The It Girl: Rita Vian

Words: Patrícia Barnabé
Photos: Arlindo Camacho

Rita Vian is the soundtrack to a cosmopolitan Lisbon that has not forgotten its roots, a voice that will seduce you, somewhere between fado and the freshness of electronic music. At the forefront of a stylish, worldly generation.

She began by singing with her parents at home, where everyone in the family loved music. She studied journalism at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, but soon realised that what she really loved was to use words as freely as a poet. She’d record herself behind her bedroom door during the silence of the pandemic, until one day Branko stumbled upon her voice and ended up producing her first 5-track EP, CAOS’A, Branko’s remix of her single Sereia eventually taking over the airwaves of that fateful year of 2020.

Still very young, she decided to try her luck on the TV talent show Operação Triunfo and was chosen to be one of the singers of the group Beautify Junkyards, where she discovered her own voice, “different ideas, lyrics or refrains, melodies too, helping me understand what all this meant to me,” she tells us. She began writing her stuff in the brief moments of calm her life had to offer: “I’m very patient, but indecisive, and I have to find out as I go along the shape something eventually takes. If you do exactly what you are feeling inside, what does it look like to those on the outside? I just do it and leave any decisions till after I’m done. One day, I was walking back home up the street in Marvila when a song came to me, and after a month or two, Sereia appeared just the same way. And I began to understand that my lyrics were like snippets of fado and ‘that was the way it was going to be’”.

Rita Vian has given concerts all over the country, and will be on stage at Primavera Sound and Paredes de Coura, one of the few female names on the bill, which was a topic of some controversy in the Portuguese music scene. “My most fun concert so far was at Maus Hábitos in Porto,” where she says she was lucky the mask mandate and social distancing had been lifted “just at the right time”, and the people were singing along. “I didn’t even have to sing, they were much louder than me, during A Purga mainly, and as its words and message are sweet and important to me, I stood back and listened… they weren’t there just to drink, it really meant something to them!”

Do you feel it’s the real you when you’re singing? “I’m always me, but on stage you are more exposed because you’re feeling things at their most extreme, things you wrote and are reliving, in a very pure version of yourself. It’s a feeling of utter release. More than anything, I feel more and more that the message I want to share wherever I go is one of peace and tranquillity, which is exactly who I am. We are living in crazy, unpredictable times, with the sound at full volume. There are safe and dangerous spaces and messages that can be clear or suspect. Huge contradictions we all are exposed to, so it’s important to be the best version of ourselves. Don’t get ahead of ourselves, don’t be impulsive but rather be as reasonable as possible, within our capabilities, of course. I think that at the end of the day, this is more important than anything else, to be present, and conscientious. That’s what I work towards at least a little every day, on and off the stage.”

She was nominated for the Portuguese music industry’s Play award for Best New Artist: “It helps me feel I’m on my way. I often remind myself how important this moment is; being able to be heard is very precious these days, as is having a platform to speak. I couldn’t be happier!” One example of the inroads she is making on the national music scene is the collaboration with Branko and Dino de Santiago for the compilation SG Gigante, in homage to Sérgio Godinho, who was the brainwave of Capicua. “When I was a kid A Noite Passada was one of my favourites, besides being the song for a crush I had at the time. I’d listen to it on repeat countless times, singing along, feeling the song in every possible way. So being asked to do my cover version has been one of those magic moments when you feel life coming full circle, and how our deepest desires play such an important part in our destiny. To top it off, singing with Dino is pure joy because of the artist he is and all he stands for, but above all because I just adore him. And Branko is like a brother to me, he’s part of my journey and my life, being with him is like being at home.” In the same breath, she tells us how much the kind words of Manuel Cruz, charismatic vocalist of Ornatos Violeta, mean to her, and how much she admires Sam the Kid, who is “not just a rapper, but a writer. And as for Amália, it’s her aura as much as her fado which passes the test of time, which if you’re lucky is what makes us stand out.” She’s not the slightest bit worried about being labelled. “I really like the idea of music not being of a single type. There are artists I can’t file away under one particular genre, which normally has to do with the message, where the style and music are in service to the message; for me, that is so important.”

One of her qualities is how much she insists on being unerringly authentic. We can see it in Rita Vian’s unique style with no gimmicks, going against the tide in today’s pop music market. She doesn’t have to pretend sex sells or dress up like a doll because what charisma she has is all-natural, and her fashion sense doesn’t dictate who she is: “Since I was a kid I’ve been very picky with what I wear, I like certain things that normally have to do with what I want to say at that moment. I think we come fully formed, and that’s all there is to say. I don’t see what I wear as something extra, it’s a part of me.” Besides the accessories, the shoes she wears “have to reflect my identity and walk me comfortably on my way as I share my message.”

Her generation was the one following the children of the 1970s revolution, the first to inherit the freedoms earned by their parents. And although this wasn’t the first-time artists had experimented with fado and electronic music, trying out new things is more embraced than ever before. “I think we get asked very early on who we think we are, and we can be asking ourselves this question our whole lives. And that’s great! It’s important to keep on questioning ourselves. On the other hand, I’ve always had an eye on the prize, and if I’ve had friends who weren’t sure what they wanted to do, I knew I always wanted to sing. However much I might complain about this or that moment in my life, I’ve always in the next breath thought: ‘But what I want is to sing!’ Sometimes luck’s on our side, but if you’re committed to your ideas and you see them through, ‘I want to do this and see it to the end and get it out there in the world,’ your prayers will always be answered.”

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