By Fizzy Noor
In September 2021, Copenhagen-based Erika de Casier won Denmark’s Star Sprinkle Cultural Award for her innovative approach to music; a sultry, understated take on 90s R&B. In her acceptance speech, de Casier took the opportunity to speak about her experience as an immigrant in Denmark. This hardly came as a surprise. Born in Portugal to a Belgian mother and Cape Verdean father, Erika immigrated to Denmark at the age of eight. There, she spent much of her childhood being racially targeted and isolated not just from her peers, but from her heritage too.
Erika de Casier openly talks about embarking on a journey towards self-love, drowning out the voices of those who were racist and ignorant throughout her youth. The artist brings about a refreshing honesty that translates seamlessly into her music. The song “Little Bit” from her first album Essentials images her acceptance of vulnerability. Erika’s delicate singing voice feels especially intimate, highlighting lyrics that are at once simple and evocative. “I’m a little bit down/I’ll put it aside and/Take a hit”, the chorus goes. Erika sings about wanting to push her vulnerability away, ignoring her emotions. But, she quickly concedes with “You won’t let me hide it/Get a grip/I’ll let this one slide”, as she accepts that she cannot hide her true feelings.
There is a clear shift in tone from her first album, Essentials to her second, Sensational. In Essentials, we hear her pining after her lover. In Sensational she gains independence and maturity. Her growth is clear in ‘Polite’, a 2000s anthem with a contemporary twist. “You’re on my mind and that’s a guarantee/ But you can’t touch ‘fore you say please,” she tells her date. In an interview with Mixmag, Erika says the shift can, in part, be attributed to the Black Lives Matter movement. She talks about how being racially gaslit had made her shrink herself, but the movement fuelled a fire, igniting confidence and self-acceptance. It’s a stark contrast from ‘Space’ a song in her first album. “And you don’t look at me the way that you did/You say you need to think about it/Was it me? Was it something I did?” Back then, the singer blamed herself for the relationship’s demise. While the album isn’t about race, it’s clear that Erika de Casier has found the strength to stand up for herself.
Erika de Casier’s lyrics mainly focus on love and romance. But her music is jam-packed with nods to her influences and personality. For example, the themes of love and desire here are characteristic of the lovelorn morna, and the more lighthearted coladeira, prevalent in Cape Verdean culture. From a young age, Erika learned to tackle challenges head-on rather than ignore them, taking stock of her emotions and roots. Despite the bullying she faced and the subsequent self-doubt she experienced, Erika sought to find out more about her heritage, as she explains in an interview with Our Culture. She researched Cape Verdean music and looked up to artists such as Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, or Janet Jackson. There is something powerful in finding role models associated with the very culture you are told you should be ashamed of. Erika’s journey will no doubt inspire others who find themselves in a similarly displaced and ambiguous position.
Erika de Casier’s work is heavily informed by the black artists she listened to as a teenager, her music reflecting 90s R&B, garage, and G-funk. However, she put an entirely new spin on it. In ‘Do My Thing’, Erika hilariously turns R&B music video conventions on their head, with a video of her peddling to the club on her bike wearing a helmet instead of cruising in a flashy car. As said in an interview with i-D, she just needs to do her thing. It’s these small touches that make Erika’s work relatable beyond nostalgia. She brings her reality into the shiny 1990s and 2000s aesthetic, making it hers. Nothing is too staged, or inauthentic.
Erika de Casier has sought music not just as a refuge, but as a mirror. You can hold it up to look at the experiences that informed her lyrics and see how they reflect on you. She sought comfort in her heritage and drew inspiration from the musicians that accompanied her teenage years. But she made the influences her own, giving a unique spin and raw honesty to her music videos, sound and lyrics. She is an artist who has learned to embrace solitude and pain, who captures cultural diversity and personal discovery. Her music has one thing in common with her smile: a disarming sincerity.
[Youtube url = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fQ6INyndjA]
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.