A student of classical music and classical singing, Sergio Rohmanelli was born in Italy, but has been living in Brazil for the last 20 years. The college professor started his musical career in 2014, with the Vita Balera band, a project that explored alternative rock with lyrics in Italian.
By uniting aesthetics, costumes, lyrics and music, Rohmanelli merges rhythms and styles, giving his art the characteristic androgyny of his artistic persona. With two released works, “Anomalous” and “Fanatismi”, the artist escapes monotony and allows himself to try new art directions in each work completed.
His new step is a collaboration with the rapper Raphael Warlock. “Macho Discreto”, co-produced with Binho Manenti, is a track with a strong concept about freedom of expression and LGBT+ visibility with a transgressor clip that opens a new phase in the artist’s career.
Your new album, which will be released on the next day 29, has a curious title, “Brazil’ejru”. How did you get to this name?
Yes, [Brazil’ejru] in brackets, because it is the phonetic transcription of the word “brasileiro” (“Brazilian”). It is the way we pronounce it and not the way we write it, in order to highlight many things: firstly, my intention of depicting the Brazil of orality, of street culture, of the outskirts, of communities and not of the standard language elite; secondarily, a “pop” Brazil, because I am a foreigner who lives in Brazil for 22 years and who has an accent, an identity, my own way of being BRAZILEJRU. And lastly, because I am a linguist and a scholar, so I wanted to put this other side of me in my music as well.
Your music addresses aspects that involve sexual, romantic, political and religious standards. How do you make sense of the moment the country is going through?
It is, at the same time, a dangerous, contradictory and exciting moment. Surely there is a backward and violent questioning of an evangelical and fascist tone over all the rights and freedoms achieved through battles and deaths throughout many years: abortion, gay marriage, homophobia, transphobia, environmental preservation, racism, etc. On the other hand, there is a strong reaction coming from the community and the minorized majorities that translates into a lot of fighting, powerful art, but we need to do much more, I think everyone, but especially artists and public entities have to be more present always.
The song Macho Discreto‘s video mixes rap and electronic music, this musical fusion is something that is part of your job. Is this song about the freedom of expression in being who you are, who you want to be?
“Macho Discreto” was the first song we composed and recorded on this album, it came out last year and had a lot of impact (the video has more than 100 thousand views on Youtube e more than 200 thousand streams on Spotify). And it gave a direction to the album’s entire sonority. I really like rap, hip hop and trap, I absolutely think they are the most innovative and engaged musical genders at the present time. Since I’m not a rapper, I really wanted to put this aesthetic and strength into my music so I called Warllock, a black and LGBTQI+ rapper to participate in this feminine – feminist – effeminate anthem, as I define it.
This song is a slap in the face with an outstretched hand; it is a slap in the face because, even though it is hard to come out (it wasn’t easy to anyone), we need to wake up and stop establishing ourselves up as only worthy of cottaging, of gossiping, of trades to live our own sexuality. We’re done with that, sexuality is happiness and life, we can’t accept having sex with guilt and fear all the time, neither hiding this desire behind fake marriages and relationships that ruin everyone’s lives. And with an outstretched hand because we have already been out of this darkness for a long time, we should offer to help those who are still in there.
In fact, you shave your hair in this video. Wasn’t it hard to give up vanity, even on behalf of art?
Yes, it was. I thought about it a lot, I even had given up doing it, but on this scene’s shooting day, at that moment, I decided that the video deserved it, that it would give a lot of strength to this song’s truth. I’m a LIbran, an Italian, aesthetics are everything to me, I’m really vain indeed, but it was great to find out another way of being, a way to get out of the usual, and how I face art as an interpreter, as a performer, as someone who puts himself at the service of an artistic fact, who lets himself be shaped by the director, by the aesthetic objective, etc; I do think we have to do anything in the name of art, even renounce our own vanity.
You were born in Italy, but live in Brazil for more than 20 years. What has brought you here?
Tiredness, curiosity and restlessness regarding the obvious have brought me here. I don’t see myself always working and living in the same place with the same people. I lived in Bergamo, in northern Italy, in a catholic and very retrograde provincial town. I’ve always been really free and always caused a lot of scandals, fuss, harassment and violence since I was a child. All that has left me tired, I needed to fly away and have new horizons. People here in Brazil think that everything is easier for a foreigner gay person, but it isn’t. Europe is really conservative, there is a lot of racism and there has been a right-wing and fascist wave for a long time. Italy was the last country to recognize same-sex marriage, it was too much for me. Since I have uncles in Bahia, I came to spend some time with no pretensions, it was a sudden love that lasts to this day. I love Brazil, I defend Brazil, Brazil has taught me to be more free and truly happy, I feel this sense of duty to defend Brazil forever. It is a country and a people worthy of so much more than this garbage we are living through, this album is about all this, it is my tribute to this extraordinary country.
You are also a college professor, it’s like you are Sergio during the day and by night your alter ego Rohmanelli appears, breaking any paradigms. Is it something like that?
Yes, in a way, it is, but not so divided (laughter). I already gave classes and soon after, inside my room in Santa Catarina Federal University, I dressed myself up and put makeup and heels on and shortly after went to perform in the rectory, at academic events organized by my friends or by me. I already shot a video at Santa Catarina Federal University (the first one called Anomalous) with students of the course. I think we have to prove that we are many things and that one doesn’t diminish the other and both can cohabit the same space. I’m a very serious and competent professor; I’m also a provocative artist and performer. They are two different ways of doing the same thing, I try to question, to stimulate critical reflection, the overcoming of these ridiculous paradigms about what is permitted and what is not that chase and limit us to this day. Enoooough! We don’t have much time to evolve, it has to happen right now.
Who are your national and international musical influences?
Oh… there are many, from new wave and the late ’70s and ’80s post-punk to rap, hip hop, modern trap, but also classical music and Italian opera. Certainly David Bowie, Ney Matogrosso, Renato Zero, Gorillaz, Stromae, Janelle Monáe, Elza Soares, Bethânia… many of them, each one for different reasons.
Your style is sort of androgynous, mixing male and female outfits. Where does this androgyny come from?
Yes. What you just said is really important. I deal with the concept of Androgyny and not only with the Transgender concept, they are really different things. It’s more of an ’80s and ’90s concept. I am a well resolved cis man and happy with this identity, but I also like my own feminine side, erroneously associated with makeup, high heels, sensuality, etc. I think this is some nonsense, a man can wear heels, makeup, etc, without being associated to a drag queen or a trans person because of it. They are really different things and should not be mistaken. It’s really more of an aesthetic question, I have always loved makeup and heels and feminine clothing and I don’t see why a man can’t wear this if it makes him more beautiful, more attractive, more interesting; I was also born androgynous, I have soft features, smooth skin, I don’t have body hair, fortunately I was born this way and I don’t want to change it to please anyone. I’m androgynous and happy, and I expressed this synthesis in the Macho Discreto’s video, in fact I tattooed the Renaissance symbol of Androgyny in my back live on the clip, to make it clear that it isn’t a beard or body hair that makes me a more manly man; nonsense!
Your debut album “Anomalous”, was a conceptual work that floated between the Portuguese, English and Italian languages. What’s the reason for this fusion of languages?
True! Well… as I said, I am a linguist, I teach foreign languages, I speak some and wanted to study all of them, to me it’s normal to talk and write in several languages, so it was natural. I think it expresses really well this plurality that I am and that I want to express: Anomalous is a work about the concept of Anomaly, abnormality, normal, etc; every song addresses this, there is a “normality”, because all of us want to be accepted somehow, and being accepted is easier when we don’t question others and their standards. I’ve always been the opposite, I’ve always done and always been what I wanted, I’ve always been considered an anomalous in every group I tried to get close to, even the LGBTQI+ ones and others. We are never sufficiently “right” for each group, all of them have standards. So, you know what, I got fed up, I am who I am, some people will like it and some won’t, I was never part of any group, my group is me. This is being ANOMALOUS!
Do you feel musically represented regarding the LGBT musical scene?
Partially. As I said before, I don’t completely relate to any group, not even the LGBT group; musically I really enjoy electronic music and dance, I’ve always enjoyed them. I am a dancer and to me music has to be danceable, the rhythmic part is fundamental, this surely comes from going to gay clubs in the ’80s and ’90s, etc. On the other hand, my music carries a lot of weight, I really like rock, dark music, my pop music is a Transpop, as I defined it. It has a pop structure, but it isn’t light, it doesn’t seek to please, it has heavy tones, guitars, etc. I think this takes me away from a certain taste of the artists and the LGBT public, but there are many present-day musicians that I identify myself with and who also carry a lot of weight: Linn da Quebrada, Jup do Bairro, Rico Dalasam and many others. I really admire all of them, but they are mostly from rap. Honestly, I think that the LGBT pop music is a bit repetitive and too light, it needs to renew itself, dare a little more and stop copying foreign pop stars. We have a lot of cultural and musical wealth here, we don’t need to copy anyone.
In 2018, you released “Fanatismi”, a work entirely in Italian, how was this work’s repercussion?
It was good. It was my first album entirely in my mother tongue. Here in Brazil and in the world, there is a lot of love for the Italian language and music and they always ask me that, in fact I have a live concert of only classical Italian music that is called Censurate and which I’m performing live on platforms to this day. Italian music is really beautiful, it’s really nice to be able to sing in Italian, because it’s completely different than writing and singing in another language. Each one of them has specificities and unique atmospheres, however, in this case, repeating a cliché doesn’t interest me, so I put my own style in this tradition with new and unusual arrangements, always mixing electronic music with organic. I also recorded these song’s videos in Italian, one in Belgium (with the album’s co-author and producer), I hope people like them, they are on my Youtube channel.
In many of your pictures, your makeup and style are reminiscent of the singer David Bowie. Is he an inspiration to you?
He is definitely my greatest inspiration. I entered the adult world thanks to David Bowie, when I watched the movie Christiane F. and listened to that soundtrack and read the book when I was 10 years old. I was almost expelled from school, because I convinced all my friends to watch a movie and read a book about drugs, sexuality and diversity. We owe him a great debt, because David Bowie showed us that being “Anomalous” isn’t a deficiency, but a strength.
That changed my life, a great artist, constantly evolving, who has never made one album like the other, who has always experimented, with pop music, rock, electronic, classical… never gave a damn about rules. For me, this is what being a free man and artist means, to pursue his own coherence in art and in life, and not the other’s or the public’s taste. Physically I look a lot like him, everyone always says, and the fact of being androgynous like him helped me and I highlight this even more with makeup and outfits that refer to the ’80s, after all I was an ’80s teenager. This leaves a mark, we can’t get it out of ourselves, and all the construction of my visual aesthetic is the result of hard work and of a research I carry out with my great friend and partner: Ricardo Saugo, a costume designer and art director, as well as I owe a great debt to my musical producer Binho Manenti, who helped me build this sound of my own. I’m very grateful to them and to everyone who works with me.