Interview with Marianne

and then, the revolution

Photo: Frederico Martins
Interview: Irina Chitas

A body, a mind, a soul, a complete and ever-evolving being living in total freedom. Change has a face. Tenderness has a melody. Revolution has a name: Marianne.

When, still in Portuguese, this interview is transcribed in gender-neutral language — the only possible way to do it — the software assumes it is an error. This detail is just one of the subtle but compelling signs of Marianne’s importance. They are 24 years old, born and raised in Switzerland. Before Lisbon, there was Berlin and Paris, Economics, Law and, when they finally came to Portugal, a degree in Journalism. Now, they are finishing their Masters in Musical Arts. Depending on which day it is, Marianne can be a model, stylist, and work in set design or art direction. But music, always. Inside and outside. And community, always. Inside and outside. Marianne is a non-binary person, and with that freedom comes the weight of representation — the urgency to break the system, the hunger to pop the bubble, the perpetual struggle alongside names like Tita Maravilha, Herlander, Gaya de Medeiros or Aurora Pinho Leite, projects like Dengo Club, to see the queer community inside power structures. And watching Marianne perform at a place like Gulbenkian. To have their face, their words and their piano wherever, without questioning whatever. Marianne speaks quickly, with their voice and their whole body. They’re clear and assertive, sweet and empathetic, a light in the storm. Limited magazine space only allows us a small summary of an hour’s conversation on a hot day in Anjos, but it’s like Marianne says: oh, you want more? Keep coming back.

Q: How did Art begin to enter your life?

A: Music has always been very present in my family, but no one has ever been an instrumentalist, it was more like singing on the spur of the moment. My sister started playing the piano, but the piano wasn’t her scene, so she started playing the guitar. The piano was just there, at home, and what happened was that I kind of got good at it. My parents invested in me right away, I had classes three times a week after school. When I grew up, I didn’t have much of a social life, like friends and parties and so on. Classes ended at four, from four to nine were piano lessons, and from maybe nine to eleven was ballet. My mother went to all my classes. The medium I came from is the classical piano, as square as possible. Only later did I start to get interested in other sounds, like jazz, but when you play classical… it’s not frowned upon, but it’s like, you’re going to do jazz, you’re wanting to get out of the norm. I like to improvise on the piano. And that allowed me to develop those sounds that I’m discovering with myself, also depending on the person I’m discovering that I am. This classicality that accompanied me my whole life was not something that held me back. It was something that helped me discover who I am. I understood that my aesthetic was going to look for more torn sounds, but the classical notion is in all my compositions. When I say I’ve been doing classical for almost twenty years, people won’t say anything — they look at me and think I’m more of a noise, a DJ set. No, man. I want to take this with me because I want to demystify this thing about people who look like me not being able to be in a classical environment or in a jazz environment. Yes, we can and we are talented.

Q: It’s “assume nothing about me”.

A: That’s it, don’t assume anything. And then when I start playing, people are like, “What is this?” Sure, exactly. I have this background and I’m trying to make it more and more commonplace for people like me, queer people, to be in these environments. This whole thing about being a queer person is a lifestyle, you know? What’s important here is that people like me have access to institutions. That they can teach. Make it normal. When I finish my Masters, I’ll try to start teaching at the Conservatory.

Q: You have a much more imposing and experimental aesthetic language, but when we listen to your singles there is a sweet, almost antagonistic side to it.

A: My music is my language for the world. I have a strong aesthetic because it’s my protection in society, it’s what people see, but what I am inside — that tenderness, that sweetness— is in my music, it’s where I communicate my real self. What I’m trying to do is create music that makes sense to me, my language, but that is comprehensive for anyone to identify with. This is to show that everyone is different, but we have things in common. There are always things that will unite us: feelings, emotions, more abstract things that you can’t touch. You can’t touch loneliness. But you can feel it.

My aesthetic is this sweet classicality with that strong, ripped structure. When I was a kid, I dreamed of having tattoos on my hands. When I started making them, I felt like I was really becoming who I always imagined.

Q: In your musical journey, did you easily find your identity?

A: It’s a constant struggle. What I want to do is art. In any way possible. In fashion, styling, art direction or music. And my problem, and that’s a thing that I have to work on myself, is that I like to do everything. For instance, at the concert I gave on Friday, I started with an experimental sound, super noise, and, out of nowhere three instrumentalists came in, and it got really, really rock because I felt like it. I have a show next week, and if I want to go out with just a piano, I’ll just be there playing classical piano. What I’m understanding in myself is that I’m really enjoying playing everything that is indie, rock. At first, I didn’t know what my style was. They asked me and I said ‘Marianne. I do Marianne’. I still say that, you just have to listen to get it. But I’m discovering that I like this rock, indie, modern, I’m trying to work on those sounds to create a repertoire. I’m making an album, video clips, an aesthetic for people to understand because unfortunately they put little labels on everything. I may be imposing my style, but when it comes to categorisation on digital platforms, they ask what area you fit into. But sometimes I think that if I feel like doing a trap, I’ll do a trap. I have no limits. I know what I want to do, it’s just an internal struggle. I can wake up in the morning and be like, I’m going to do something experimental, just noise with piano and voices, and the next day I’ll feel like playing with a band. You go to one of my concerts and you can never say “I’ve seen it before”. It’s always different. When I play the same songs, I play them differently. I really like orchestrating, creating, directing — art direction even in music — and, for example, I introduced Lonely with a band, but I’ve played Lonely just with a piano. It always exists, but it’s always renewed. I like to dwell in all areas, to produce, play, guide the instrumentalists with me. I would like one day, for example, to have a show where all my visuals are on the walls, and you walk in, and it feels like you’re in a different world. When I finish a concert, people ask for more because they’ve never experienced anything like this, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it, you want more, come to the next one”.

Q: With so many arts you’ve been exploring, do you think you’ll ever be able to focus only on music?

A: [Laughs] It’s hard, I think it’s going to be impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever give up fashion, and now people call me an artist, they don’t call me a model. And as a non-binary person, this is important for me because there aren’t that many references in Portugal. I’ve always felt this fluidity in me. The first person who ever asked me if I wanted to transition was my mom because she realised right away, you see, looked at me and was like, “Let’s talk. Do you want to change sex?” and I said “No, I really don’t want to, I just have a fluidity and I’m what’s called non-binary, I feel like I’m both and at the same time I’m neither, you know? I am just a being.” I’m very lucky, and maybe I’m where I am today because I have that support. I know that half of the people like me don’t have that support, they can’t go out in the same way or impose themselves in the same way because they didn’t have that education at home. I grew up knowing what the LGBT community was, my father always informed me, always told me not to judge people, regardless of their appearance. “You don’t ask anyone anything and just say what you want to say.” I’ve always taken this to life. I was never a frustrated person. I’ve felt misunderstood by society, but not by my family. You know when you’re beating yourself up more than the people around you? People are saying it’s okay, and I think I suffered more because I massacred myself, you know?

Q: Having grown up in such a beautiful family, does it come as a bigger shock to you when someone tries to limit you?

A: That’s it, you made a very good point just now. My upheaval against society is more because I have never been confronted with it, and then when I am in life I am confronted with homophobia and transphobia. My parents are from Aveiro, a small town. My father had eight brothers, a very poor [family], they could easily be the most prejudiced people in the world, but no, they said to me “You are our being, that we put in the world, we will support you in everything we can.” My parents’ biggest concern when I came out was that people would treat me badly. They are afraid because they know the society we have. I have already been attacked, just because I’m there, existing.

Q: It’s almost like you have to apologise for existing.

A: People sometimes make me feel bad just for being there. “Bro, I’m not questioning your existence, I’m just passing on the street.” What I think is that these people must not be right inside. Sometimes I’m walking and they insult me. “Fucking dyke.” Man, nobody asked you anything. What if I did the things they do? I also have a lot of things to point my finger at. But I don’t do that because I don’t question people’s lifestyles. It doesn’t make sense to me, I’m really happy with who I am. If someone disrespects me, I put my foot down, but otherwise I never cast the first stone. I usually just say, “Good luck.”

Q: Does the fact that you have a message and want to create a community make you feel a big responsibility?

A: Completely. But it’s not a responsibility you’re afraid of, it’s a responsibility you know you have to answer to. I’m here as an individual, but I know I’m carrying a lot of people. And there may be backlash, but I know I’m in a good position and I have my ideas in place and I’m not trying to get hold of anything. I think when it’s honest and genuine, you can’t fuck it up. I will never say I started a movement. That sucks. People came before me. I’ll just try to perpetuate it. My message is about my community, and it’s my community that inspires me, and it’s my community that makes me live, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I didn’t have many references when I came here. Actresses or actors who are gender fluid, nothing, there are none. So if there isn’t, it will be me. I will create a reference. It’s a responsibility because when you create there are a lot of questions that you have to know how to answer. But I’ll have to try. I know this will be with me as if it were a kind of “Terms & Conditions”. It’s part of the contract. And people know. When I was offered this job, I said that I would only accept it if I was treated as a non-binary person. There are thousands of people making music. If you choose me to be here, my conditions are for me to feel good, and for you to feel good too. Because this is popping the bubble. Me being here as a Portuguese Soul, and you allowing me to be in this space as an emerging talent… I said, “You guys are making a statement. When I got called because of my talent, like, you just got it. Y’all did that.”

Q: What revolution is left to engineer?

A: On Instagram, my name is Marianne, but my concept sub name is Aufstand. Aufstand in German means revolution. The revolution that has to be engineered is the face-to-face revolution, the revolution of being, of the norms that already exist. Everything has to take a step up, a step ahead. What revolution? I have so many! You’re asking me a question about my lifestyle! My lifestyle is revolution. I am the representation of the revolution. But it is not a revolution in the traditional sense, nor is it an aggressive revolution, it is a peaceful revolution through message and music. This is my revolution.

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