By reimagining time and space through spirituality and relativity, DJ, producer, and performer Odete creates anachronistic soundscapes and collaborative visuals that evoke an array of cathartic emotions from questionable humor to glistening wonder.
Being immersed in Odete’s sounds and performances involves a type of abrasive, yet lyrical disorientation, where time and space are twisted, superimposed, and perpetually shifted. With a range of unpredictable repertoire, Odete conjures audio-haptic experiences of a celestial being journeying through terror and awe only to emerge yet again from the parting mist. From religious chants to auto-tuned, operatic verses and doom claps, Lisbon-based polymath Odete discusses her converging artistic practices, water as »the history of fluidity«, and subversive, queer and trans figures in Portuguese history. Photos by Nuša Hernavs, taken shortly before Odete’s recent concert at Traumabar, Berlin.
The element of water seems to be a recurring motif in your work, both in your performance »On Revelations and Muddy Becomings« and throughout your music. There is a constancy of enquiry and uncovering legacies or portals to other realities. What does the physical and spiritual element of water mean to you?
I think it’s important to trace my relationship to water chronologically, so you can possibly get a glimpse of what it might mean to me. I’ve grown up obsessed with stories about underwater worlds like Atlantis or the The Little Mermaid, with water magic (as I was always the character in cartoons with water capabilities) and with the ocean. I’m not really sure why until I started connecting with water on a more spiritual, conceptual, and even historical way. As I grew, so did my understanding of water as essential – not only to my body as a human, but also to the politics of humans. Water as present in world traumas such as colonization, capitalism and climate change. Water as present in the bodies of animals, insects, and plants. Water as holding histories one cannot tell through language – and mostly water as holding my language as someone who sees themselves as fluid. Water as essential to queer ancient rites, potions, gels or patches. Water as contaminated with something converted to estrogen by animal bodies. Water as a scar and at the same time as the future. Understanding the history of fluidity, of transitional states, of sedimentation, of water. I understood how important it was for me to navigate through it. To dive deep.
Indeed, the symbolism of water refers to layers of incongruities, yet affirmations – nothing is static. How has your artistic practice evolved since your foray into DJing?
DJing was very important for me as it gave me the tools to mix and blend things that were unexpected. My work has always twisted genres and artistic mediums, but DJing was the culmination of storytelling through blending different things: voice recordings, samples, baroque music, electroacoustic icons, religious music, club music, pop acapellas, etc. And these elements eventually entered my pieces. I would use sound and music in ways I couldn’t before.
Performance and writing give me more possibilities than DJing, but that could happen with any art medium. Writing provides possibilities that are different than painting or dancing or whatever really. I can’t really grasp what it is they each provide because I don’t work in those practices in an isolated way: they blend and influence each other.
After watching the Lamento music video, I couldn’t help but think of how reincarnation is not only a way of claiming ancestral roots; but also figuratively, a refusal to adhere to the dominant modes of existence. What was your idea behind the music video?
The music video was made by a group, not only me! We all contributed something to it, and I think that opened the work up to its possibilities. From the editing that flows from picture to picture without any cuts – as if fluid, watery, slippery – to the make-up that claims, which claims a certain resemblance to an insect while at the same time keeping its mystery. The idea was pretty simple following this character that lives in this place and that is never very substantial. Images fading into each other allow for that insubstantiality and props to @lvcefecit (the editor) for understanding this without me even stating it very clearly. »Lamento« is a song about mourning when you believe that the person will come back, somehow, someday. Not a song of sadness, but a peaceful celebration of transmutation.
This me very much reminds of the Buddhist philosophy of reincarnation – recognizing the transmigration of a soul to another physical entity as not necessarily a negative event. What lines of thought inform your current spiritual, musical, and artistic practices?
I don’t think any spiritual practice informs my practice. Or at least not one that is practiced as a religion. There is a lot of spirituality in my life but a practice without any conventional rules. I think I would call it an awareness of ancestry and the blood structures of this world; an awareness that demands to be spiritual and magic, that demands rituality. Almost as if my practice were an homage to everything we have lost and everyone we have lost. It’s also curiosity about what exists beyond my logical understanding of the world.
I came across the work of Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro – please do check her work – and I relate a lot to how she works through spirituality, even though we come from radically different positions. She inspires me a lot and I wish my work were as mature as hers, at leas in terms of spirituality!
Your rendition of Jay Sean’s »Ride It« is humorous and so playful! The cover has transformed a mid-2000’s R&B hit with an erotic push/pull club romance to a choral, sonic space where I could imagine myself approaching heaven or hell’s gates awaiting judgment.
I thought I was the only one laughing with it! I literally spent an entire day singing the song that was stuck in my head and at one point I started laughing when I understood the lyrics – and I decided to record it also as a silly homage to non-English speakers that have songs stuck in their heads and forget the meaning of the language. It was a pretty fun improvisation and I think I’m pretty happy with how it came out.
Since fantasy and spirituality seem to be a driving force for your projects, are there (non)fictional characters you channel?
I don’t channel anyone but myself. I wish I were the kind of medium that could channel people who are no longer alive, but I’m not unfortunately. I do try to contact them and speak to them. I usually try to talk to people that lived through what we call Portugal – murdered sisters like Gisberta or Luna or even people judged by the Inquisition like Pedro Furtado or Estevão da Cobra Luís.
My fear for the ongoing tokenism of racialized and queer/trans people, especially in the music and arts industry, is that we will continue to be capitalized upon and entrapped in the box of identity politics without fully engaging in our works as autonomous, somatic beings. Is visibility enough?
I fear the same thing. I don’t think visibility is any good, but I’m also not the best person to speak on these matters as generalizations and abstractions. »Is visibility enough?« almost demands of me to give a general political answer or solution which I cannot offer. I can only answer regarding my experience of visibility – I truly don’t know what would be enough. The world itself is not enough – a scar of a world, unstable ground, dead people everywhere, structures made of death itself, oppression and so on.