Fresh on the Scene

Martha Da'ro

Pictures by Yaqine Hamzaoui

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Some have already obtained some small successes, spending years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment and others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn a lot of heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting new talents that our tiny country has to offer.

You might know the 23-year-old Martha Canga Antonio as the lead actress in the notorious 2015 blockbuster ‘Black’ – or you might have seen her as a part of the rap collective Soul’art. Now, the Brussels-based artist takes matters into her own hands as Martha Da’ro. Based on her first shows at Botanique and Lotto Arena, plus her debut single ‘Summer Blues’, we might be in for a treat. The multi-talented performer effortlessly blends dreamy pop with strong hip hop, English with French and boundless energy with fragile emotion. Before her upcoming EP ‘Cheap Wine & Paris’ drops, we invited Martha over for a cosy coffee chat to see what she has in store for us.

How do you look back on the attention you got from starring in the movie Black?

I don’t mind, I’m an actress too after all. As an artist, I express myself in many ways. If people got to know me because of what I’ve done in the past, then sure, I’ll take it – as long as they give my other projects a chance too.

You were a part of the rap formation Soul’art too for a long time. Is that where you discovered your love for singing and rapping?

Soul’art already existed as a group under the slightly different name Soulart (pronounced in French) before I joined the team. One of the guys, Benjamin Kabango aka Jazzy Bench, was my best friend and I often joined him to ROJM, the local youth center slash studio. Usually I was just chilling out there, listening to what they were doing. One day they needed someone to sing a chorus, and the rest is history as they say. Before that moment, I never really thought about singing, but the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere at this studio convinced me to give it a shot. A few weeks later they were booked for a show and that’s how Soul’art came to be.

Your last performance with the group was at the Niveau 4 show at Couleur Café. Why did you decide to throw in the towel?

It all went quite naturally to be honest. There were no hard discussions or anything like that and the relation between all of us is still as strong as ever. I decided to leave because I wanted to explore the possibilities of my own sound by giving myself the time and space to discover everything on my own.

It’s ok to stay genuine without trying to fit in, just for the sake of it.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from that era?

We were 5 completely different artists working together: so I learned that it’s ok to stay genuine without trying to fit in for the sake of it. Everyone knew their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s this variety of styles and ideas that made us strong.

Do you have creative outlets other than music or acting?

Yes, together with Yaqine Hamzaoui I form the Visual Poetry collective. It’s kind of hard to put a label on it. We just carry out various ideas: these can be music video’s (like the one for ‘Summer Blues’), fashion design (we’re currently working on something together with Cha Noir), or anything else.

You recently had your first live show: doing the warm-up for Mahalia at Botanique. How did it go?

It was such a stressful affair! I only knew I was going to do this three days ahead, so it was quite a rush. A few seconds before coming on, I was almost having a nervous breakdown. But when I got on that stage I remembered why I was doing this. A lot of people were supportive and towards the end, everyone was tuned into my groove. It went down really well in the end, so I hope every show will have as much reaction from the crowd as this one.

‘Summer Blues’ sounds like a dreamy version of R&B-pop. Are these the kind of vibes we can expect on your upcoming EP?

Well, I will always be Martha, you know? Some stories are told better with a certain sound. I hope to make music that can’t be put into one category, music that will just sound like ‘me’. It doesn’t matter if some folks categorize my tracks as hip hop or pop because it will never be my intention to make easily classifiable music. To me, it’s so much more important that people can identify themselves with my message.

So, what is that message?

Well it may sound cheesy, but I want people to follow their guts you know? You should be able to see a show and have that feeling from that 2014 movie Whiplash afterwards: the feeling that you will do whatever it takes to reach your goal. I’m not here to literally say this to everyone’s face, I’m here to show everyone that it can be done. I’m proof of that – or, well, at least I’m working on it (laughs). 

I want to be able to create my own platform on which people can feel at home.

Seems like you got some inspiration in Paris for the title (‘Cheap Wine And Paris’) of the upcoming EP?

I mostly draw inspiration from my daily life: my emotions and the stuff that happens around me. So the content of this message really depends on the moment in my life during which I wrote that piece of music. It can be anything, really. But yes, I did spend 2 days in Paris for an audition last year. I didn’t get the part, but I did wander around aimlessly, stumbling upon a little flea market. The sun was shining, I bought a bottle of cheap wine, I was holding daisies in my hand, … It was the perfect snapshot. Not all tracks on that EP reflect that moment exactly, but in general this collection of music symbolizes my mindset for that moment in my life.

People have different reasons to make music. What’s yours?

I want to be able to create my own platform on which people can feel at home, both for music or for any other art form. Stromae is is the perfect example: he is his own platform. He can perform, design fashion, make videos, produce music: it doesn’t matter what you see or hear, you just know it’s him. He’s a genre on his own. That’s my ultimate goal.

What comes after this EP drop?

Making as much new music as possible (laughs).