We Are The Night, Part III: Arleta
Our series, “We are the night” presents artists, promoters, production managers, label owners and others who are bringing the music world of the Czech Republic, from the past to the present and the present to the future. This week we present an interview with Arleta, emerging queen of the Prague rap scene. Photo credit: Arleta.
Last summer, when the Czech music scene was finally re opening, I discovered Arleta at the United Islands of Prague festival. After catching her again at Prague’s Meet Factory, I sat down with her in a cool and discreet bar in Malá Strana, to find out about the roots of the project, and get an overview of the music scene, rap in particular, and the multiple messages she is trying to spread.
Growing up in Blatná in the South Bohemian Region, Arleta remembers her first contact with music as the voice of her mother, singing for her and her sister as they went to sleep.
She played flute and guitar as a kid, but just as hobbies, not really as a musical education. “I did not really get real music lessons,” she says.
Then around 20, she approached Rap, and recorded her first real tune with her stepfather, around the topic of drawing. “I started with Rap because I was pretty exhausted of my current lifestyle and in a dark moment, I always had two phones in my hands and I was playing beats and freestyling, even in the forest in the middle of night, because I was wasted, and that was a kind of therapy.”
Three years ago, she came to Prague to study, currently in motion design, but she kept rapping, and started to follow the crazy nightlife of Prague, the black and white shades of the capital. “I have just been enjoying the moment, recording things with programs like Audacity, releasing them on SoundCloud, just for myself, to keep it in the digital world, and I think that is probably the freest way to do music, because I was doing it just for myself.”
Developing a taste for it, making it as a necessity, starting to develop more concrete texts, creating beats using Garage Band for iPhone, she naturally shared them with her friends.
“The first big switch was when one childhood friend wrote to me, saying that he really liked my music and wanted to work with me on it, I was like wow someone is listening to my music, and wanted me to perform in Transforma (Tábor), so I told to myself: ok, we need to do something proper.”
That childhood friend, David Herzig, worked with her on the production of her first EP, released in 2020.
While they were working on the EP, Hugo Toxxx named her for the 16 challenge (a rap challenge where a rapper should sing 16 bars and nominate others) and they had 48 hours to record it. “This was a second switching moment, and I created my YouTube channel straight afterwards,” says Arleta.
“And then I did my first live show supporting [emerging Slovak alternative hip-hop group] Fvck_kvlt in Tábor, but I think it was terrible, as their sound is much heavier, the soundcheck was a bit punk style, and I was shy and scared because it was my first live concert…”
About her videos and visualizations, she worked “with my schoolmates, for example for the first EP, it was part of our semester work.”
“Then in January 2021, during the lockdown, I wanted to do music but did not want to wait even a beat, so I said I will do all by myself. I couldn’t wait, and I wanted to do it immediately”
She released the full EP by herself, all accessible on her YouTube channel. Did someone say DIY?
Step by step, taking her place in the Prague scene, she got more approaches from beatmakers. “I can say that now, I don’t have any issue with finding beats and that is cool, but I am willing to pay for the beats because I don’t like the attitude of “because we are friends, I give it to you for free”. If I like a music production I want somehow to give money for it, because it is work.”
Her last tune, produced by Fvck_kvlt, is another example of that style of collaborating.
“With Fvck_kvlt, we share a lot online about our music, we really like each other’s music, we already worked together so that last feat was natural.”
Multi messages in one unclassified style
“I am not sure how to classify my music, I really don’t know, now I am trying to minimize the lyrics.”
Navigating between cloud rap with a dark and elegant atmosphere, the music of Arleta is at the same time chillout and softly aggressive, electronic beats enveloping her voice, acting like acid venom on the ears… a venom circulating in the blood with her Czech lyrics, sometimes mixed with English:
“I am trying to be more into the form and not the content,” she says. “The first EPs contained lot of stories in the lyrics, I am trying to make it different now. Let’s say that the first tracks were about a lot of pain I had in my life, and now I am trying to do something more against sexism and against the attitude in the Czech Hip hop scene. Feminism is a big part of my message, but in general I am not going to do anything very happy because I don’t think that this planet is such a happy place to live…”
And so, in the near future, using more slang and a flexible lyrical technique, her project is to sing differently as a natural evolution, specifying nevertheless that: “I will never do music without a clear message “
Arleta is enthusiastic about the blossoming movement of women-fronted Rap music in Prague and the Czech Republic.
“Do you know Mary C? She is very activist, a feminist and Dj, she organized discussions about Rap and multiple events, trying to push the girls to make it, it is very interesting. So I would say something is happening but it is very slow, because girls anyway are still in a minority compared to the guys in the scene, so they are kind of scared, let’s say. On one hand there are guys supporting rap made by girls, but still some are saying that girls should not do rap music. To them, I am saying, please look around somewhere, outside of the Czech republic, to see how things are changing.”
She observes a persistent double standard on lyrical content: “Rude words used by men about sex are now totally accepted as part of the style, but if a girl tried to use the same imagery from a woman’s point of view, a lot of people would be shocked. Yet the fact of men being rude in rap is so formalized now.”
She did a feature with Hellwana (Das leben) a solid Rap MC from the Prague scene, and they sometimes do gigs together. “She sometimes invites me to play with her, but if you consider how the male rappers are performing live, there are often a lot of people on stage, some guys doing backing vocals and others just supporting the main artist, but us, as women, we don’t have the same, and I would really like to have a real crew, sharing the girl power energy on stage, it would be cool… Like in my gig in the Roxy (Prague), I had a concert with a friend break-dancing close to me when I was performing, and it was great to feel that energy.”
She is also clear-eyed about the perverse incentives for female rappers in a male-dominated scene: “In another way, it is very different to work with girls compared to working with guys. One time I worked with a girl who was degrading women in her lyrics, to be seen positively by the male scene, and I did not like that attitude, I was thinking she wanted to sell herself to this masculine scene and it is not how I saw the message I want to spread. It was a pity because she is talented, so I told her we cant work together, because I don’t like your ideas… There are of course some egos to deal with, but I enjoy it, I would like a kind of girl music gang.”
With a big summer of live concerts, she came back after a year, like destiny, at the Transforma festival in Tábor, a good occasion to check the path already travelled.
“When I was remembering the first gig, the one of one year ago and comparing it to the one of 2021, with more people shouting, dancing, I was actually proud of myself, and I was like it is just one year, it is so cool, it was also the first set I did with [DJ and producer] Marie Pravda, and we enjoyed a lot, and it was for me the best set of the summer because sometimes I can be like the ‘ice queen’, being shy, staying in the shadow, but for me the connection with audience and the lights as also the soundcheck are very important now.”
“I am really into David Lynch and Andrej Tarkovsky for the visuals and Baudelaire for literature among others. I am actually really influenced by people from abroad, but there is no special reason for this,” says Arleta. “In my flow when I sing, I would say that I feel influence from Hugo Toxxx, because I started to listen to him when I was 14, he always keeps going, keeps singing, and as I had chance to meet him I felt he is actually a simple and humble person, so I felt some kind of connection with him.”
“We are now talking like colleagues, and it is fun like that. I am very honest with him, about his music now, and he is surprised but it is what it is, I tell him what and if I don’t like and that is natural to me.”
She will now be featured on his new album, Mumie, which will be released the 10th of December.
Multi Pass or Multi Path
About the next steps for her music and for her life, she says: “I am starting singing lessons, because I don’t want to be stuck to my present style, I want to use the voice differently and try to find another option, and do something completely different, more experimental, different. I like my past songs, but I feel it is like a theatre, because I want to feel and make something feel different to the audience. I am also trying to produce, even as a beginner, with Ableton, and midi synth, I could do even techno beats actually. I don’t have any label and I’m not looking for one. Let’s see if it will come, but for now I just want to do art, because I feel it is my way, and it is what I am, an artist. But for now, I still have one more year to study in my school.”
Then, try to catch her in her production online or in concert, to taste that underground rap, multiform and vibrant, to get an idea of what it means to being a ‘free agent’ with no label (although she recently joined NAA, a booking agency), a deep strength for expression and creation, in the middle of the often-over-managed world of music, and taste the black and white shades of the Prague and Czech music scenes…