Name: Lua Preta
Members: Jakub Smogur (aka DJ Mentalcut), Luzia Marina Viegas D'Abreu Avelino (aka Ms. Gia)
Occupation: Producer (Jakub Smogur), Vocalist (Luzia Marina Viegas D'Abreu Avelino)
Nationality: Polish (Jakub), Polish-Angolan (Luzia)
Current release: Lua Preta are one of the acts featured on the upcoming compilation Two Tribes Volume Two, described as "an intercontinental journey in rhythm, compiled by Ubbo Gronewold and Tobi Kirsch". The album can be pre-ordered from Agogo and is scheduled for September 17th. The compilation also features contributions by Afrodyssey Orchestra, The Kutimangoes, Alma Negra and Octapush, among others. [Read our Octa Push interview]
Recommendations: “Sounds and Colors: Brazil” (a book + CD, 2014); Shabaka and the Ancestors “Wisdom of Elders” 2016
If you enjoyed this interview with Lua Preta, stay up to date on their work by visiting them on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? what was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Mentalcut: I started producing music 7-8 years ago. Back then I was more into hip hop, grime, Baltimore club, Jersey club. I always appreciated the "raw/ keep it real" genre, music that was made for dance floors, but wasn't pop, mainstream.
Gia: I started recording vocals just 4 years ago. I never knew I'd be a vocalist. At first, Mentalcut asked me to drop just a few words that he could chop in the production process. Over the years it elevated to full songs and I was more and more into writing lyrics. In the beginning I really wanted just to hype the crowd in the clubs.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: how would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Mentalcut: For me, this process is mostly about being aware of what's going on around me, but also in broader sense - in our society, world, etc. At the same time, there's a need to find ourselves in this context - how can we be useful and give something valuable to the people, it may be a reason to dance, a hope for a better tomorrow, anything you feel comfortable with. It will sound so obvious, but I'm trying to stay true to myself, there's no other way to find your own voice.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Gia: I was born in Poland, but grew up in Luanda, Angola. When I went to high school, my parents sent me back to Poland. Kids in Angola didn't really consider me one of their own, they called me "Polaquinha Preta". In Poland in the 90s there were not many Black people. I didn't even know any other Black teenage girl in my home city Poznan. Even today, most Polish people don't consider me a Polish citizen, so you can imagine what was it like in the 90s.
I didn't have a sense of national identity - I wasn't Angolan enough and at the same time I wasn't Polish enough. I guess my experiences were quite unique, because the African diaspora in Eastern Europe was tiny and it is still to this day.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Gia: The main challenge was that I didn't have any professional vocal training. I never considered myself a vocalist and I had to learn everything in the process. It took some time and of course there's a lot to learn in the future.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Mentalcut: Instruments and software are just tools of expressing our emotions, nothing more. We're not collecting synths for the sake of it. If we use something in the process of creating we do it because it's a great tool. These days we create using Ableton Live, Korg Monologue and some percussive instruments friends gave us or we bought when travelling.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Mentalcut: We're always trying to stay up to date with technology and music software so we're not surprised by new stuff.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Gia: We work with artists we like and we know usually from digging the records on Bandcamp or Soundcloud. We're looking for the same approach to art. When living in Poland, it's quite difficult to collaborate in real life and our way is file sharing. First, we discuss the vision, the idea behind a project, then we send beats, record vocals, etc.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Gia: We're a couple living together and Lua Preta is a part of our life.
Mentalcut: Music is my full time job. I don't have a fixed schedule. During the week I usually work on new music and ideas. I also produce music for other artists, make remixes and tracks for tv / internet ads. On weekends we perform our live shows or I play DJ sets all over Poland and sometimes abroad. We've been lucky enough to perform in most EU countries and in the USA during pre-pandemic time. Besides creating and listening to music, my days are mostly about staying fit - I love basketball and swimming.
Gia: Having a home studio really helps. We often talk about new music ideas when having dinner and we're able to record vocals right after.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Gia: We’ve had a couple of breakthrough points. Performing for the first time in Brooklyn, NYC was such a big thing for us. We were like “if we can perform in front of a crowd in New York and they’re into it, that means something”. Sometimes a breakthrough work can be really unexpected, like when we recorded “Quero Mais” with Morena Leraba, we felt it’s a good track, but we didn’t expect it to be so popular in France and Germany (considering our global bass genre).
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Mentalcut: Before starting your creating process you need to have a vision, a plan, whatever you call it, you need to imagine what your piece will be like and what emotions you’re going to put into the music. For me personally, peace of mind is also necessary. You don’t need to suffer or to be exposed to extreme situations to create interesting music.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Mentalcut: There’s a lot of talk about mental health these days and I believe music can be very useful in helping people with these issues. I guess for both of us, music was very helpful in creating our own identity. Sometimes it just helps to get by. It makes you feel you’re not alone and there’s somebody in the world who feels the same as you. It’s really important to know we’re not alone when we suffer.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Gia: We’re doing our very best to stay true to our music. We never wanted to sound like African artists, we’re not living in Africa and it wouldn’t be honest. Since day one, my aim has been to create music that reflects my experiences - my life in Eastern Europe as a Black woman without specific cultural and national identity. We’re not using symbols or signs outside of our culture.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Mentalcut: There’s a strong connection between hearing and touching. I used the “TouchMe” controller from Playtronica and it works great. It would be amazing to use it during performances. It requires more work, let’s see what the future brings.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Mentalcut: We want to make people dance, but at the same time we want to give them hope and share some deeper emotions. What’s more, we feel it’s really important to talk about social and racial justice, considering what’s going on in today’s world.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Gia: That’s a really difficult question, beyond our imagination. I guess music can help you to be aware of what’s going on now and to not overthink the future. To be present at the moment.