, bracelets and earrings by Charlene Foster, oversized chain necklace by Bluebrow
“Banging it out” is exactly what she did under the futuristic green glow of the projectors at the Heineken-sponsored The Spot party in Nolita. That night Zuzuka opened for San Francisco’s Los Rakas and local singer/emcee Maluca. In addition to the weight of opening all of the evening’s performances, there were a few other quirky aesthetic issues that could have rattled Poderosa—an over-lit room, an Astroturf floor too squishy for dancing, a crowd of people passing around business cards, and a front row filled with press photographers. But few things seem to intimidate her. She projected a confident and spectacular presence over the pallid glow of the sponsor’s advertisements, upstaging the posturing and strategic shoulder-rubbing of the crowd.
The themes of her songs are classically those of a street storyteller: sex, weed, and beats that make you dance. Even though most of her audience does not speak Portuguese, these themes get across through her composed gesticulations, her treasure chest of facial expressions, and her well-timed interjections: “Damelo!” “I just want to go wild tonight!” “Let the weed buuurn”, and “Are you into Carioca Bass?” all purred and roared in between Portuguese bars rapped in the typical Baile Funk cadence. In her set at The Spot, she highlighted tracks from the recent EP that she did with Sonora, DJ/producer in the Texan tropical crew Sonora Remezcla: Zuzuka Poderosa. “Ao Som Do Tamborzão (Sonora Remix)” is a slow club rumbler jocking the synth line of Reel 2 Real’s 90’s pop hit “I Like To Move It”, that bumped the room’s booty shaking scale up into the red. She moved on to “Thriller Beats”, an upbeat ode to her beat selection process, punctuated with refrains of boom cha cha and killer, ha ha ha.
The singularity of her style and her performances allow her the right to claim her own genre. It also slyly shifts her away from the associations that many people have with baile funk. Briefly, the predominant narrative surrounding the genre in “nu-whirled” circles was something along the lines of, “that is so 2005.” As the first force to circulate in a young, hip, broadband-powered world music economy (what some have referred to as World Music 2.0 or “nu-whirled music”), it was eventually overtaken by more obscure, exotic “discoveries” that satiated the hipster’s taste for the next hardest edge of difference. After the release of Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats and Favela on Blast, everyone with a BitTorrent client and a dream scurried to the internet to uncover the newest, hottest dance craze/riddim/genre tucked away within the concrete dancefloors and minimally-viewed YouTube videos of the African and Latin American ghettos of the first-world imaginary. More positively, it was the motivational uniting force for a whole generation of beats-and-bass seekers.
Even so, a hushed malaise set in after a while and baile funk has slowly been bumped off flyers announcing the best of dancehall/kuduro/cumbia, and more recently moombahton. But Zuzuka cannot and should not ever stop performing carioca bass. One of the highlights of her performance is her gravelly and punctual vocalization of the tamborzão—boom cha cha boom boom cha—the heartbeat of funk carioca. Rio Baile Funk’s circulation in North American and European music economies set the stage for half a decade of ground-breaking cultural practices built around hybridization and cross-cultural exchange. It’s telling that this genre—globally-constituted in itself—forms the base upon which Miss Poderosa does the complex layering work that makes her music so unique.
Her own life story is one of cultural nomadism and constant exposure to difference, newness, change, exchange. Born Azu Antico in Vitoria, Brazil, the daughter of an Indonesian father and Brazilian mother, she spent her childhood traveling around Rio de Janeiro, the Cayman Islands, and Indonesia, eventually landing in New York. She picked up the drum-and-bass bug in the late ’90s and still takes the occasional DJ gig around the city, digging deep into her crates of rare Brazilian grooves.
But maybe more formative than her heritage and acquired vocabulary as a DJ was her experience working as a bartender at music venues, particularly the East Village nightlife staple, Nublu. This especially, she says, influenced her performance style: “I think what helped me was working at and throwing parties there. I felt like that was my rehearsal. I paid a lot of attention, because you get so many musicians every day and everybody is so different. You learn from the bad mistakes and the good mistakes. I always paid attention. I never got involved… That’s how I live my life, by observing.”
Her attentive eye towards emerging global music trends has kept her on the search for new collaborators and new sounds to open up and reconfigure, keeping her rigorous education in Brazilian music at the core of her presentation. With her solid base and open mindset, she’s not tied down by affiliation—a common tendency among women emcees. “A lot of women in the mainstream don’t have control over how they market themselves.” This is not a problem Zuzuka has.
This month’s Ghe20 G0th1k performance found Zuzuka cloaked in black hooded cape, head down, mic swinging as DJ Jubilee played a recording of some spooky bass spirit, chanting “Zuzuka Poderosa” in a guttural boom for what seemed like hours. Again, an eerie green light scanned the room, this time from a single strobe, seductively diffused by a swirling mixture of cigarette smoke and the steam rising from a swarm of bodies. Effectively primed, the staccato, an 808-Volt loop finally emerged from a rising wall of noise, and ignited a stationary drenched crowd into a fiery dance party. The highlight of the night was her soon-to-be-released single, “Seda.” Produced by Kush Arora, the track kicks off as minimal house, slowly taking a turn towards the Jersey club, Zuzuka chanting wildly over it. The song’s bridge incorporates the tamborzão, returning to a classic baile funk hallmark, and as a wobbling bass line begins to crescendo, the already close-quartered crowd becomes pushed in by the subs on all sides, hands unintentionally touching other hands, breath on the backs of necks, crotches on bundas.
Zuzuka wears vintage black mesh tunic and rose tinted sunglasses from Deconize, pyramid bracelet and necklace by Bluebrow, and vintage orange cutoff hoodie from the Grand St. Bakery
As the crowd sways in unison like some carnal amoebic singularity, it becomes clear that Zuzuka was not lying to me earlier. She really is a matchmaker. Closing again with her interpolation of “When I Dip”, her ability to bring the best of everything together shone through as soaked bodies piled on top of one another. Strangers became friends. Friends shared uncomfortable moments grinding against each another. Fewer people went home alone than anticipated. “When I perform, I feel like it’s really hard for people to just stand around, you know? Because I wanna make sure you’re dancing. Like, let’s do this!” She snapped her fingers commandingly. “Right now.”
Stylist: Dalila Shannon
Hair and makeup: Valissa Yoe
Photography: Nathaniel Darst
Director: Oliver Rivard
Executive producer: Max Pearl
Big thanks to Bluebrow & Deconize, Charlene Foster, The Grand St. Bakery in Bushwick, manager Natalia Linares, Valissa Yoe for hair & makeup, stylist Dalila Shannon, and styling assistants Leah Filler and Kiyan Williams for all of their hard work!