Fulerô O Esquema
Feminina, Não Feminista

Meet the São Paulo family girls on a mission to subvert, inform and drop their pyjamas

By Bruna Rocha

Read the Portuguese version of this interview / versão em português

When I first met Adriana Pires and Paula Pretta in 2002, they told me they had to get their message across, urgently. Coming from distant parts of Brazil's largest city, they met through their long-standing involvements with theatre. Together they realised that music was the vehicle to carry their ideas forward, forming Fulerô O Esquema (Fulerô for short) in 2001. In the years since they've covered much ground, playing gigs in Spain and Italy and reeling in remixes from London to Brooklyn. So just what is it these two actresses-turned MCs are trying to say? On the eve of the Brazilian presidential elections, Fulerô shared their thoughts with Spannered on being a woman in 2006, the reflection of politics in music, bodily transformations, and their dealings with booty bass mechanic Disco D...

Listen to two mixes of Pinga by Fulerô O Esquema:

How did Fulerô begin?

PP: It began five years ago on the day of the death of Cássia Eller. It was New Years — we were arriving at the beach and as soon as we got out of the car we heard about Cássia’s death. At this moment everyone went into a black hole, because up to that point we considered her to be the great female representative of Brazilian music, in Brazilian popular music and in rock ‘n’ roll; she had a posture, in terms of music and performance, that really pleased and interested us. So, from this moment of her death everyone looked at each other and said “You know what? We could have a band. Because after Cássia left us, what’s left?” So this was the first impulse for Fulerô to appear.

AP: At the same time that we went on this trip we were reading Please Kill Me [Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk]. It spoke of the beginning of the Ramones, when they didn’t know how to play any instrument, but they had something to say. And we thought that we also had something to say; we came from the theatre, we did cinema for years. It was funny because this book was like a communal book; we were at the beach, and we started reading it and got to this bit at the same time, and we decided to form a band.

PP: Yes. A band, the first Fulerô was a band. We had percussion, guitar, bass, DJ and vocals, and then… What happened in our trajectory? The option for DJs. Why? Because production with DJs is much quicker, much closer to our reality. From the first instant to today, Fulerô is an independent action. And these were the paths that opened to us; we were close to some DJs, we were always involved with electronic music, with ghetto-tech, with rap, with jungle, any kind of broken beat, and all of this coincided with our position in relation to the DJ, our position as MCs, as Masters of Ceremony. What’s that? We go back to the eighties with Africa Bambaataa, because in fact I’m 38, Dri (Adriana) is 34…

AP: 35.

PP: 35? Whoops — and this is a reality in both of our lives... We both come from different places in the city; I was born in the north of São Paulo, I’ve been influenced by popular music in general, by samba, by samba-de-roda, partido alto… The samba school is very present in my life. And what can we take from all of these musical influences? The freedom that samba brings, the freedom that a night of electronic music also brings. The DJ’s there, you have the microphone, the sound isn’t always perfect but it’s what we can do, at that time, and it was this freedom that started to give us strength. Isn’t it Dri?

AP: We have many influences, but what I find interesting is the fact that we come from different places in the city that are not integrated. I was born in Bixiga, after that I went to Granja Viana to the west of the city…

PP: And I’m from the north of the city, Jaçanã. We would never meet if it weren’t for art, if it weren’t for the theatre where we met. We liked each other’s work and we became friends. In 2001 we moved into the same place and this consolidated our creativity and desires in the face of ostracism and the lack of posture that we saw in music, in the theatre itself. People ask, “Oh, you’re an actress? What soap opera have you been in?” And we are not part of this… well… we are part of this environment, but not in this way.

AP: Paula worked with Zé Celso; I worked more along the lines of Antunes, I worked with Brás, Rubens Rusch, who are more traditional within teatro de pesquisa [non-commercial theatre], so we were quite deeply involved with all this. But then we asked ourselves, ‘where does the teatro de pesquisa take you?’ [laughter] Here in Brazil you’ll go hungry doing teatro de pesquisa or you’ll earn a pittance, and that limits you; you are always carrying out the ideas of others. Suddenly Fulerô came up as our own project. Fulerô is a happening; it’s music; we integrate everything that we are talking about; we mix politics that we see, the elections that are upon us, Daniela Cicarelli [model and MTV host, who was filmed having sex on a beach in 2006] caught on the beach with her boyfriend… All the time we put in current events. We had classical influences…

PP: Shakespeare, Nelson Rodrigues, Boal, Hilda Hilsh… Various national influences…

AP: Almodóvar… And we are influenced by daily events.
And how has Fulerô evolved over these past five years?
PP: Very well. I measure this by the life experience that we have with theatre — 15 years for Dri, 18 for me — of working really hard. Did this bring us any recognition? Yes. But with music, in five years we have opened many more doors than with theatre. Music touches the spirit. Theatre is the art of man — it is the repetition of reality. Music transcends all of that; sound seeps through any crack.

AP: And it evolved like this: we started to be invited to sing with DJs, without the band, so it was a natural thing that happened.

PP: And the band itself, some of its members had to leave because of personal problems, because they had other professions, and for thinking that they couldn’t be in Fulerô because Fulerô was a bit too subversive — one of the members left because of that. No judgement, it’s a fact — each one chooses to do what they want with their lives. And the creative impulse, this desire to work with music, was actually mine and Dri’s.

AP: The first time we played with a DJ was with you.

PP: It was with Bruna Rocha! [laughs]

AP: Because before that people had a prejudice, as if we were just a performance. It was funny because we did this with you and then gigs started trickling in, and then we became accepted. Camilo Rocha, Erico Theobaldo and Perda Total always supported us, always invited us, from the beginning when no one else did, until now, and then Jerome Hill also. Perhaps things are clearer to people now... What we say is very subversive, it’s a protest, and at some points people don’t get the joke… they loose themselves a bit, it takes a while. They have to see us to understand, through the performance, what we are. And we also find out as we do it. Last week we went on in pyjamas, then we took them off, and said “I’m a Brazilian girl / I’m a poor girl / living in a poor country”. Then we show our butts, you know, with coloured sequins, and then you look and say, “This is Brazil”. It’s the image that the outside has of Brazil, and we don’t want to go against this. We want to affirm this image that we have — we were colonised.

PP: It’s the truth.

AP: It is a truth, and I don’t think we have to fight against it. I think the subversion lies exactly in accepting it.

PP: And laughing at it. Because one of the fun things about Fulerô is that we use this great confusion of sounds and translate this into the life we lead today, in 2006. It is an avalanche of information — TV, computer, everything is turned on, switched on; you have to know everything, quickly. Each person’s personal live has less and less space, because life is so rushed that you have to rush after it more and more. So it was a fusion of information from music, which is almost chaos, and our chaos, in our lyrics that mirror what we see. So what do we do with all of this? Bring a posture of graça [a mixture of wit, humour, charm, grace]. It is not comedy — it’s graça.
Speaking of which, can you tell us about your lyrics? Where does your inspiration come from for them?
AP: Well, seeing what we see.

PP: And living the things that we live through.

AP: We see things and we live through things. We have a critical position; when we sing, “I want to be in a soap opera,” we’re not saying that someone else wants to be in a soap opera. It is part of the Brazilian imagination. If you go to a poor area, all of the girls want to be in a soap opera, and the blokes all want to play football, because it’s the only possible way of social ascension within the social structure that we live in. There is no way of elevating your social class unless you fuck a rich man, become a TV soap actress, or become a football player. So the lyrics are critical. The first lyrics that we composed said, “Muslims also love, why can you not love a Muslim?”

PP: In response to the tragedy [9/11].

AP: We said, ‘why are people fighting?’

PP: Let them be who they are — there is space for everything in the world. For any way of thinking, for any sexual, religious or political orientation… For example, when we talk about, Mina de Familia [family girl], Dri had the idea of composing, thinking ‘how do women today, in 2006, live?’ We live in a time in which everything is permitted; you can have sex with four people, you can have a girlfriend and a boyfriend, just one boyfriend… you can do everything. It’s different from what life has been for women, particularly in this aspect. And then Dri suffered a disappointment — she got off with someone who, on the next day, put their hand on her shoulder after they slept together, and said, “Hey, how’s it going? How are your cats?” [laughs]

AP: I said, “They’re fine, and how are your dogs?”

PP: It’s not that the person has to stay with you — we have the freedom to do what we want…

AP: It’s the way the person said it. They seemed like a stranger, as if we’d never seen one another.

PP: And she had woken up with the person. So we said, ‘are we mad? Or is everyone in a black hole, pretending that nothing is happening?’ Women say: ‘everything’s fine. I’m used and then thrown away’, and on the next day the bloke says, ‘How’s it going, piece of fried bread?’. This isn’t it, I don’t think so, because where I come from the women who I have as an example are women who work loads, who have always had a lot of responsibility. This is a fact in Brazil — many mothers carry their homes on their own. Fathers disappear. The women are the structure here — it’s true. Either it’s alcoholism, or I don’t know what, but men are weak in this sense. And all we see is masculine humour; all we see is men calling women whores. No! We’re going to say that the men aren’t that great.

AP: They are idiots at times. So, Mina de Família is this. It is about a girl talking exactly about this question, ‘I am a family girl’. I may be here in 2006 doing all the crazy things that we do, but this does not mean that we don’t want someone to love us.

PP: Love is a thing that any human being on this planet wishes for; to have someone good by their side, definitely. I think that someone who has the option of going out with a lot of people, being in triangular relationships and so on, that’s cool, but either you have an incredible emotional structure or you end up cutting your wrists. One of the points of this triangle is going to burst at a given time. So what is this? Does this mean that nowadays everyone is reckless? And that no one cares about relationships, and no one wants to have a child...? Having a child is square; if you have a child you’re not supposed to do anything anymore, because that’s what it seems like. There is this contrary movement — women have earned freedom that I can’t always see the use of; because with this freedom we’ve doubled working hours within the home, outside of the home… and apart from all of this, having to look after children and, in the case of Brazil, when a woman gets home after a hard-working day, their blokes won’t even wash a glass for them — do you understand? This is a veiled, messed-up social crisis.

AP: Mina de Família is a portrait of the woman in 2006. We went after freedom but this also generated great loneliness and a lack of knowing who you are. We [Fulerô] have a playful side, so our criticisms always come in the form of jokes. It’s a girl who says, “I’m a nice person, I’m a family girl, I have a bath everyday,” [laughing], “why can’t I find myself a boyfriend?”

PP: And sometimes you’re in a relationship and the relationship is shit — you know the person betrays you, you betray the person, and you stay there. Is this what it is to be modern? I think it is to be hypocritical, isn’t it? So we say, “the nice blokes, the cool blokes… are with some crap girls and the cool girls are with some crap blokes”. My vision of the human relationship, of the man-woman relationship or the woman-woman relationship, well, the ‘love’ relationship, I think that nothing is better than having tuned ideas.
Before talking about the video, tell us a bit about your track Pinga
AP: We talk about an issue that comes up in Pinga [Brazilian sugar cane rum], as well as in Miss Kittin, which is the issue of legalised and prohibited drugs. The difference between them is simply that of nomenclature. We live in a society in which basically everyone is drugged.

PP: Alcoholism is permitted.

AP: Cigarettes, coffee…

PP: Sugar.

AP: Prozac, marijuana, ecstacy, cocaine…. In other words, all drugs are available. The song Pinga plays about with the story of a girl who gets pissed and goes about the place off her head drunk, then we say, “if you drink, don’t drive, if you drive, don’t drink”. And that’s exactly it. It’s prohibited, isn’t it? But actually we can do it. We can get pissed and drive off afterwards. You can crash your car… it’s a legalised drug.

PP: There's a dialectic there.

AP: Yes, and Pinga came about as a joke.

PP: A game.

AP: It a game about a woman who gets drunk and starts saying loads of things. This was when we discovered that loads of people are prejudiced — the first time we said “cunt,” people couldn’t believe it.

PP: You’re only supposed to say “dick”.

AP: You can only say “dick,” or, “fuck you”.

PP: “Asshole.”

AP: It’s always related to male humour. When you say something about female humour, many people get shocked with “I want to give my cunt”.

PP: It’s natural, for the love of God.

AP: It’s natural. So many people have sex!

PP: The song says, “Pinga, Pinga, Pinga / Fulerô o Esquema entertains / if you drink, don’t drive, if you drive, don’t drink / I poured Pinga into a cup / I drank it all, I got drunk”. When we’re drunk, whether we’re a man, a woman, a dog, or whatever, we loose our sense. Alcohol is the only drug that takes the human being’s sense of morals away – ‘cú de bêbado não tem dono’ [a drunkard’s arse has no owner - a common Brazilian expression]. So, a person takes their clothes off, gets lost, takes the piss also, enjoys it... When the person drinks, not to the point of falling onto the pavement, they get a kick out of it. They look at someone else and say, “Hmmm, here I am, and this drink is leaving me [horny]… I love it…” Drink goes straight to the libido, and that’s really fun, but up to what point? Where is the limit? Because it’s cool to get off with someone, but after you’ve done that, and you go and throw up in the toilet and pass out, and the person turns their back and leaves… is that okay? Where’s the humanity in this? So Pinga is a pisstake, saying, “We can drink, can’t we?!” I never saw someone who had a spliff, someone who snorted cocaine, someone who dropped a pill, in the state that I’ve seen people who drink. Really. And it is the world’s legalised drug. Where are the politics behind this? Who’s taking the money?

AP: And there’s also this thing about drunks being allowed to do everything. Carnival, liberation, the ‘I don’t remember what I did’.

PP: That’s so funny. Drink can also be a massive crutch. “Oh, I don’t remember what I did.” I can say, I’ve drunk many times and I always remembered what I did.

AP: Me too.

PP: I could be licking the ground, but I knew that I had to get up. But that’s it — it’s a criticism to this liberation, this veiled, false thing that exists in the world, of prohibiting.

AP: And also, the Brazilian woman is very much seen as a whore throughout the world, in a general way. You open the magazine and see Daniela Cicarelli, you see all those big-arsed girls, so really you have an idea that the Brazilian woman is a butt and is a whore. So we play on this question of sex. It’s very funny to see the colonised swearing.
And what about your song Novela [Soap Opera]
PP: Everyone just wants to be in a soap, in Hello!, do a botox… It’s an external question. They become a mutant.

AP: Yes, and the problem is not this, it’s not plastic surgery in itself. If you don’t like something in yourself and want to change it, we have no problem with that. The problem is when the reference is someone else. You’re not doing it for you, you’re doing it to be accepted by someone else, to be equal to such-and-such a person.

PP: My first friend, since childhood, was a homosexual who was killed. And this was mad, because at the age of 13 he already transformed himself. I used to go to his house, to watch him get changed, and he started injecting silicone. This was in the eighties. It wasn’t the silicone that it is today — it was injected with a syringe. And I saw his mutation. But the difference between him and these women who all want to look the same is his courage. He is not going in front of the camera — he’s going to the pavement. It is his courage to transform himself. He is a man; he is going to transform himself into a woman. This is admirable to me, as is Claudia Wonder, because Claudia’s artistic being is ahead of anything else.
Since we are talking about Claudia [who plays ‘the family girl’ in their video to Mina de Família], let’s talk about the video.
AP: We wrote the script…

PP: It was an independent production! [laughs]

AP: It was exactly the story of this girl – who is us – who stays on her own; the cool girl, the good person who looks after her man, who is then exchanged for the first woman pumped up on silicone that passes by. We went to be interviewed by Claudia at G Magazine, and then she told us about the prejudice that she suffered.

PP: For being a transsexual.

AP: We then realised that the prejudice that we felt was nothing compared to the prejudice that she came up against. So we thought that it made absolute sense to have her playing our role of the woman, being a family girl and then having a girl with a big arse passing by, who the boyfriend of the family girl goes after and leaves her for. And the family girl being a transsexual. It was an option of ours to open up this wound.

PP: Exclusion exists in all instances. One thing that I don’t agree with in rap is the posture that they have today, as if they are the only excluded ones; ‘Poor, black, we are excluded’ — talk about gays, talk about transsexuals, they want to burn them alive! Most of the people involved in rap are homophobic. So man, you are talking about your exclusion and you don’t want to see the others’ exclusion?! What?! What world do you live in?! What is the chain of unity that you are going to make? If you are also excluded, see the other and respect the other. You can’t want to exterminate the other.

AP: Mina de Família came from there. So then we had various DJ friends [in the video], because we’d performed with many people. We have a different encounter with each of the DJs, with different kinds of music. We are open to different styles, different sounds. Everyone who invites us to sing, whichever style it is, we will sing, because it’s always an exchange. Then we had the idea of the market, and Carcará [the ‘boyfriend’ - check his artwork here], who was the most bizarre character to be a ‘cool bloke’ representing the misguided person. The people we fall in love with…

PP: And the street market. Why the street market? The street market is a place of freedom. It’s a place of variety, of diversity. There you will find people with established stalls, people with smaller stalls, people with cloths on the floor… white, black, blue, yellow, rich, poor, from each region, everyone goes to the market, everyone knows a market, at least here in Brazil. And the street is where great creative power lies, where everything effervesces. The market is where differences are exchanged. Everyone is there.

AP: And we filmed it directly with the people there — it was cool to see the reaction of the Brazilian people. The Brazilian people are so open, so friendly and receptive.

PP: There wasn’t this nonsense about going before, there wasn’t this ‘we go before to talk to the owners of the stalls’. Even the owner of the borracharia [tyre fitters], who was a mechanic, we went to get changed in there, then we ended up filming in there; it’s something that happened naturally — he understood what we were about.

AP: And all the icons were there, the truck, that whole thing of changing the oil, the thing of the mechanic workshop that stimulates the male sexual imagination; the woman of the borracharia, the calendar with scantily clad women… Then we go to the market. We invited Doca [Sander] to direct it, because we have a great admiration for him.

PP: And we identify with his work.

AP: As an actor also, Doca is a great actor — we’ve always wanted to work with him. So we invited him to direct our first video. I think Fulerô needs a lot of video clips, because what we say is subversive. Who doesn’t know us can think that we do a feminist thing.

PP: It’s not feminist. It’s feminine.

AP: Yes, on the contrary, it’s completely different — you understand?

PP: And the market is a great cauldron of freedom. You can shout. You can do anything.
Recently American producer Disco D made a track with your vocals from Pinga. How did this come about?
PP: It was through Soulslinger; he took a CD with our voices recorded — he’s a friend of Disco D’s. He met him and showed it to him, Disco D — he didn’t know us, we weren’t on MySpace yet — and he did the track.

AP: We had no idea who the guy was.

PP: Then we thought is was wicked that he’d produced 50 Cent, Snoop Doggy Dog…

AP: We asked Camilo [Rocha], “Who is Disco D? Disco D did a remix of ours, who is he?”

PP: And we loved it. He did like a funk carioca thing — I thought it was great. When we met for the first time, once we knew who he was, we went to his house. He showed us the track again, showed us other work he’s done with other people from Brazil, people from Rio, showed us the stuff he did with 50 Cent, and we realised we were next to someone that has really strong work. His production, the way in which he produces, is exemplary. He is foda [the shit]. But he works with guys who are gangsters, so he said to us, “I work with gangster rappers, and gangster rappers have that thing, ‘I’m gonna screw everyone, I’m gonna fuck everyone, women are all bitches’”. So I said to him “But our music is very different from that, I mean, it talks about the same thing but it’s said by women”. He had the vision to say the following, “What you do, being women, is extremely new, and I understand it, even though I’m a gringo”. This happened with him, and with Jerome [Hill]. We thought this was really cool, because these people — he’s North American — we get a bit… [laughter]

AP: Our ‘indian’ dawned upon us.

PP: The indian comes, and you say, “Me Paula, you Disco D!” And then it was really nice. He was extremely cool with us. He called to tell us he’d launch us on a compilation release, and on the same day we did Miss Kittin with him, using a set of beats he’d built years ago but never used. He saw that we could just get there and do it, that there are no bad times with us. He liked it, saw us personally, and this made him understand some things better.

AP: The first time he saw us singing, we sang Miss Kittin, and he went red.

PP: But at the same time, he is a subversive. We told him about Novela

AP: He got out a copy of Hello! and said, “I’ve been in Hello!

PP: He showed us. He used to go out with Luciana Vendramini. He laughed at himself. He said, “Look, I’ve been in Hello!” like, ‘I know what you’re talking about, you’re taking the piss of this!’ He got it out, he didn’t hide it — he showed it.
And what do you think about the Brazilian funk phenomenon?
PP: I love it.

AP: I like it lots, but I think that the woman’s position still needs to evolve. For example, you see Tati [Tati Quebra-Barraco], well, they talk about the sexual question always in relation to men, “I’m going to fuck the guy over”, “I’m going to screw the guy”, “I’m going to steal your man from you…”
PP: It’s as if they put their dick on the table.

AP: I think the women are still too linked to sexism, and that needs to be transformed.

PP: I have no criticism in that way, because we mustn’t forget that these people — Tati, Deise Tigrona — they are from a reality that we don’t know, which is that of total poverty, of the favela, of houses without floors, just the bare earth… where men are extremely sexist, where they really beat the shit out of women. This happens in the favela. The men get pissed and throw all their problems on the backs of the women, as I said before. So I think that the only way out that these women had, really, was to make the music that they make.

AP: I also think that it’s a protest within their reality.

PP: And within Brazil’s reality. Today, she has another life. Music gave her something that she would never get being a domestic maid, that she would only get being a prostitute. So what did she do? “I’m going to get the microphone and say all the crap in the world that I have in my head, because I’ve had enough of being pushed into the corner in this world, and I’ll see what happens”. Then came funk carioca. Funk carioca already has malandragem [a mixture of charm and malice], which is very interesting, and that no one manages to do like them, or that no one can imitate. We, from São Paulo, also have a cool sense of humour, but it’s different.

AP: It’s more intellectual — it’s different, and it can’t be imitated. Each one to his own; I think things co-exist, you see. I want the thought in funk carioca to evolve, as I want my own thoughts to evolve. I think the fact that this exists, and that it’s being successful throughout the world, is already a resistance, because it’s one of Brazil’s most fucked peripheries reaching out to the world. That is wicked in itself.

PP: This had never happened to Brazilian music, on this scale. The [carioca] funk is a phenomenon to which I take my hat off. I take my trousers off to them, because to them you have to take your trousers off [laughs]. I love it. I think it’s really important; we need more people spouting crap, because we live in a country where people run away with money in their underpants [reference to a politician caught at the airport with notes stashed in his underpants]. One thing is for you to pose as a politician, as a family man, but then to be found at the airport… with money in your underpants?!

AP: Yesterday we watched the [presidential candidate] debate — we are between the shit and the shit and a half. When I saw Bush being re-elected, I said, “Ah, idiots! Fuck you, stupid Americans”, but now this happens in Brazil. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, when one of the guys is from TFP [Tradição, Família e Propriedade – a right-wing Catholic NGO] and the other everyone knows steals; everyone steals and it’s all got very low, this lack of morality. Yesterday in the debate, people debated and spoke of what they wanted, and no one’s going to check. This is all such a disregard for the real meaning of words, that you can’t be shocked by what you hear in funk carioca.

PP: It’s a reflex.

AP: At least in funk carioca, we see it for what it is.

PP: At least it’s genuine. The political moment is reflected in music. When Collor [Fernando Collor] was president, the most propagated music in Brazil was sertanejo [Brazilian country music]. It was when there was a great boom of Chitãozinho e Chororó, and ‘I don’t know what’ and Luciano, these double acts, that eternal wanking… it was this sort of disguised thing. Now, with Lula [Brazil’s president since 2002], I don’t know if it’s because he’s from humble origins but everything’s burst forth.

AP: And I think that we are living through a moment of subversion. The PCC [Primiero Comando da Capital] attacks… We are living through a complicated political and economic moment. We don’t know who to believe in. In the last election I went to vote wearing a clown's nose…

PP: At the same time as funk carioca is a reflection of all this, Fulerô is also, but now with our weapons, with our style, which are different from everything I’ve seen — not because it’s better, not because it’s worse, but because it’s different. And each one’s professional experience bares weight. So Fulerô is being well understood. I think each thing has its time, it’s place. In five years I consider us victorious.
 Listen to Pinga (Soulslinger & Disco D mix) by Fulerô O Esquema
 Listen to Pinga (Blackmass Plastics mix) by Fulerô O Esquema
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