I find myself walking with BEIJA FLO, wandering through the brilliant white marble of a room within the Walker Art Gallery. Smooth, firm faces stare back at us through milk and chestnut and charcoal, contrasted against Beija Flo’s own face that is speckled with flutters of canary and crimson. “I always wondered how they make something so beautiful out of something so hard. I’d struggle to make something like that out of playdough.” Essex-born and brought to Liverpool by LIPA, the young artist is one of the most exciting new acts on Merseyside, combining the familiar elements of her music with more abstract, cutting-edge and innovative ideas, much like the neoclassical gallery we find ourselves within today.
“My name is quite interesting actually. It’s Portuguese for hummingbird which is like me, beautiful yet frenetic, and that’s what I was christened by my dad.” With her dad being one of the first people to bring the music and dance-infused Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira to the UK, the Essex native was exposed to tropical and exotic influences, as well as the arts, from a young age. “I was kind of raised by all these masters of karate and kali. I think I was always interested in capoeira more than the other martial arts as it wasn’t just about fighting, it’s the music and the movement which is tied in. As for my mum, she’s just as eccentric. She’s been in various cabaret acts and was a clown for a few years as well. When people meet my parents they think I make a lot of sense.” In the monochrome room, there is a certain brightness which exudes from Beija Flo. Her wit and charm ooze as she regales me with stories of the playful ghost of a child she lives with and how she is in fact a fairy. We approach a statue stood in the corner of the room carrying a palm leaf. “I’ve always wanted to reach out and touch that to see if the leaves move.”
It’s this very same charged energy and charm which makes her live performance so electric. Far beyond a gig, Beija Flo offers so much more when she performs live. “When I do my release shows such as the Secret Lady Garden Party, I have all my actors go round and taunt the audience and offer sweets and my message of the day. And then we offer things like Bad Face Painting and draw vaginas. I feel that if you’ve been given a space for an event, it’s important to really own it and make it an experience.” A multi-sensory attack, the gigs are an onslaught of art, dance performance and education. “I’ve always really enjoyed acting and I do a lot of work with community drama and children’s acting classes,” she tells me as we walk around the mixed media exhibition from the Singh Twins. “I love the theatre and my background is kind of in musical theatre and opera but then my voice broke, so I thought I should see what I could do down here and got more into pop. I never wanted to pick just one thing and my show allows me to make music while making art and incorporating elements of dance and performance.”
“For the big topics that I’m talking about I think it’s really important to be really expressive and give ways that people can get involved,” she explains as we stare past Perspex panes at dresses inside an exhibit case. There’s a beat before she opens up about the issues which inhabit her songs. “I do and don’t deal well with the problems I’ve got. So I drink a lot and smoke even more.” She was born with MRKH Syndrome, a condition which causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent, meaning that the body and sexuality are a massive part of Beija Flo’s world. “I think sex and the body is a key issue within my work and always will be until sexual education for women has drastically improved as well as just sex education in general.” A disorder which affects one in five thousand women, MRKH is a condition that Beija Flo has set to raise awareness of and remove taboo from. “The treatment that I need to do to ‘stretch said muscle’ is called Dilation Treatment which is used by a whole host of people including women who have had radiotherapy, trans women and it makes so much sense. So it’s like, ‘Why’s it this big taboo which we just don’t talk about?’ So I had a load of pretty dilators covered in flowers made and I just put them in people’s faces. The only thing that’s going to make it easier for women with MRKH syndrome is to be more open about it so that when it comes to actually having sex it’s a much easier process.”
As we trek up the grand sprawling staircase we talk more on the effect of such a rare condition on her relationship with womanhood, and how she can feel distanced from certain perceived aspects of being a woman. “There’s so much to take in emotionally. There are always going to be moments where it’s going to be particularly hard such as when people start getting pregnant and the menopause, which sometimes makes me feel as though I can’t contribute to a lot of conversations about womanhood which I feel isn’t fair because there are so many women like me. As a young woman I’m not that bothered about not having kids but more so that I’ll never have penetrative sex using my vagina. The media seems to ignore that because it’s the less pretty side of everything and fits less comfortably within society’s view of women.”
This emotion and frustration is channeled through her music. Like all the most compelling music, heart and soul is central to Beija Flo’s craft. “I’m on the planet to share every thought and feeling I’ve ever had. For me it’s really important to show my full emotion through my music as I can find it quite cathartic.” Part of what makes Beija Flo such an interesting artist is her honesty and openness. There’s a vulnerability there, sure, but this is equalled by bursts of enduring positivity. This unreserved attitude is what makes her so endearing and seems to connect with so many people.
As we pass through the heavy doors into another gallery, eyes stare back at us from every direction, gathering attention from behind ruffs and pointed goatees and under crowns and paupers’ hats, much like the cross-appeal of Beija Flo herself. “I seem to attract a lot of different types of people. From musos to the more arty types right through to the people who just follow me on Instagram.” From the people who feel that they can talk through their own issues to hyperactive six-year-olds sitting entranced at hippy festivals, there is definitely something magically captivating about Beija Flo’s work. It’s not just music but a complete other world which you are sucked into whether you like it or not. Much like the hummingbird she’s named after, the music flutters, constantly moving, impossible to pin down but always provides an element of the avant-garde and experimentation. The downbeat baroque pop of songs like One Of Those Things, a song about Dilation Therapy, could be followed by the much more acerbic and charged Heads Or Tails, a song which tackles her troubled relationship with her hometown of Harlow and its title as ‘The Most Murderous Town in Britain’. “I’ve never been one to stick to one genre, for me sticking to one genre would limit my ability to express myself,” she explains – and this is perhaps the key to her music. It’s not so much based around style or genre but more around expression, thus creating something much more interesting which sits outside these constraints, allowing her to spread her wings and inspire audiences to come with her and experience something which is much more than just music.
Take her latest single Mary as an example: an intense two-and-a-half-minute burst of sonic hypnotism, it’s almost impossible to not hit repeat when it ends and go through it all again. Add in the garishly lovable video and the whole experience becomes something else entirely. With a mix of burlesque performers, comedians, dancers and even members of Wild Fruit Art Collective joining the party, there’s a gritty magical realism, with mermaids and pink leotards juxtaposed against the bleak brutalist architecture which surrounds them.
“I think Mary’s a lot of things,” Beija Flo tells me as we walk back down the Walker’s grand staircase. “She’s my intoxicated alter ego but she’s sort of also physical. She exists. Mary’s just there, she’s like part of my sub-personality. Because I have cyclical vomiting syndrome I shouldn’t really drink but she’s there at the start of the night going, ‘Go on, go on,’ and by the end of the night she’s calling me a fuckin’ idiot. It’s almost like she’s my guilty conscience. She’s never really there when you need her to be.”
Having spent over an hour walking past sculptures and paintings and tapestries and films in one of Liverpool’s grandest settings, it’s a shame when our time together reaches an end. As we leave and take our separate paths one thing seems more apparent than anything else, that the ambition and creativity of Beija Flo is unparalleled in this city and the only limit to what she can achieve is her own mind. That said, with a mind as expansive and daring as Beija Flo’s, that really doesn’t put many barriers in place at all.
Mary is out now via Eggy Records.