Carola walked onto the stage of a track at the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium at the end of July, just thinking she couldn’t go wrong. Just two years after entering the national scene, the Brazilian DJ had arrived at one of the biggest electronic music events in the world, alongside another artist from Brazil, Kvsh.
About ten years passed between the show in Europe and the day when, still in a house in Vila Jardim, on the outskirts of Porto Alegre, Carolina Alcântara, 29, posted an image of Tomorrowland on Facebook, saying that she would work and study hard. to one day get there. “I have the print to this day”, she says. “I understood the size of that later. Fuck, look where I am, I always dreamed of this and it happened.” This Saturday (3), she fulfills the dream of another festival, Rock in Rio.
A black woman, peripheral, bisexual and outside the standard of the female DJs she used to see perform in the electronic music scene, DJ Carola has 840,000 listeners on Spotify and over 30,000 followers on Instagram. She has already received support from David Guetta on a track, has a team in Brazil and an agency in the United States, and has seen it all happen in about two years.
“My experience is different from that of most artists, because what we have today within the electronic music market is a very elitist and white thing. I don’t say this in a pejorative way, but it is the reality”, he says. “The ones who made electronic music were the blacks, but it came out of that and became a totally elitist and whitened thing. There are times when I go in to play in a place and I’m the only black there. I think that says a lot about what I bring to inside my shows.”
In her first year as a DJ, Carola played at three parties, with a fee of R$100, spent on the event itself. After living for three months in Spain, where she managed to get some gigs, she returned to Brazil and asked an acquaintance what it was necessary to do to have space at his party. She worked three months with social media advertising and, thus, got the slot and a job at the production company.
“Her sound is very danceable, it’s different from what you see out there. I’m very proud, I know what she fought to be there. She’s very resilient,” says former boss William Ruschel, 38.
Back to Vila Jardim
Carola has no contact with her biological father and lost her beloved stepfather when she was nine. Her mother, Eliana, died about a year later. She and her older brother continued to live in the white house, built at the back of their grandmother’s house, Firmina dos Santos Alcântara, 90, who raised them. Generations of the family have lived there for at least 70 years, since Firmina, coming from Bagé, in the Campanha region of Rio Grande do Sul, bought the land with her husband and built the house.
The DJ left home at the end of 2019 to live with an ex-girlfriend. In early 2021, she moved to São Paulo to facilitate concerts and travel around the country. Her visit to Porto Alegre, now, was for family reasons.
Despite some movement difficulties, Firmina has a keen memory of her granddaughter’s childhood. She remembers that she was taken, sneaking out of school every now and then. “But she studied,” says the grandmother. “She was good with me. We always want to mold a person to our own way, but now that I’m old, I know that’s not how things are.”
The region of Vila Jardim where the grandmother lives has quiet streets and simple houses, but close to noble areas of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. The contrast just a short walk away always caught Carola’s eye. At her grandmother’s house, she says she never went hungry, unlike many of her schoolmates. Other childhood friends, she recalls, joined the drug trade. A classmate, in 2nd grade, died in an accidental shooting with a gun that his family had at home.
Unlike most of them, Carola entered the university and studied Publicity and Propaganda for two and a half years, at a private institution, where she had a scholarship thanks to her Enem (National High School Exam). She dropped out to prioritize her DJ career. “I thought: this has to work. And then work to make it happen. When I had to make a choice, I always chose music.”
‘Break of expectation’
Jessica Bittencourt watched Carola play for the first time, at the end of an event, in 2018. She was curious about the woman announced in the line-up, as she only saw male DJs. “She started already blowing up the crowd, I had never seen anything like it. There she won two fans with a card”, remembers Jessica, who created, together with her husband, Vinicius da Silva, a fan club to help promote Carola’s work. “From there a friendship was born.”
The couple also became investors in the “Carola project”, as the DJ herself refers, and continues to support her to this day.
The journalist specialized in covering music and DJs Claudia Assef says that she got to know Carola’s work in a production “masterclass”. The impression she got, she says, was of a resourceful, intelligent young woman, with a simple technique, which resulted in remarkable productions.
“She caught my attention because of the speed with which she appeared on the scene, mainly because of her work as a producer, an area in which there are still few women, especially black women”, she says.
The first Brazilian DJ appeared in the 1960s, the pioneer Sônia Abreu, recalls Assef. In the 2000s, there was a wave of female DJs in the model stereotype, which started to change about ten years ago, with women appearing in more authorial work, but where black people are still in the minority.
“Electronic music began, everywhere in the world, on the periphery. It is a total peripheral music. At its origin, in the United States, techno started among blacks, with little resources, often using machines that were not the ideas and created great sounds. But, obviously, it became more elitist and whitened. It went to the opposite side of her ID”, she explains, author of “Todo DJ already sambou”.
Carola says that, at the beginning, she wasn’t very connected to racial issues (“it took a while to pay attention to that”). “[Mas] came this discrepancy of being in so many places and not seeing so many people who look like me. I see a lot of black security, a lot of aunt cleaning the bathroom, but why don’t I see more people enjoying the party or producing music or playing?”, he asks.
Gustavo da Silva Leal, aka Kohen, 27, producer and artist, who works with the Alok label, says that he and Carol also identified with that, in the midst of a competitive market in the south. Kohen lives in the northern part of Porto Alegre, in the Rubem Berta neighborhood, where he was born, but he continues to work with Carola from a distance.
“Especially here in Brazil, people want to have a reference, if it’s a woman, it’s white, straight hair, thin, makeup, tight clothes. Man, same pattern, nice teeth. We, me and her, we break expectations , because we are none of that”, he jokes. “We can get there through work.”
Carola’s mother, Eliana, had a car accident, was left with sequelae and, due to the risky pregnancy, almost had to abort her daughter, but decided to continue with the pregnancy. During her childhood, Carol remembers her mother’s constant headaches, going to the hospital, but also the times she listened to U2 and Cássia Eller around the house, and the walks encouraging her children’s culture, at the Casa de Cultura Mário Quintana.
The hotel where the gaucho poet lived, in the historic center of the capital, today hosts all kinds of cultural agendas and a room dedicated to another Porto Alegre native who became a national name for her music, Elis Regina. The gaucho neighborhood caused Elis to suffer a wave of criticism when she left the state for her career. For Carola, one of the first shows here, after leaving for the national scene, was not easy either. Announced as one of the artists at the “Só Track Boa” party, she saw a wave of hate on social media questioning why she brought someone who always played at local parties until recently.
She was even considering not playing anymore, but she did. “It was a really badass set, and when I finished, the crowd started screaming my name: Carola, Carola”, she laughs. “I always had inside me that I wanted to change my reality,” she says. “But it’s still a dream that’s taking shape.”