Inspired after seeing another artist singing on the streets of Ipanema, she started to perform at Largo do Machado and Largo da Carioca. Videos of her performing quickly spread on the internet and her talent was spotted by Luciano Huck, a Brazilian TV presenter, who invited her to appear on his show. Soon after, Jesuton launched her first single and now has an album fittingly titled, Home. Culture Trip spoke with Jesuton about how a British girl came to Brazil and became a successful singer in Rio de Janeiro.
How would you define your music?
My music is the soundtrack to my life so far, I mix genres and sounds as tools to express emotions as closely to the lived experience as possible. The album I released this year is the first album of songs where I have written and/or co-produced all the songs. It sounds like a mixture of R’n’B, indie rock, and trip-hop. On the album, the songs are all snapshots of moments and so they all have weight and purpose for me. Though at the moment, I have a special place in my heart for Belonging from the album. The song is about belonging to things that take control of you and eat away at what you are and can be. It was difficult to admit to myself how things had got so out of hand and speak honestly about my experience with this.
How did you end up coming to Rio de Janeiro?
For as long as I can remember, I felt an inexplicable connection with Latin America, a particular curiosity about the continent. I made my first trip during a summer break from university. From then on, all I wanted was to see how I could go back. After I finished studying, I found an internship and lived in Peru for two years. I started hearing things about Brazil that made me want to spend time here. It was another connection that I couldn’t explain. Like when you’re at the airport and look up at the announcement board and one place in particular just gives you butterflies in your stomach. I had that feeling about Rio de Janeiro for a while before ever having set foot in Brazil.
Brazil is the biggest country in the continent with a completely different language and has its own universe of music and culture. I didn’t know anything about it and for that reason, it was so attractive to me. When I made my decision to give up my job and give myself a year to try making music work – I immediately thought about Brazil. I thought, if I am going to start again, it makes sense to start again in an entirely new country. Sometimes the biggest barriers to change are the ones that we have in our own minds and I felt that being far from familiarity would force a shakeup as far as that’s concerned. Also, I’m a bit addicted to multitasking.
What are your musical influences? How has Brazilian music (if at all) inspired you?
The harmonic complexity of MBP [Brazilian Pop Music] has always fascinated me in comparison with the pop music I grew up with. But I am particularly drawn to Brazilian rap Nacional, how it is always freely fusing with other Brazilian genres and how it talks about things that I can relate to, like black identity in 2017 and the marginalised figures in society.
Did you used to sing in London?
No. I wanted to but the stage fright was really way too intense back then.
You started singing on the streets in Rio de Janeiro. Had you done this before? How did you feel about singing in public?
I had not. Coming to Rio, I didn’t have any tools at my disposal to go down the more traditional path of creating a band, I guess. So I did what I could with what I had, and that amounted to doing solo shows on the street. In many ways, it was entirely liberating. I suffered from bad stage fright growing up, so have spent my life being equally drawn to and repelled from the stage. To arrive in Brazil, start calling myself a ‘singer’ and to start singing on the streets on a completely different continent…I definitely felt like a total imposter at first. But as I saw people connecting with my music, I grew in confidence and also my love for Brazil grew – I thought that any place that can be so accepting right off the bat, can’t be a bad place to be.
How did your career grow from there?
I recorded my first album of cover songs and started touring. I released a DVD Show Me Your Soul in homage to Motown, and we toured Brazil with that show too. I’ve participated in lots of projects with friends, tried a lot of things. Now it feels great to have the opportunity to present more of me, to explore what I’ve been needing to say in this new album.
How does it feel to gain popularity and carve a successful career in a foreign country?
I feel grateful. To get this far, I have had the good fortune to have met incredible people who have been open and generous with their time and talents and in support of me and my career – personally and professionally. It also feels odd at times, too. I love Brazil but I am still a very British girl at heart. How at home can you be, away from home? How much is London still my home after all this time? It has produced a lot of questions. But I always have lots of questions. I put them in my songs.
What has been your biggest career highlight in Rio de Janeiro?
Having Seu Jorge record a song I wrote would definitely be one. He was my muse long before I thought about coming to Brazil.
In 2013, your remake of Dione Warwick’s I’ll Never Love this way Again was played nearly every day on Globo’s Salve Jorge and you performed at Rock in Rio. How will 2017 compare to 2013’s success?
I am in a completely different place. I am in control of my career creatively speaking and from a business perspective. I no longer feel like I have to follow the lead of others and am grateful to the wisdom and guidance I received in those early years here in Brazil that gave me the possibility to be doing this now. 2017 is already a much bigger success just to be able to be able to say this.