Martha Da’ro: boundless energy with fragile emotions

Pictures by Guillaume Kayacan

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As the winner of the very first Fresh On the Scene gold medal on the most recent Red Bull Elektropedia Awards, Martha Da'ro is someone to keep a keen eye on. For those who don't already know, this is a gem that's waiting to shine in spotlights across the continent.

You might know the 24-year-old Martha Canga Antonio as the lead actress in the notorious 2015 blockbuster ‘Black', but she's anything but another typical actress. Last year, the Brussels-based artist took matters into her own hands as Martha Da'ro. She only needed two singles (‘Summer Blues' and ‘Sugarman') to convince Belgian music aficionados of her limitless potential. Like no one else in the country, the multi-talented performer effortlessly blends English with French, dreamy pop with strong hip-hop and boundless energy with fragile emotion. As her highly anticipated debut EP is about to drop, the time was right to shine a light on Belgium's answer to Erykah Badu.

Hi Martha! As a kid, you lived in many different places around Belgium. In which ways has this affected who you have become as a person?

I’m someone who knows how to adapt very quickly. This also means I always need new impulses and new experiences. For example, I feel the need to move around a lot quicker than most people. This tendency can be linked to my artistic approach too. I always want to try out new things, new people and new sounds. I’m just very eager to discover new grounds.

You live in Brussels now, a city that certainly doesn’t lack impulses. What drew you here?

There’s this unique, down-to-earth vibe in Brussels that you don’t find anywhere else. In comparison to other cities, people are more compassionate here.

Would you have been able to do the same as what you’re doing now if you would still live in your hometown of Mechelen?

I don't think my music would have sounded any different if I moved anywhere else than Brussels. The most obvious reason many other artists and I move here is because there is a lot more opportunity here. That said, my love for Mechelen will always be there. I picked up my love of music in that town. It may be a small city with an even smaller scene, but that results in people really supporting one another.

If you don't fully support the projects you do, then they probably won't have a long shelf life. What you do for yourself will last the rest of your life – maybe longer.

Just like Brussels, your identity is the result of a mix of different cultures. Did you ever have the idea to use more Portuguese, French or Dutch in your music?

I absolutely have. There are some songs I've written in Portuguese and French, but these are productions that won't come out just yet. Maybe that's because I'm still shy. I might do different languages in the future, but for now, the timing isn't right just yet.

Do your Angolan roots influence your music output?

Absolutely. I listen to a lot of old Angolan classics. Just the other day I realized I don’t actually know much about what’s going on in the current Angolan music scene. That’s something I want to put more effort into.

Which forms of art, other than music, are you working on?

For me, everything always starts with writing. Some things end up as lyrics on a track; other things transform into stuff like visuals. All of my art, whether it's music or video, is equally important for me to spread my message to the world.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Just the other week, I was at a family gathering, and my uncle told me I have a little ‘box'. Everything I do, everything I dream, my talents, my achievements are part of that box, and nobody can take that away from me. That's a beautiful way of looking at things, because it implies you first need to do things for yourself. If you don't fully support the projects you do, then they probably won't have a long shelf life. What you do for yourself will last the rest of your life – maybe longer.

Because I starred in a popular movie and was part of a rap group, people already have a particular idea of who I am. I'm not saying that these projects aren't important, because they made me into who I am now, but the time is right to show people what I can do on my own, as Martha, not as Mavela (Martha's character in Black, ed.) or as that girl from Soul' art (a rap outfit Martha used to be a part of, ed.).

Do you mind if people still see you as the girl from Black?

It doesn’t bother me. I get it. I like to take my time on projects, so it’s not like people have had the opportunity to see a lot of new things from me since I did that movie. I’m still really proud of that character, so when people are excited about it, I don't blame them.

Are there things in the music industry that surprised you now that you have kick-started your solo career? Do you have any frustrations?

I knew this already, but I guess I underestimated that being a solo artist is a 24/7 job. Sometimes there's a full day of writing music, but other days you've got to plan ahead, be organized, get your paperwork done, etc. It takes more than just being creative to be an artist. You're building a career, just like any other person with a different job, so it can be useful to pause and look at things from a certain angle every once in a while. You need to evaluate your choices continually. As an artist, you're both the product and the company. Who do I want with me on this project? How am I going to get this done the way I want it? Where will I get the money for it? Those are all questions you need to ask yourself. In the end, it's about finding a balance between the creative and the organizational sides.

You need to evaluate your choices continually. As an artist, you're both the product and the company.

Your live setup is quite simple for now: it’s you and a DJ on stage. Are there plans to develop this into a full live band?

For now, it’s just me and my DJ Mimi (from the Liège-based DJ-crew Lait De Coco, ed.), who happens to be my cousin. I think this simple setup is the result of my time in Mechelen, where most of the people around me were into hip-hop and rap. The rapper on stage usually just had a DJ with him – and I haven't been able to let that comfort go. For now, the golden combo is me, a mic and a DJ. Of course, I have plans to develop everything into a proper live show, but then the full picture needs to be on point. People always assume the next logical step for me as an artist would be to get more musicians on stage, but I'm just not there yet. First, I have to find my own formula, right? Only then can I start thinking about involving more people.

What does the future bring for Martha Da’ro?

My debut EP is practically ready to go at this point. That said, I’m always working on the next project. I’m not the kind of artist who waits for one project to be finished before starting the next one, although maybe I should (laughs).