Liniker, a portrait: exploring friendship, self, and culture to the sounds of “Cru”

Liniker, statement-maker and boundary-smasher

The opening notes of Liniker’s Zero seep out like moonlight on a river, and from that very first song — her band’s debut track — you are pulled into her velvet world.

Liniker is a Brazilian soul artist who first rose to fame in 2015 with her premiere EP Cru, which she created with bandmembers the Caramelows. They describe their music as “funzy,” which signifies a fusion of styles and a new type of Black Brazilian music.

A Black trans woman, Liniker grew up in Araraquara, which is known as the “adobe of the sun” for its sunsets and hot climate. Through dedication and a belief in herself, she’s become a star in what is statistically one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be queer— Brazil has record-breaking levels of LGTBQ hate crime, despite its queer residents having the same legal rights as their straight counterparts.

Liniker had a supportive mother, however, who not only helped in her transition but also passed on a love of samba and soul to her daughter. In 2015, when Liniker was only 20 years old, she formed a band with the Caramelows. Shortly after, they released a video for Zero that went viral.

From that point on they gained a large audience and started touring the world. Their 2019 album Goela Abaixo was nominated for a Latin Grammy for best Portuguese language rock or alternative album. And it’s no wonder why, for each song on the project is a treat. There is Intimidade, luminous and raw with soft piano keys, the jazzy soulfulness of Beau, and the sad sweetness of Calmô, among others.

In singing about love and heartache Liniker normalizes dialogue about transpeople, showing that they fall in love as hard and fast as any other person in this crazy world. Those who speak Portuguese are taken by her striking command of language, the way she writes about love and life and healing. Those who don’t understand Portuguese are taken regardless. How can you not be with that voice, and the gorgeously jazzy accompaniment of the Caramelows?

Five years after their founding, the band announced their separation in 2020 with a farewell tour that has yet to take place due to COVID-19; in the meantime, Liniker is pursuing a solo career. Her most recent release, Psiu, dropped several months ago on Halloween.

Liniker, a constant presence and musical companion

I first discovered Liniker and the Caramelows through my Brazilian friend Ana, whom I affectionately call my soul sister. I met her a couple weeks after moving to Lyon, and our connection was immediate. Over the course of a year we would go to Carnaval together in Sitges and kayak the Calanques; we would have countless picnics by the Rhone river and watch the Eiffel Tower shimmer.

Ana showed me how to make brigadeiro, and we would make it to celebrate good times and cheer one another up in blue times, lovingly rolling the little balls in chocolate sprinkles or coconut flakes. She taught me how to dance the quadradinho and curse in Portuguese; we drank caipirinhas and went to Brazilian music festivals when the weather was warm.

I introduced her to Frank Ocean, and she introduced me to Liniker. It’s funny, now that I think about it. For Frank Ocean is queer and wears glitter and makes music out of poetry, just as Liniker is queer and wears glitter and makes music out of poetry. They are like two halves of a moon, an American and Brazilian counterpart. Very different, of course, but sharing certain lyrical and stylistically adventurous sensibilities.

She first showed me a Liniker song, Louise du Brésil, early in our friendship. From then on Liniker’s Cru became a constant soundtrack to my time in France. I walked to my French school in the morning and took long train rides and danced with friends and stared at my ceiling all to Cru’s three songs.

The cadence of Zero was a wave I let carry me again and again, the gentleness of the trombone a familiar croon. This will always be the song that transfixes me instantly, that melts my surroundings like honey, summoning red wine and the nighttime sky.

Louise du Brésil was for sunshine and dancing. It was my first Liniker song, and a joyous one— when I hear it I remember sipping sangria at noon on a Spanish train, I remember Ana spinning in my kitchen and putting jewels on my lash line and us laughing, laughing, laughing.

Caeu was the groovy one, a bit harder to pin down. It would swirl in the space around me, so rich it was almost visible, as if I could trace the notes with my finger and spy the percussive beats like sparkles in the air.

These three songs were there for me through joy and sadness. They accompanied me from Nice and Barcelona to Rome and Amsterdam. Liniker followed me through seasons, literally and metaphorically, and yet I never knew what she was singing.

But then again, I didn’t need to speak Portuguese to know. My heart understood enough. There’s something exquisite about listening to songs in foreign languages because—provided the singer is expressive—you naturally fill in the lyrics yourself.

Comprehension of the song comes from a deeper place that words might normally interfere with accessing. It comes from the nuance of the melody, a tremble in the voice, a smile you hear in the way words are formed. And it goes without saying that Liniker is one of those expressive singers. Her voice holds elation and tenderness and melancholy, it is pensive and then filled with longing, sometimes all in the same song.

While I moved to France to learn French and immerse myself in French culture, I also found myself learning about Brazilian culture— through Ana and the Brazilian friends I met through her, but also through a Brazilian woman I became close to while taking my host kids to tennis. We’d talk for hours, sharing tea, talking about being expats, and she would tell me about her family and life and home back in Brasilia; I’d go to her place and while the kids played together I’d eat her homemade carrot cake and try pao de queijo and feel completely at home.

And in this way Liniker came to encapsulate the significance Brazil suddenly had for me, a country that before France I had only experienced culturally through açai bowls and Sergio Mendes’ Mas Que Nada. Liniker’s music represents this unexpected love for another culture and people that I found while wrapping myself in la vie of France.

Ana taught me this Portuguese word, saudade. It means longing, nostalgia, missing something and yearning to get back to it. It is bittersweet because by holding the thing you miss close you keep it present, even if the remembering is a bit sad. But it is also a reminder to value things, to be grateful for what you have now, to watch the sunset— to enjoy the song.

Now that I have left France I experience saudade all the time. And while there are many French songs that take me back to ma vie en France, Liniker’s music will always be reserved for the certain Brazilian component of that time in my life. It will bring to mind beautiful friendships and long conversations over sweets and the countryside rolling by from a train window. No matter the song, her music makes my heart fuller for having listened to it, and that’s a sentiment that needs no translation.

Piper Anderson

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