Portuguese artist MERAI uses music as a powerful tool for catharsis and transformation, bringing out the track “O Meu Corpo Não”, which turns sexual violence into a liberating cry. With a multifaceted career, 23-year-old MERAI combines influences ranging from Afropop to traditional Portuguese elements. The sound is dark, full of noises that capture the victim’s anxiety and a constant rhythm that evokes a battlefield. The video, full of symbolism and directed by the artist herself, emphasises sorority between women and challenges male toxicity. MERAI demonstrates a conceptual maturity in her work, with the release of the EP “Fénix” and her participation in significant cultural events, including the Feminist March of 8 March 2023.
What was the inspiration behind the composition of “O Meu Corpo Não”? How did this song come about and what message do you want to convey with it?
Hm… This is an ambivalent question, because we have the conceptual question, and the musical question. The decision to tackle this topic comes from knowing that it’s a common occurrence. It’s from meeting in women’s circles and hearing that these are common pains for many of us, and so I thought it was important to touch the wound, with awareness and carrying the weight that the subject brings with it. There are some, I call them “feminist anthems” that inspire me a lot, such as “Todxs Putxs” by Ekena, and “Canción sin miedo” by Vivir Quintana. Both of these songs are courageous, they talk about people uniting in the face of injustice and they’re the kind of songs that raise your hackles (in Portugal we say “chicken skin”, I don’t know if that’s also the case in Brazil). Fortunately, I’ve had a few people tell me that “O Meu Corpo Não” gave them chicken skin, just as these songs did for me.
The song tells the story of a victim of sexual violence. How did you approach the complexity of this theme in the song and music video?
I tried to chronologise this complexity, to understand the different stages of processing a trauma. Following the victim’s process, in the lyrics and music we have confusion, pain, despair, anger and, finally, revenge. I think the best way to communicate with people is through symbols, small units of meaning. Musically, the constant drum is like a battlefield. There are a lot of little sounds that I put there on purpose to create anxiety and discomfort, lots of percussions that are scattered throughout the auditory field (you hear one in front, one to the side, one behind) as if whoever is listening is being surrounded by a bunch of strange sounds (or people). The breaths I added in the chorus play the same role of causing anxiety, it’s as if someone is trying to escape. For example, my voice takes on a distortion when the narrative turns. When I say “my mourning is not and will never be the death of the spirit, axé or orixá”, showing the strength behind the story of a victim, often called a survivor. There my voice is not just mine, it is the voice of all women and of the Sacred Feminine. That’s why I’ve added a deeper layer, which overlaps with my own. In short, I tried to be faithful to the complexity by not talking about him in a one-dimensional way, I tried to explore the various feelings that a situation like this can cause. And the song had to end with empowerment.
You mentioned that the song is a demonstration of sorority between women. How is this concept reflected in the song and video?
In the video this is clear from the presence of several women, and from what we do together. There are shots of us sleeping, of us dancing, of us simply breathing together… There’s one shot, for example, of me literally falling over them, Irana and Leonor. They are literally my support. But there’s nothing that reflects that more than the last lines of the song, which are “We’ve all seen an affront in force. To an affront we only leave our bones”. And I think that’s all said about that line, ahahah.
In the music video, there are many symbolic elements. Can you share more about the meaning behind these symbols and how they relate to the message of the song?
Visually, I used masks to cause fear and to depict these fighting forces (the Divine Feminine and the Toxic Masculinity) as not being human. There are visual metaphors such as the boy with the bicycle who circles the women, imitating the circles that a predator makes around its prey. The chilli pepper I feed the boy is a reenactment of the Eden myth, when Eve feeds Adam the apple, but in this case it’s a chilli pepper, because chilli peppers are spicy, i.e. dangerous, and it’s a reminder not to underestimate a woman. The hands that “drown me” in the chorus serve to portray this suffocating reality of society’s sense of possession over women’s bodies. The constantly prominent colour red is no coincidence either. It’s a feminine colour, the colour of life that we give, but also the colour of death, so for me it’s the colour that best reflects the cycles we are all subject to. No element was placed in the video for nothing, everything was handpicked and everything has a reason.
What was it like directing the music video? What were the challenges and rewards of bringing this complex narrative to the screen?
I honestly loved the experience. It was very challenging, but I like challenges. Besides, for me true art is that which transforms us, which transmutes us and makes us better and more complete. And I feel I’ve been transformed by this challenge. That’s why I like making art so much, I discover things about myself and the world in the process, and I come out richer than I went in. Perhaps the biggest challenge was drawing the storyboard ahahah I like to draw but I’m not very good at realistic drawing. There are always lots of things that we don’t take into account or that we fail to realise when it comes to drawing. For example, I just remembered a challenge, which wasn’t dramatic but was unexpected for me. I wanted to burn a flower for the final shot, but I forgot that flowers are 80% water, so they’re practically impossible to burn. Until we realised it wasn’t going to work, we “burned” a lot of time. We had to find a solution, which was a dry pine tree I had at home. However, there was no huge obstacle that made me despair and think that it wouldn’t be possible to complete the project. I also had an incredible group of people with me during the shoot, and in post-production too. We were all women during the filming of the clip, except for Martim, who is the man in the video. The rewards are… all of them. It’s very rewarding to see something you’ve visualised and believe in materialise, but I think that only happens when other people believe in it too. That’s the essence of religion!
MERAI, your music incorporates a wide range of musical influences, from Afropop to electronic music. How do you think this diversity contributes to telling powerful stories like “Meu Corpo Não”?
I think of myself as an organiser. I don’t like to exclude, on the contrary, I like to include. I don’t throw many parties, but when I do, I take the people who are the most different from each other, who are the people in my life, who come from completely different backgrounds, but who all have one thing in common for me: they are people who shine. And from the outset, a group of people who have nothing to do with each other already say that they adore each other and keep in touch, have remained friends ever since. At one of the few parties I gave, this happened, and I was overjoyed. This may not seem to have anything to do with the question, but it does for me. I like bringing different things together and realising that there is harmony between them. Both in terms of musical genres and themes, I like to be diverse, because I feel that way. We have countless stories in our lives, countless sides to us, and in my artistic process I want to explore and expose the different expressions of my Self. And maybe I should have more parties.
“Meu Corpo Não” has a dark, intense sound that matches the song’s powerful message. How did you approach creating the arrangement and production for the track?
That’s right, it does. That’s a good question. I can say that the music began with basic percussion and voice. I really like to create around the voice, which is my main instrument. The words are also very important, but for me in music they’re not separate from the voice, they have to be in a happy, prosperous and lasting marriage, otherwise one of them will only cause damage to the other. I immediately decided that in the chorus I wanted a shout and a different, more mesmerising rhythm. I also decided that I didn’t want the song to be defeatist, and that it should have an ending… Macabre, powerful and dangerous. Then I added elements, various percussions, synths and strings… The song sounds minimalist but has 76 tracks, not counting the effects. I let my darker side take over the creation, of course. I think it’s very important to be aware of and work with your “dark side”.
As well as music, you’re also a visual artist and directed the music video. How do these different forms of expression connect in your work?
I don’t consider myself a visual artist… Maybe in the future, but right now I wouldn’t call it that. It’s a miracle I did this ahahah, if it’s repeated maybe we can call it art. In fact, I’m already working on projects that are guaranteed to be repeated, but… I can’t reveal it. My father is a photographer and my mother is a ballet dancer, so from an early age I was in contact with art, and both of them are very visual. My path has been more towards things you can’t see, like music and writing, but I do have a taste for the visual arts and I think my childhood and upbringing have something to do with that. All the arts are interconnected (there’s that aggregating tendency). And the more I can add to what I do, the better. And whenever I can bring magnificent people and artists to create with, I’ll do it and I’ll be very happy because sharing is the way we gain the most. We are very small on our own, and what I can have as a “visual artist” also depends on many creative people around me.
Your art often explores profound themes such as life and death. What motivates you to tackle these complex topics in your music?
It’s my personality really, I don’t like small talk, I like to get straight to the important questions. But I also like a good song just for dancing, I think every song has its context, and I’m not opposed to exploring simpler themes. I have a song called “Deixa-te Levar” that I released for my 23rd birthday this year, and it’s all about uncomplicating life, living it simply and being happy with that.
How do you hope “Meu Corpo Não” will affect the public and possibly promote wider discussions on the issue of sexual violence?
It would fill my heart to know that there are people who listen to and watch the video of this song and feel heard, that this narrative helps them process things that have happened to them or to people close to them, that in the end it makes them feel empowered and that they are not alone. The best case scenario would be to imagine that it sparked deep debates about what sexual violence is and why it happens. I hope we can think about what we need to heal in ourselves as human beings and in society so that it stops being perpetuated. I also hope that people will see the strength of women, even in pain, even in despair. I hope they realise the power of anger, and that it is a powerful tool for change.
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