It took about two years to close the deal. Once the album was ready and I heard the demo, I wanted to tattoo the date on my arm.
As tricky as it is to pronounce her name, Aérea Negrot is difficult to define. Standing at the crossroads of man and woman, raunchy techno and over-the-top pop, operatic diva and ballet dancer, the Venezuelan performer is certainly an experience that is impossible to forget. After eight years of globetrotting and two touring with Hercules and Love Affair, Negrot unveils her debut album, Arabxilla, on BPitch Control. Clipping influences as unrelated as African beats, techno balladry, cabaret, hip-hop, church music and giving head with a peculiar brand wizardry only she could pull off, it’s not a bad first move for a human who originally wanted to be a translator when she grew up. But then again, most of the extraterrestrial’s life plays out like a trans-fairy princess tale.
“I was living in London when I conceived of the [Arabxilla] project. It was 2004, and the idea of terrorism was very big at the time,” she said backstage of a Hercules show over a couple of Heineken Lights. Negrot, as she mentions in the album, is always counting her calories. “But the funny thing was, all the so-called terrorists were in London doing their shopping at fancy stores, and spending a lot of money. So, Arabxilla is basically a Godzilla monster with Arab looks who’s trying to take revenge on war with credit cards.”
Though the concept sounds humorous, Negrot’s theatrics are merely an elaborate veil behind which her poignant personal truths prevail.
“In a way, it was the second side of the war. They had their expensive suitcases and credit cards instead of guns. But the whole atmosphere was ridiculous,” she added. “I spent a lot of time in London and realized that people go to London as if it were a casino. They go there to do business and studies and they leave, even for Christmas. At the time, I realized that eventually my life there would end, and I would lose my friends too.”
Though the beguiling character on the album cover isn’t the Arabxilla itself, the album is a culmination of the past eight years of Negrot’s life, which has involved rotating residences in Venezuela, Portugal, The Netherlands, London and now Berlin, which she calls home.
“I thought, if I had an album do I want it to go in one style? The answer was no,” she said, hopping across the room in her brogues to grab a lighter. “I wanted it to be me. This project has changed dramatically in terms of musical inspirations and the situations that triggered me to compose.”
Winding back to her genesis, Negrot is formally known as Daniella Gallegos, the offspring of two Venezuelan disco dance competition champions. Her father later went on to become a professional jazz dancer. “I was conceived in music, you see,” she said, flipping back her extensions. Admittedly not “really gifted in playing instruments,” she studied classical ballet with the intention of balancing a career in translation (she speaks seven languages fluently, several of which make an appearance on the album) with dance. A knee injury halted that dream.
“Still, I was always very much in touch with these dancing feelings, with theater and ballet, and it was therefore only a matter of time before I would make the transition between being a dancer and a musician,” she said.
They went through all of my jewelry, and all of my necklaces and all of the weirdest stuff I had in my jewelry pot. And, in five hours, they glued all eight years of my life on me.
Following love in the form of a German government cultural attaché named Tillman, Negrot eventually ended up in Berlin. It was there that she not only learned to speak the language, but also accidentally launched her solo musical career.
“It’s funny, I began making music with my dear friend Fata Kiefer. He is Venezuelan too. I never intended for this to turn into an album, much less for me to be a musician. I am a performer,” she said. “That is what I do. The thought of putting an album together for sale was really not what I had in mind for my life.”
It defines me. It has a bit of sexuality in it too, which always interests me in discussion. Questions like where do I come from, what am I and where am I going? Am I a man? A woman? Or something in between…
Intentional, or not, her life put her music in the hands of Tobias Freund, who produced Arabxilla, and eventually to BPitch commander Ellen Allien, who readily green lit the project.
“It took about two years to close the deal. Once the album was ready and I heard the demo, I wanted to tattoo the date on my arm,” she said, pausing. “This album is very personal. It was recorded in my home. It is about my relationships, my family, my favorite childhood song, my move to Berlin and my life. I was walking a very long way home one night in Berlin. I had maybe one Euro in my pocket, and I honestly had to walk so far it was almost silly. I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? This is the best day of my life!’ It was May 7, 2011.’”
As for the cover, her close friends and collaborators, Rafael Scovino and Jose Luna, created it. “They went through all of my jewelry, and all of my necklaces and all of the weirdest stuff I had in my jewelry pot. And, in five hours, they glued all eight years of my life on me,” she marveled.
“There is native stuff in there, but also techno. It is classic, but also perverse. We also had that blue feather jacket that we borrowed from YSL. It was such a great honor to see the final picture. It defines me. It has a bit of sexuality in it too, which always interests me in discussion. Questions like where do I come from, what am I and where am I going? Am I a man? A woman? Or something in between? But, I put everything on top anyway.”
As for what’s going on beneath the feathers, kaleidoscope accessories, pumps, knee-highs, stage sachets and hair extensions it’s also a bit of a mystery. But her emotions are expressed with such brutal honesty, it’s hard to not respect her raw self-awareness and unbridled willingness to express them at an operatic level. And no holds are barred when the subject material gets a little twisted, as heard in “Listen To the People” (who come inside you) and “Deustche Werden.”
As for “Deutsche Werden,” Negrot shared: “I came to Berlin and moved in with a friend. He is my husband, Tillman, and we had to go through the whole [immigration] process. It’s fucking hard, man. German was probably the hardest language I’ve ever had to learn too, so writing the lyrics was strange. They translate to “I want to be German, so I can be next to you for the rest of my life… I want to marry you, so I can be your daughter forever.”
I consider Tillman my father, and he considers me his daughter. We met in The Hague. We became friends, and I moved to London with him. He sent me to music school there. He’s a grown up guy. I know it’s strange to say that he’s my father, and I his daughter, but he’s my husband. And that’s the way it is for us.