Blu Samu: ‘I let myself be put in a cool hip-hop straitjacket for a while’

Every week we serve a portion of Smalltalk here, a short chat with an artist in his or her favorite café. This time we record the happy reunion between singer Blu Samu, who has since moved back to Antwerp, and De Monk, her favorite pub when she was still building her way in Brussels.

After the breakthrough single ‘I run’ from 2017, Salomé Dos Santos (27), aka Blu Samu, moved from Antwerp to Brussels, precisely because she resonated with the open, limitless mindset of the capital. “I never wanted to put myself and my music in a box,” she says on the terrace of the Monk, one of her favorite cafes when she worked across the street at pizzeria Nona and fully enjoyed the bustling city life.

At the beginning of her career, the singer was constantly told: but who is Blu Samu and what genre does she perform? “I thought that was a useless question. People wanted me to believe that I had to choose between genres, but I never agreed. Blu Samu is Salomé Dos Santos and what’s going on with her when she makes her music. I create all my EPs from the awareness, the authenticity and the tools I have at that moment in my life. So don’t expect me to tell you now what Blu Samu will be in the future. Brussels matched so much better with that attitude than Antwerp.”

Her first EP was called moka, after the pet name her Portuguese grandmother gave her because her daddy is African and her mom is Portuguese. The record made it immediately clear in 2018 that music is her therapy. her second ep, ctrl-alt-del (2019), was created in Brussels when her career took off under the wings of hip-hop crew Le 77. In the midst of the energy that city life gave her, some ancient demons were tamed. on the new ep 7 she comes closer to herself again. A mix of styles with fado and Cape Verdean influences also pushes the familiar hip-hop sound into the background. For this she likes to put a feather in the hat of her French producer Sam Tiba. “My Parisian management put me in touch with him and there was an immediate click. We liked the same things – anime, melancholic beats… – and he didn’t push me to make another hip-hop record.”

Tiba pulled her out of her lockdown bubble, which she had filled with chilling, gaming and skating, “all things I did when I was 16 if I wanted to escape reality.” Her producer not only helped to lift her writing block, he also made sure that the mix of traditional and electronic styles never sounds forced. “He also told me that no one overnight that it always takes at least ten years of preparation, and often also an underlying struggle. I’m attracted to that. I realize now even better than before that without the dark moments and setbacks I would not have stood so firmly in my shoes.”

The difficulties she experienced in her youth and her first, reluctant steps in the music world, turned out to have been a good learning experience and assertiveness training. “Record labels are obsolete. Sometimes I get the feeling that they are still trying to sell their music the same way they did in Elvis Presley’s time. But every growth process is different. Take all those deadlines now. You can’t order an artist to have a single ready within two months. That detracts from the creation process. As a young artist you still think that people in the industry know better, because they have studied for it. But once you realize that that’s exactly why they try to put everyone in the same mold, it comes down to finding your way back to yourself and taking the things you can do better into your own hands again.” In her case, for example, it was specifically about her striking video clips, of which she again took over the direction.

Also on a personal level, Dos Santos made a clean sweep by returning to Antwerp during the pandemic. “I was very well surrounded in Brussels, but I still felt alone. It looked good from the outside. Inside I realized that something wasn’t right.” And so she returned to the house where she once walked (see first single ‘I Run’). “That felt strange, but at the same time it was liberating to go back to sleep in my childhood room in my single bed, among all my old stuff.”

When she lived in Antwerp for two months, she learned of the death of her father, with whom she had little contact. “I cried the first day. I locked myself in my room and started writing down everything I wanted to say to him. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, although he wanted to, but I didn’t want to make me feel guilty either. My daddy wouldn’t have been happy about that and I would have just eaten myself.” The result of the grieving process can be heard in the homage ‘Pai’, which she sings in softer Portuguese. “With music we tell each other things that we don’t say out loud, but that we are thinking or feeling. If you enter into an honest dialogue with yourself in your music, it automatically becomes therapy.”

She recently experienced this after a short stay in the French countryside, which was intended to work on new songs in isolation in nature. But being alone brought out so much in her that it didn’t come out until she got back home. It turned things around.

“As a starting artist I wrote slam poetry. It wasn’t until I started working more with Le 77 that I started writing in sixteen bars and choruses, as is usual in hip-hop. Then everyone started calling me a rapper or hip-hop artist. Without really being aware of it, I put myself in that straitjacket for a while. After my trip to France I started to compose differently. I wrote down a first sentence – “Why do I feel so sad about meeting people?” – which I thought about for a while before writing a second sentence – “Why is it so important for me to be a strong independent person?” That is how the new track has built up organically.”

The song about the social pressure to always stand up for yourself (and not need anyone) is a foretaste of what we can expect in the future. “In wanting to be strong and independent, I have long pushed aside my vulnerable side and my need to have someone by my side. But what if you see an emancipated Beyoncé in her music videos constantly beating cars when confronted by her boyfriend’s cheating.” That tough attitude is over 7 already somewhat shaved off and promises to be pushed even more to the background on her first full-length long player, planned for 2023.

© Ivan Put

Before her breakthrough, an ambitious Dos Santos told us about five years ago that she would like to collaborate on that first real album with top names such as Kaytranada, Flying Lotus and a handful of jazz musicians. Now her dreamcast leans more towards Thundercat, Ashley Henry and preferably also some Cape Verdean musicians from Cesária Évora’s entourage. “More concrete (laughs) my producer is staying on board and I am collaborating with Joseph Schiano di Lombo, a classical pianist from Paris. Then we look for other musicians. Apart from that, my message has to be clear on that first album. The challenge is to explain why I am who I am and love the way I love.”

France is also looking forward to that debut. “Here my relaunch seems to be slowing down a bit in the wake of the pandemic, but in France it is boom fries. At the end of August I was on Rock en Seine, coincidentally just at the same time as Stromae. I was like this proud that about 400 festival-goers did not go to see him. I wouldn’t have known myself if I would have done the same in their place. (laughs) So congratulations to the French fans.”

After the release show in the Botanique, Blu Samu can be seen this autumn as the opening act during a number of concerts of the new European tour of the French-Cuban sisters of Ibeyi. She immediately sees an opportunity to make new connections. “Life is valuable because of the connections you make,” she concludes with free advice. “Give yourself the chance to make real connections by being real.”

1/10, 19.30, Botanique,

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