Sinal de Alarme: Meet Feminine Hi-Fi, A Brazilian Sound System That’s All Woman

Words by Erin MacLeod
Photos Courtesy Feminine Hi-Fi

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Many folks know about the deep, deep well that is Brazilian music. And many know about the huge street parties soundtracked by huge sound systems. Less people, however, might know that some of these sounds are playing reggae—classics from Jamaica through to new voices from across Brazil.

Like everywhere else they exist, sound systems in Brazil are male dominated. Dani-I Pisces and the women of Feminine Hi-Fi—which also includes Renata Rude Sistah Aguiar, Andrea Lovesteady and Laylah Arruda—are looking to change this. Launching a series of parties this past March, their goal is to showcase reggae and sound system culture while giving women an opportunity to hold the spotlight. After the Olympics brouhaha is over, Feminine Hi-Fi will be hosting their third street party in Sao Paolo this September. Large Up wanted to know about this new development and the roots of sound system culture in Brazil. Dani-I was only too happy to oblige.

LU: How did you get into sound systems?

Dani-I Pisces: I have been involved with sound system culture for about a decade. My first contact was at a party called Java, which was produced by Dubversão Sound System. After this, my passion for Jamaican music and culture seriously increased. I created a blog, in 2008, called Groovin Mood, focused on reggae music and had the pleasure of interviewing important Brazilian as well as international names, such as John Holt, Indica Dubs and Kanka. Around 2011, I started DJing sporadically and from there until the beginning of 2016 I also produced some parties, most of them focused on Jamaican music. In March, after talking to my friends [Lovesteady, Laylah and Rude Sistah], we decided to create Feminine Hi-Fi.

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LU: Can you describe the reggae scene in Brazil? I understand that it is rather male dominated–like many reggae scenes worldwide–but I am particularly interested in how reggae is performed and the role of sound systems.

DP: The reggae scene in Brazil is quite peculiar. First, it’s important to understand that here we have two sound system “scenes” that are different from each other. Centered in the northeast of the country, we have the Radiolas movement, where there are large sound systems focused on roots reggae. They’ve been active at least since the late 1970s. These sound systems are huge, with walls consisting of more than 20, 30 boxes. Its estimated that in the area are hundreds of Radiolas inspired by Jamaican sound systems, but adapted to local customs. The Radiolas travel to other areas of the country with their complete systems, taking some of their local culture to other cities.

The other side of the sound system scene in Brazil are the sound systems similar to those that occur in the rest of the planet. In this context, Dubversão is the pioneer and introduced the Jamaican format in the southeast of the country in the early 2000s. After it, several others appeared across the country, creating their own identities within the scene.

Both for Radiolas and other systems inspired by the Jamaican format, women’s presence is very small. We only have one sound system operated exclusively by women, Sound Sisters, and only a few sound systems have women among their members. One of those is the Gueto pro Gueto Sound System, operated by men but with a woman, a singer called Lei di Dai, as the frontwoman. Seeing how difficult it is to integrate women in this male-dominated environment, as you said yourself, and we know in fact that it is, Feminine Hi-Fi was born. Our project is kind of a mini-festival and in each edition we gather around 15 women in the selection and microphone, in order to massively strengthen the female representativity.

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LU: Many people know about Brazil’s funk music, what internationally is often referred to as “baile funk.” Could you tell me a bit about the context of sound system culture in Brazil? What is the history?

DP: Funk has a certain connection with sound system culture in a few ways: they are both an expression of resistance and their huge walls of speakers like in a sound system, which is the case of Furacão 2000, a crew that produces baile funk. Sound system culture ends up embracing other rhythms like axé music. For example, the Baiana Sound System, which is a mix of reggae and regional music from Bahia, they also have a mobile wall of speakers.

LU: I’m interested in the fact that Feminine Hi-Fi is an all-vinyl project. Why is vinyl important?

DP: Music is important; it is above all. However, playing vinyl goes beyond aesthetic or preciousness. Collecting and playing vinyl helps to avoid certain sounds being forgotten, it keeps the culture alive and it also keeps the magic of digging for certain things that we probably wouldn’t find in digital platforms. Vinyl culture is very rich, it should be maintained, but it is also important that it works together with current formats. All in the name of music, which is what matters the most.

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LU: Who are your favourite artists? Who are your favourite sound systems?

DP: Sometimes I am listening more to a certain artist or paying more attention to the work of a particular sound system. Among my favorite sound systems are King Shiloh and Jah Shaka, but it would be unfair of me to state these as my only favorites! I like others as well, but I am bad at making choices!

LU: Are you interested in sound clash? Why or why not?

DP: I think sound clash feeds the issue of competition for space. At first it looks fun, like a soccer game, but I think if we bring this together with the issue of women in sound systems, it loses meaning. We are a few, I don’t think it is cool right now to encourage the competition when we could gather and make female representation even bigger and more expressive.

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LU: Do you have any connections with other women involved in sound systems around the world?

DP: I recently participated in the second edition of Sound System Outernational, a London symposium of Caribbean music, and I was pleased to be on the same panel of Legs Eleven Sound System and Caya Sound System, besides being able to talk to the side of the selectress Odara, my colleague here in Brazil. On Facebook I´m always following soundwomen and women who are somehow involved with sound system around the world, trying to know them and their work. I follow Big Mama Sound, Lylloo (I-Skankers), Dubplate Pearl, Macrönz Maky, Amanda Ford, Female Power Sound, and many others.

LU: What are the plans for the future of Feminine Hi-fi?

DP: We want to build our own sound system; we are currently working in partnership with a local male sound system called Smoke Dub. Possibly around 2017 we will have news about it. Besides that, we intend to expand the activities of Feminine Hi-Fi and we will be launching our label in September: the Feminine Tunes. With more women showing their talents, we saw the need to create something to further promote female activity within reggae. The label will be totally dedicated to reggae productions with women on vocals. We will continue with our events, stimulating the massive presence of women, and the future belongs to Jah!

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