*** Q&A translated from Portuguese to English ***
In 2014, I saw a video on YouTube entitled BLAYA AFRO SESSIONS 1 (click play above) and I was hooked! Who is this chick?! I felt like I arrived late to the party and I needed to catch up. Since then I’ve been consuming all things Blaya Rodrigues. She is not only a very talented dancer and choreographer, but her time with Buraka Som Sistema showed her skills on the mic and her overall creativity. Although Buraka Som Sistema has taken a break, you can still find Blaya jotting across the world, teaching and performing. Her creativity shows no limits and like many of us far less talented digital nomads, you’re going to want to keep up with her next steps.
You are Brazilian-born, but grew up in Portugal and you’ve been working around the world in Latin America, Asia and Africa since you joined Buraka Som Sistema in 2008. Now you’re a brilliant dancer, vocalist, lyricist and choreographer still working around the world. You are a third world kid in every way… so where in the world feels like home to you?
Portugal is where I feel the most at home, of course, since I already know where everything is! From my favorite restaurant to my preferred garden.
But Thailand is one of my favorite places to be.
And which culture would you say most influences your music and dance?
My influences in dance clearly come from Angola, but also from Brazil. I was born in the latter so I always have the urge to show my naughtiest side.
Kuduro is a mix of Angolan Kilapanga, Semba and Zouk with Western house and techno, but its roots are definitely Angolan. Now, however, it can be seen on the Afro House club scene everywhere thanks to dancers like you who bring it to the masses. What artists would you say define the genre of music and dance?
Right now, Afro House is in the playlist of countless clubs, however kuduro has a tough time achieving the same, since listening and dancing to it is much harder. Afro House is actually a style that works perfectly as club music – even those who tend to be shyer can dance to it, as it does not have the same impact as kuduro. But Fábio Dance, and then the Pilukas and the Moikanos, were the ones responsible for introducing Afro House to the world’s feet. There are tons of groups, of course! But these can dance and sing.
And how do you keep up with new moves and new music?
I need to follow YouTube all the time, because it’s a bit tough to discern the steps and songs that are trending in Angola, given the fact that I’m not Angolan, nor do I live there. But the internet is a great tool to stay up-to-date with the latest stuff.
You have a video where you are in a hotel room with a camera and you’re basically showing people the difference between House, Kuduro, Afro House, and Aerobics… How important is it to you to educate people on the difference between the dances?
Over time, hundreds of mischievous teachers started to emerge, only to deceive people, and I just can’t stand that. I always try to provide good information to those who follow my work, but sometimes that’s really hard. And then I end up seeing lots of mistakes. All dances have their essence, their own history, and mixing everything together is not good. If we happen to blend things, we should explain the history of each style.
Here in the U.S. a lot of dancers get a lot of push-back for twerking or for the sexual nature of their dancing. Do you ever experience this while working or teaching? And how do you cope with criticism?
I always call my lessons “pack bundas” (booty pack), as they are a combination of twerking, Brazilian funk, etc. Perhaps the criticism was more frequent when I started doing it, but I have rarely danced wearing just tiny shorts or panties. I think that when we twerk we don’t have to wear tiny clothes, going for what is sensual and comfortable is more than enough. I’m used to criticism, so it doesn’t bother me, since my goal is to make women feel good about themselves and, at the same time, have them working out properly.
In nearly every video where you’re dancing freely, you have a huge smile on your face! Would you say that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be right now?
I don’t like planning that much, I just go with the flow and I think that’s what makes me smile. But I should be in Thailand!
And what’s next for Blaya?
I’ll keep providing my workshops, I’ll try to record some songs and organize events, like this event of mine called Afrobattle PT, it’s a battle of Afro House and kuduro, particularly focused on dancers of those styles.
Buraka Som Sistema has been on hiatus since 2016… can we expect to hear anything from the group in 2017?
We played our last show in July of 2016. Now we’re going to stop for an indefinite period of time. Perhaps we’ll be back someday, but right now each member has a personal project to take care of.