Broad City loves her. Esthero loves her. Major Lazer loves her. We love her.
The minute I saw Jarina De Marco’s “Tigre” video, I was all heart eyes. It’s a kaleidoscope of neon hues, animal prints, tropical (/wearable) fruit–and Jarina at the center like a brazen Venus on the half shell, calling shots, sans fucks. It’s immediately clear why the song was a shoo-in for Broad City’s recently-released soundtrack, and why Jarina herself has become a magnet for powerhouse collabs (Mark Ronson, Major Lazer, and Wyclef Jean are just a few). But beyond the obvious accolades, De Marco is also a woman of substance–the kind of person who eschews complacency and embeds herself in the struggle. Not for praise or bragging rights, but out of a genuine optimism that raising our voices against greed, racism, and misogyny will affect powerful change–the exact reason she spearheaded “Release the Hounds,” a protest song and video against the construction of the Dakota pipeline (featuring Rosario Dawson and Chris Rock. NBD). We sat down with the musician and activist to talk about turning her icons into besties, fleeing a dictatorship in the middle of the night, and not taking shit from fuck bois at the bodega.
Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to become a musician?
My parents are both musicians, so there was music in my house every day. They had a seven-piece Brazilian and Caribbean jazz fusion band for 15 years that they toured the world with, and I would perform with them. I was into blues and jazz–I loved Billie Holiday–so I would sing Billie-inspired songs in the middle of their concerts. I was around eight at that time; that’s also when I started composing. For me, music was bonded with my parents. My story is pretty backwards because my form of rebellion happened when I was 14, and I told my parents I wanted to be a lawyer.
Ha! Amazing. So wait, where did you grow up?
I was born in the Dominican Republic, but my dad is Brazilian. We moved from D.R. to Brazil, then back to D.R–and then had to flee to Montreal. My family’s pretty political; we performed at a concert against the dictator’s government, and had to leave the island that very night. It was crazy. We stayed in Montreal for five years, then moved back to D.R. But yeah, everywhere my parents were, there was music, so I don’t think I had an option when it came to being a musician. It was engrained in my identity from such an early age, and any time I tried not to be a musician, I’d get depressed.
You loved blues and jazz, but hearing those rhythms and that music must have informed your musicality.
Oh yeah, 100%. It wasn’t until I left the island that I started implementing Caribbean rhythms and sounds, though, because I started becoming nostalgic for it and using it as a medium to express my identity, to say, “This is me, I’m from an island.” Whereas when I was actually living in the D.R., it was the opposite–I was all about 1930s jazz from New York. It was a way to separate myself from the culture I lived in.
Who else influenced your sound?
Definitely Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Louie Armstrong, Nina Simone. My mom exposed me to a lot of West Indian and African music, and I use a lot of that in my music today. Sister Nancy–reggae has played a big part. Bjork, Thom Yorke, Goldfrapp; electronic music was really important to me. Esthero and that whole trip-hop era, too. Weirdly, my music is completely opposite, it’s super rhythmic, but my roots are definitely in slow, billowy jazz music.
You travelled so much and were exposed to so many different cultures by the time you were a teenager–what has your experience been like in the U.S. compared to those places? Did you experience culture shock coming here?
Well, any time I left and came back to any place, I experienced culture shock. Growing up in D.R., we had a very hippie, progressive family, so I was actually really sheltered in terms of what that country’s political and cultural climate was like–it’s a very conservative, racially backwards place where misogyny is rampant. So moving to Montreal, which is super liberal, and coming back to D.R. was a major shock. But you always find your own path in those places, with likeminded people. I’m really glad now that I spent my teen years on the island because I was with a group of musicians, and I got to grow with them and experience the freedom of living in a place where there aren’t that many rules. Having control over your freedom in that way really shapes you–but at the same time, it’s just part of the whole for me. I had to come to terms with my multi-ethnicity and connection to so many cultures. To Dominicans, I’m not fully Dominican; to French-Canadians, I’m not really one of them, nor am I an American to Americans. So I decided to be borderless; I’m a combination of all these things.
That’s so interesting, especially given the recent election. I think a lot of American women (and men, for that matter) in a different way are having their own identity crisis. It feels like there’s been a kind of dark cloud around that struggle since November.
Yeah, I’ve been really depressed about that lately, too. I actually haven’t told many people about this, but I was recently at a store in Atwater [a neighborhood on L.A.’s east side], and I was buying something, and I guess I was taking longer than the guy behind me wanted, and he told me to go back to Mexico. That was the first time I’ve ever been racially profiled–and Atwater is pretty liberal–so I was in a state of shock after that. That cloud of darkness you talked about, it was exasperated for me. I think we’ve been dormant the last eight years because we had a black president and felt good about politics, but now is a time for us to go to work. As a Latina living in the States, I felt fine until Trump came into power, to be honest. I know there are lots of issues with race relations in this country, but I think it stems from people isolating themselves from people of a different race. We don’t experience it as much on the coasts, New York and L.A., but when it happened to me in my own neighborhood, it made me realize I have to fight this and help people. Because I’m lucky that I have residency–I’m not American, but I have my green card–and even with that I’m still scared! People are here with nothing–that’s really scary.
Speaking of you drawing on your multi-ethnicity (and also being a badass)–the video you made for Tigre is SICK!
Aw, thanks! Yeah, “tigre,” for those that don’t know, is Dominican slang for the no-good boys who are always hanging around the bodega or on the street corners, who holler at you when you walk by. So the song is me being like “I see you, but I’m not taking your shit–I’m the goddamn tigre.” It’s about recognizing misogyny and calling it out. In terms of the video, I drew on a lot of what I grew up around: color, and palms, and fruit–things that remind me of home. It was directed by this trio of really amazing artists and directors: Dorian Electra, who’s this super incredible young director and artist, her boyfriend, as well as Mood Killer. Dorian made this video, Clitopia, which sort of looks at the medical history of the clitoris, and when I saw that about a year ago, I called her up and was like, “I don’t know who you are, but we have to work together.” For me, I love women–I really believe in being a part of a woman-centric community, so at the time I was throwing these all-women dinner parties every month of rad, creative women. I invited her to one of those, we became friends, and when it was time to do the video I called her, and they shot it in my living room!
It became the lead single on Broad City’s soundtrack–what was it like for you when you found that out?
Oh my God, I lost my damn mind. I love that show–that show is my experience in New York. Most people in New York at our age live like that, so it was already my favorite show. Then Matt FX, who is the show’s sound supervisor, reached out to me on my Facebook, which was so random, and was like, “Jarina, I love your stuff, can I hear more?” I sent him some music I’d been working on, they put it on the show, and then they put out this album–that’s when I really lost it. I met the girls, they were super great–the whole thing was amazing. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be a part of that.
You premiered a video recently, “Release the Hounds,” as a kind of protest song to bring attention to the #NoDAPL situation. Can you talk about why that cause means so much to you?
My mom is native to the D.R., and her ancestors–the Taíno people–were the first indigenous people in contact with Columbus. She’s an ethnomusicologist, so she records tribes and native music for documentation because a lot of these songs are 500 years old, and if someone dies in the family, they’re lost forever. She’s been doing that work for 20 years, and she discovered a specific place on the southwest end of the [Dominican Republic] where people are nearly 100% Taíno, which is incredibly rare; most of the Taíno people were slaughtered by Columbus, sold into slavery, or killed off by disease. So native rights have always been a part of me through my mother’s work. Not solely because of our Taíno roots; growing up, we’d always go to reservations so my mom could record the music of the people. That was a huge part of how I was raised.
Well then, back in September, I saw Amy Goodman’s report of the DAPL situation. She was with all the protesters, and the para-military was sicking dogs onto the crowd, which is something you see in history books of my island–of Columbus’ people doing that to the native people. So it’s like the symbol of destroying nearly an entire people. When I saw that, I got so angry and sad at the same time, and I decided to write a song with Cameron Bartolini–he did the music, I wrote the lyrics. From there, I sent it to Esthero, who’s one of my musical heroes, and she and I started producing a video. We pulled every contact from our book, shot it in New York and L.A., and the whole thing was done in a week. Chris Rock was in it, Rosario Dawson, the girls from Orange Is the New Black–they’re friends of mine from New York. The video was released a week after they said the DAPL issue was done, but it’s not really done. The military presence is still there, so if something else happens, that video is ready to go. In terms of it being an issue to get behind… how can you not get behind it? It’s about the earth and people who were here before everyone. It’s a daunting struggle, but I really do feel positive about what we can do about it. My feeling is that ultimately, people are inclined to do good in this world.
Stay current on all things Jarina (including her imminent tour) here.
Photos by Michelle Mayer
Styling by Keely Murphy
Makeup by Allison McGillicuddy