DESAMPA, A MASK WITH NOTHING TO HIDE
When I think about New York, I think about sitting on my shitty rooftop in Chinatown, drinking a bottle of rosé from the bodega, playing the new Drake album from my Bluetooth speaker while talking about everything from sex work to Hilary Duff. On a hot, windy summer evening, I did just that with my friend and fellow artist DESAMPA. However, behind the mask, he is always an artist, he is always Brazilian and he is always curious.
“The mask is everything, I’ve always been obsessed with masks. It’s more of a fascination with hiding yourself and creating a new persona, even though it’s always me under the mask. Some people play with their hair or their nails. I play with my face. To me, it’s art.”
The masks have been conjured from every material that has fascinated him, from latex to raw chicken meat (worn in his “Ventre” video). “It smelled so bad,” he recalls, laughing. “I’m very inspired by materials, by the future. Every week in NYC I’m out seeing art, going to different galleries, researching new materials being used in art. Like, if I see a latex that inspires me, I try to compose that into an elastic melody, or an elastic drum beat.” It’s hard to find something that DESAMPA isn’t fascinated by, considering he came to the United States from one of the worlds most volatile cities, and even his biggest adversities have been a huge source of inspiration behind his music. “São Paulo could be really dangerous. It’s the city that has the most inequality and a big class divide. Like, there is the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, so it creates a lot of crime and injustices.”
“Do you still go out a lot when you’re there and party?”
“I do, but there’s always this thing in the back of my mind telling me to be extra careful. There’s definitely crazier people in New York for sure, but the thing is in Brazil, you can be killed simply for something you have or something you are. It’s the country that kills the most trans people in the world. It’s really sad but it’s the truth. There are deaths every day.”
Despite this dark truth, he lights up at the subject of his latest project, a remix of ‘Submissa do 7° Dia’ by Linn Da Quebrada, a Brazilian artist also from São Paulo. “I’m really proud of it, it’s my first remix. This is an artist I’ve been obsessed with and I feel she’s changing our perception and speaking from her soul what it’s like being a trans woman in São Paulo. Her lyrics mix topics like Catholicism with prostitution and being trans. That’s why Linn is so important.”
Listening to any DESAMPA track, similar underlying tones and juxtapositions can be heard, as he addresses everything from immigration, to gender, to sex work. No subject is off the table. Ever. “I hate taboo. Everybody goes through the same things, so there’s no reason to be ashamed of anything. I want to be able to talk about anything. There’s nothing I won’t talk about.”
Considering the visuals behind his latest project were largely inspired by CAM4, one of the web’s largest live-porn sites, it’s only natural the artist is drawn to the sex industry, a unique community where inhibitions cease to exist. “I’ve been obsessed with camming ever since I discovered the internet and knew what I liked. Ever since I started jerking off. I feel like we should bring that aspect of sex to real life because once there are no taboos, there won’t be trans deaths. There won’t be these murders. Because the same people that are killing them are the same people that are having sex with them at night. It’s all because people are afraid of what they desire.”
Fear is something DESAMPA has experienced but has failed to cripple him, considering the bravery it takes to be a queer immigrant in our current political climate. “I will say in America, empathy is hard to find. People have a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of someone who is the opposite of what they are used to.”
Growing up in Brazil, his parents had him learning piano at seven years old, long before he took to actually enjoying it. “I did not like it. I was playing The Beatles and Hilary Duff.”
I laughed out loud, knowing unabashedly if I had been forced to play piano at that age, I would have only wanted to learn the Metamorphosis album as well. “Hilary Duff?! What Hilary Duff songs?!”
“Uh, ‘So Yesterday’. There’s one song she sang for the Lizzie McGuire soundtrack that I was obsessed with. ‘I Can’t Wait’! That was it! This song touched me deeply. I wasn’t even out yet.” Of course we had to pull it up on YouTube. He still remembers the lyrics to the chorus.
“I quit piano when I was in high school and then started again in college and got fully into classical music. I had the best piano master. I couldn’t call her teacher, I had to call her master. She was really strict, but she was amazing. She had taught at Juilliard. Isaac Albéniz, the last composer I learned with her was so complicated, and complex, and rich, but it unlocked a part of my brain that was like, ‘Wow, I get it now.’”
“What eventually drew you to electronic music?”
Obviously, I wasn’t that kid in high school who was into Arcade Fire and all that, honestly I loved like, Disney Channel pop stars. I was kind of like, a basic bitch, low key. Which is fine! It’s a part of me. But when I was in college and I took History of Art, and Theory of Image, I studied all the major movie directors like David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Lars Von Trier etc. So I had to watch many films that were so far from what I was used to. I had watched Disney Channel till I was, like, 18, so to go from that to watching mutilated arms in a David Cronenberg film, it was not a smooth transition. But for some reason, I just felt like I fit in that world so much, and it all made sense to me. I started researching the composers who worked on those movies and films, like Angelo Badalamenti and Ryuichi Sakamoto and then I started getting into electronic music. Then James Blake came along, and I was like, “Where have I been? How have I been in this little bubble for so long?”
“You were like losing your virginity to music in a way.”
“Yeah, I was so overwhelmed and excited by this whole new world I had found. I went from this dream of wanting to be a Justin Timberlake, selling out arena shows to an audience of people dressed like me, to wanting to perform at a really cool underground venue and being respected by the few people in the industry that I admire.”
In a celebrity-driven culture, overruled by social media narcissism, DESAMPA doesn’t feel that it’s a world he belongs to. “I’ve never been into selfies or showing my face or anything. People love to compare themselves and find flaws in others. Everyone is obsessed with beauty, or what their idea of beauty is. Success here is based on if you’re on the cover of a magazine every three months. It’s all about if you’re staying relevant to what people want to see. That just won’t work for me. I love when you can see people’s faults and mistakes. I love that Grimes was so open about scrapping her album and starting again because she just didn’t think it was good. I love that. Everybody fails, you just don’t see it.”
Failure and success, adversity and acceptance, culture and community are all apparent in our identity and our idea of ourselves. For a migrant immigrant, it’s an even stronger pulse. “I’ve moved a lot in my life, from Brazil to Canada, to Paris, and I’ve lived in a lot of different cultures that are so drastically different. I’ve had to mold myself to different cultures which I didn’t mind. Like, living in Canada, everyone is so polite. They apologize for everything. I was like, ‘Wow I’m rude as fuck!’ After living there, I was like, saying sorry to the washing machine.
“Oh my God, you still say “sorry” with a Canadian accent!”
“I know! In New York, though I feel like I can be my Brazilian self. My “rude”, loud, Brazilian self. There are so much of everything here, people from every place you can imagine. But I definitely don’t see enough Brazilian culture here and I want to see more of it. That’s why I feel like I do have a duty to bring my Brazilian self through my work.”
On this hot, windy summer evening, sitting on my rooftop like the New Yorker I think I am now, and he reminds me that no matter how shitty your rooftop, these New York moments are a privilege. A privilege that can be taken from you, or the people you love, at any time.
“People are leaving their countries because they’re afraid because it’s unsafe in their cities. That’s why I left Brazil. I was starting to not feel safe, and I can’t focus on art when I don’t feel safe. I needed to be happy first. I moved to focus on music and work on my career, but first I needed to be happy. If I can’t make music forever but I get to be happy, that is more than okay for me. I found a way to do everything here. New York is 3D where everything else is 2D. New York is VR. It’s a place I can bring everything together and meet amazing people hiding in cities like this.”
Only 2 months later, my heart broke when I received an email from DESAMPA telling me he had been denied entry back into the U.S. when returning from Brazil, and was not allowed back in the country for the next 5 years. The fear that set over me was not even cognate to what he had to be feeling, and I felt helpless. However, DESAMPA is no victim to fear. I realized our conversation on my rooftop had been his love letter to NYC and I was honored to be his pen. He is resuming life and making music in São Paulo, Brazil, and if you think for a second he has been silenced, you are sadly mistaken.
On my latest trip back to NYC, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security denied my entry and banned me from entering the country for the next 5 years.
Those who know me, know how much of an advocate for immigrant rights I am, and how concerned I always am for the lives of my fellow immigrants. But yesterday was the very first time I had felt the fear and the pain of having everything taken away from me.
The confusion of not knowing what the future holds. The invasion of privacy, the judging stares, the aggressiveness, the indifference, the loneliness, all came to visit me at the same time, and I went through the roughest time of my life.
I had a plan of finishing my next release amongst other projects including the most important of it all (my heart) that I am now forced to put on hold. I’m truly devastated. But this won’t make me go quiet or give up.I feel like all these years of me living in NYC were of resistance, I see a city that has continuously been suffering due to immigration laws and borders. A city with less and less space for arts, music and us ALIENS. I had barely any contact with other immigrant artists of my age and Latinos, this says a lot. That’s why I keep repeating “SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL IMMIGRANTS”.
If anyone has any tips, inputs or just willing to talk, write me. But I’d like to thank NYC for the experience, opportunities, for showing me love and keeping me creative.
CONNECT WITH DESAMPA: