Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 14, 2014
Zuzuka Poderosa sounds like the future of music—a no borders, genre stomping, multi-cultural sound that makes you move. She’s a Brazilian force with New York swagger who’s turning heads in the Latin alternative world and beyond for an inventive style she calls Carioca Bass. The hip-hop/dance music rooted in Brazilian rhythms weaves the best of all worlds into one sweaty dance party.
Zuzuka has been performing shows across the city during South by Southwest and will perform Friday at the Listen Global, Act Local free event at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11:15 p.m. at Chupacabra.
To understand the power behind her rhymes, the originality of her style, you have to understand that Zuzuka isn’t the average woman and every beat tells you so. She grew up in Rio de Janeiro, the daughter of an Indonesian father and Brazilian mother. She later moved to the West Indies before eventually calling New York home.
As a child, Zuzuka grew up feeling the pressure that comes with Brazil’s reputation for stunning women. She says it took her a little while to understand what being beautiful truly meant. As a kid, those images were “the only thing I knew. It was about fútbol (soccer) and bikinis,” she says. “And I don’t want to portray that.”
Zuzuka Poderosa (Poderosa means power) rhymes and sings about being a strong woman, working hard to get what you want and being proud of who you are. “Proud to be loud,” she says. Zuzuka’s sometimes raunchy lyrics help reclaim the dance floor, she says, and empowers women with what she calls her “interracial music babies.”
When she first arrived in New York, she bought two turntables and a mixer and started DJing. She became “a big raver” and learned a lot about house and techno music. But Zuzuka also has an old soul and a vinyl collection with everything from Brazilian classics to Nina Simone.
Recognizing her potential, several friends who were also producers pushed Zuzuka to start singing and rhyming. “I didn’t really feel comfortable at first because it wasn’t something that I planned,” she says. But she watched and learned from other performers and developed her own stage presence that’s now undeniable.
Inspired by dance music called funk carioca, which originated in Rio de Janeiro favelas, Zuzuka created her own style of music in which she rhymes and sings mostly in Portuguese over a cultural mash-up of beats from dancehall to dubstep. In her new project with Nego Mozambique, she explores beyond Portuguese and includes Spanish and English. She says it’s a reflection of the multicultural Brazilians she knows who often speak something she calls Portu-Spanglish. “It’s very natural for us to speak three languages in one conversation,” she says.
For Zuzuka, the most “amazing thing for me is when I’m on stage seeing people happy, dancing to music I’m performing. There’s a certain communication I need to have with the audience to have them understand me. And even though I may not be singing in English or Spanish, there’s always an understanding in body language and sound. It’s very fulfilling.”