Giovanca



Never greedy, we like to share even what was left on the cutting room floor as we labored in love to produce [The Liberator Magazine 8.1]. And since we just so happen to have this here blog, what follows is a bonus Q+A with Giovanca. But if you don't want to miss out on the good stuff, subscribe to The Liberator Magazine today for just $5 a year using this special subscription link: liberatormagazine.com/excitingtimes.

(Giovanca | by Sidik Fofana) Ok, so Giovanca has one of those coy accents that make you daydream. Not a big deal unless you’re into that stuff or you hear it, whichever comes first. I don’t think the Holland nu-soul songstress is even aware of it, which makes her girlish modesty even more alluring. Her words filter through two languages -- Dutch and the Curacao dialect Papiamento -- before they get to English, weaving poetry in between. Instead of saying "native tongue," she says "my mother’s language." Instead of saying "empathy," she says, "pieces of me in other people." We couldn’t get enough of her, so let’s keep the transcript rolling.

Liberator: So, where were you born?

Giovanca: I was actually born in Amsterdam. When my mom was pregnant, my parents came to Holland on purpose because Curacao is a colony of the Dutch. Anyone who wants to have a proper future on that island moves to Holland anyway -- at least for a period of time -- and then move back to the island after they get a degree or something. They decided to come to Holland and have me there, but they ended up having more kids and staying. It’s like people who live in London but they’re Jamaican or from the Bahamas. It’s the same way with me. I was brought up in Amsterdam, but I had a Caribbean upbringing with the language and the food and everything.

Liberator: How old are you?

Giovanca: Well, I hate to say it, but I turned 31 in March. Nowadays, I read in a magazine [that] Rihanna is, like, 20. When I was 20, I was definitely singing, but I was in school. I was fighting with my parents about being an artist.

Liberator: I feel you. They breed them young here, but at the same time there’s definitely something very sophisticated about your music. What do you think that comes from?

Giovanca: I think it has more to do with personality than with age. There are also a lot of layers in my music and if you have the ears or the feeling for it when you listen to it, you will hear it. But if you don’t have that patience to listen to it in the right way, you will not hear that. Also my producer, Benny Sings, is the same way. We have a lot of experience here and there. We have things that we’ve been through ... and things we haven’t been through but have thought about. All those experiences and thoughts and music that we’ve heard before are all getting layered.

Liberator: How tall are you?

Giovanca: One meter and 79 centimeters. I don’t know inches. We don’t have inches. It’s like the same with miles and kilometers. But I’m quite tall, but not ridiculously tall because I’ve always been a model as well, and there were always models even taller than me.

Liberator: Off the top, that would be almost about 60 inches. So, you’re almost six feet. 5’10’’?

Giovanca: It’s so ridiculous because I want to know. Inches, miles. I don’t even know Fahrenheit either because we have degrees Celsius. It’s almost like changing money. It’s like a whole different value system that we have.

Liberator: You’re very charismatic and obviously very beautiful. Do people react differently to you depending on where you are in the world?

Giovanca: Because of the way I look?

Liberator: Yeah. Do darker skinned people have more appeal in Amsterdam?

Giovanca: I’m not sure. I found out by traveling that it really didn’t matter whether I was in a country that was familiar with black people, or not so familiar with black people, I would always have people looking at me. In Amsterdam, they’re looking at me like, "Hey, are you from here?" When I’m in New York, they’re thinking, "Hey, you are not from here, where are you from?" And the same thing happens in Africa and India. Even when I went to Japan last month, they were checking me like, "We’ve seen dark people on television, but we cannot categorize you, so which are you?" It’s the same experience with people from the same skin tone. Everyone is always confused about where could I possibly be from.

Liberator: What kind of guys do you like?

Giovanca: Oh, that’s a hard question. I like guys with a lot of creativity in the broad sense of the word. It could be a painter or poet, but it must be somebody who is creative in any kind of way. And that creativity has to be something he can apply in life, not necessarily with a pen or a piece of paper, but in life and how he views situations. I’m always checking out guys for that. When my girlfriends are like, "Did you see his hair?" I never pay attention to hands or eyes or eyebrows or whatever. That comes later. I like it when somebody shows me in the very early stage of my getting to know him that it doesn’t matter what happens, he can deal with it in a creative way. When I see that, that gives me a hopeful feeling that whatever happens, this person is not predictable.

Liberator: Is there any male American star that you have a crush on?

Giovanca: No, I don’t think so. In the past though, I do remember that everybody had a crush on the obvious Brad Pitt kind of people. But I had a crush on Blair Underwood, and it lasted for years! I couldn’t find any pictures of him in Amsterdam or anything so I couldn’t hang him on my wall, so I just had to watch his movies.

Liberator: That’s funny. Let’s talk about subways. A lot of your inspiration comes from being on the train. What differences do you notice from city to city?

Giovanca: New York is where it all began for me. I was riding the train in Amsterdam, as well, and I was already fascinated by how the atmosphere changes every time the doors open and close because the combination of people change every time. I would sit in the train and observe. This is where a lot of students come in, now it’s gonna be louder. After this, the students get out then the older people come in. I was picking up vibes and I was checking out the many emotions that I saw on people’s faces on the train. Boredom, frustration, or being in a hurry, and I was really into all of those emotions. Then, when I went to New York, it was even more pronounced because there are more people, more trains, more black people, more everything. They aren’t so many black people taking the train in Amsterdam. So I would be sitting there and I remember just writing, and trying to find the emotions that were interesting to me. I would find, how do you say, somebody who could feel the same — I was trying to find pieces of me in other people. If I was angry about something, I would scan obvious people and say like who of you are like me? Which one of you are experiencing the same thing? And in my head, I would write the song for all of us. This is how it started, I think it was the A train. Everywhere I go in the world, I check out the same thing -- how people are not communicating, how people are doing their own thing, how people sleep, how life goes underneath the pavement.

Liberator: Let’s talk about musical influences. Who are your idols?

Giovanca: Well, I have a lot of them. I think one of the biggest ones is Minnie Riperton. And then, I was listening to a lot of Rotary Connection and also Stevie Wonder had a girl, Sharita, who he wrote for. I love her as well. I like the fragile voices -- Roberta Flack, Diana Ross, Donna Summer -- and all those ladies from the past that didn’t have that obvious big voice. For guys, it was Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but it changed a lot when I was growing up. All of a sudden it changed back into Hip Hop. For a minute, I gave up on singing and starting rapping, then I changed it again.

Liberator: Which Hip Hop artists did you listen to?

Giovanca: First, of course, it was Public Enemy. I also remember buying my first Black Sheep album. Eric B. and Rakim, Eric Sermon, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul -- I was really into them. Then, I switched again to different kinds of music. When I went back to Hip Hop again, it was hard. I felt like you could go in different directions. You could go more the Jay-Z kind of the way, or with Common, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. It wasn’t one thing anymore. I thought that was too complicated. It shouldn’t have all those rules, so I gave up on that again and went back to Jazz. That’s so funny with music, because you change as a person. You could be the same person, but change your mind, change your vibe, and music can change along with you and then come back to you.

Liberator: Who are you listening to nowadays?

Giovanca: Minutes ago I was listening to Estelle. I like her very much. She’s creative. She can sing, but also rap. I really like her style. I’m still checking out a lot of old music, a lot of Jazz cats, back to Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald. It changes everyday. I could also wake up one day and have to put an old Michael Jackson song to be inspired. There’s also this album I really love from Bob Marley and the album is called Survival. Oh my god, sometimes I wake up and there’s nothing else I can listen to but that album.

Liberator: What do you think about Erykah Badu and Jill Scott?

Giovanca: I actually know Jill Scott pretty well. I met her a few years ago in Amsterdam when I was working in a little store. She and India.Arie come there a lot. Obviously, I was the only black girl working there, but besides being an artist on the side, we really had stuff to talk about. Every time she comes to Holland, we connect somehow. She calls me Gi Gi. She’s a sweetheart. A month ago, I actually performed as her after show. I just saw Erykah Badu for the I-don’t -know-how-many times. I went to her concert like three weeks ago in Amsterdam. When I first heard about them, I was 18, 19, 20. They obviously mean a lot to the Hip Hop/Soul industry -- especially for girls. Even now in Amsterdam, when we go to jam sessions, the chances that you hear somebody covering “Call Tyrone” are very big.

Liberator: What percent of your material do you write?

Giovanca: There are twelve songs on the CD. From the twelve, there are two that I didn’t write. My friend wrote them, the soundman of my previous band. He’s a very quiet guy. He’s doing the sound and he’s like, "I might have a song for you." He writes amazing songs, so the "Pure Bliss" song is totally his. It was just the piano and his voice. Me and a friend, we just made it soulful.

Liberator: Why did you choose to sing in English as opposed to any other language?

Giovanca: Well, I guess there’s not really a lot of choice in there. Have you ever looked up Holland on the globe? It’s a miracle that it’s on there. I think when you choose to sing a Dutch song or a German song, you’re really going in a certain tradition. I could also choose to write in my mom’s language, but only 125,000 people would understand. So, it’s either go with the Dutch tradition and go with the guitar singing rock songs in Dutch; write songs in my mom’s language and then I could please 125,000 people on my island, or write it in English. Basically, every artist in Holland writes in English.

Liberator: Do you sing in other languages on your own?

Giovanca: Sometimes I sing in my mom’s language. There’s one bonus track where one part of the chorus is in my mom’s language. But I think English is the easiest thing to do, when you know for sure that everyone understands you.

Liberator: Describe the writing process? Does it take days, does it come to you in a dream? How does this brilliant material just come out?

Giovanca: It usually comes out when I’m in the streets, when I’m in the middle of a lot of people. I need to be out there and see other people, see children, see old people, see blind people, see people traveling, see people laughing, see people falling down on their bikes or whatever and then it comes to me. Usually it’s like one or two sentences that make the base or the foundation of the song. I always hear the bass line first and connect to one or two sentences. I could be walking around six months just knowing that the name of the song is gonna be "To The Moon." I could walk with that for six months and one day sit down, and it just comes out.

Liberator: Talk about growing up in a city environment. Was your family rich, poor, middle class? How was it growing up?

Giovanca: Well, I was raised in the — what do you call it? -- when you have Amsterdam, and then there’s outside of Amsterdam ...
Liberator: Yeah, like the suburbs.

Giovanca: It was a mainly white neighborhood and the only other black girl in my school was my sister. We have a different education system than in the States so I wouldn’t know exactly what to call it, but it was the highest level of education. Everyone in my class was really rich, playing hockey, having their own horses and stuff like that. We were not a family like that. At that time in Amsterdam there was only one place where black people were living which you can compare to a certain ghetto life. My parents didn’t want to do that so they just made a sacrifice and told themselves they weren't going to live in that area. They said, "We’re gonna be confronted with the wealth of people that we don’t have, but as long as we live there and pay the rent and put the children in good schools, let’s see how long we can survive over there." From when I was young, I always knew their sacrifice. My school told us, for example, that we’re going to Rome for classical languages and you have to pay $1,500 to go on that trip. I already knew I wasn’t even going to tell my parents the school was going there. I didn’t want to put them through the embarrassment [of telling me] that I couldn’t go, so I didn’t tell them. I just did something else that week. I understand why they wanted us to grow up there and now that I’m older, I realize what they did. Sometimes they’re a little upset with us. They’re like, "We went and lived in this white neighborhood so you could go to a good school and have a good a 9-5, and here you are running around the world trying to be an artist!"

Liberator: So, how far did you get education-wise?

Giovanca: Well, I got pretty far. I went to college at the University of Amsterdam. And I finished my -- how do you say it? -- my Ph.D. in Educational Science. We don’t have the same words, but I just know that there’s nothing higher. That’s why my parents were like, "Silly girl. Here you have your diploma and everything. You could have a good job and have your own practice and work with children."

Liberator: What does the future look like? What are your goals?

Giovanca: Well, I don’t like to paint it all. I like to dream about certain things, not tell myself that I have to accomplish this or that. I trained myself not to think that way because I learned how changeable things are, including myself. When I tell myself in two years, I wanna have a second album, it feels a little suffocating to me to do that ‘cause I know that maybe in two months, something will come along and I will feel a different way. I just want to travel and meet people and try to share whatever I want to share with people, and also be open to what they want to share with me. If it means making another album, I will do that. I’m packing my suitcase right now because I’m leaving this weekend for MTV in Sierra Leone. I’ve been to East Africa and South Africa a few times but never to the West. I’m so excited because MTV is going to do a two-week documentary on child rights. I’ll be connected to one girl named Harriet. I’m going to build a radio program for her in two weeks. I’ll say 'hi' to the motherland for you! -END-

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