Meet Marina Sena, the Newest Star Blending Pop With Brazilian Genres

Courtesy of Alá Comunicação e Cultura.

There is something quintessentially Brazilian about Marina Sena that is hard to translate. It’s in her music, the way she sings, talks, and moves on the stage. It’s in how she perceives herself as an artist.

Starting out as the singer of two indie bands in 2015 and putting out a couple of sporadic solo singles, Sena finally released her first solo album independently in August 2021, De Primeira. “Some of these songs were written six years ago,” she tells Remezcla. “Each song was written during a different phase of my life. But I felt like they dialogue with each other and they come from the same place, sharing the same vibe, which is why I chose them for the album.”

De Primeira was well-received in online communities for MPB, or Popular Brazilian Music, and indie-pop enthusiasts. But nothing would compare to the unexpected success of her single “Por Supuesto.” Its chorus, “Eu já deitei no seu sorriso / Só você não sabe,” got popular on TikTok and Instagram, resulting in the track topping Spotify’s Viral 50 chart on October 29, generating several memes, covers, and even funk edits and remixes. In the upcoming Multishow Brazilian Music Awards, Sena is up for four awards this year, including “Revelation of the Year.” After Anitta, she is tied with Luísa Sonza as one of the most nominated artists. Sena will also be performing at the November 8 ceremony. 

After years of being known mainly among alternative scenes, the singer-songwriter is thrilled by how quickly her career is taking over and hitting the mainstream. Yet, the success doesn’t come exactly as a surprise for her. “I’ve always dreamed big,” Sena says. “When I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be some sort of Shakira. I used to watch documentaries about these hugely [popular] female singers and I always started to cry, because it got me thinking, ‘I’m going to live all of this one day.’”

Back when Sena was the lead vocalist of A Outra Banda da Lua, an experience to which she credits her biggest opportunities for artistic growth, her music mostly fell within the genre known as MPB. While still being a part of the band, Sena joined Rosa Neon—a sound and performance style that’s closer to what she does today as a soloist. De Primeira is pop in its aesthetics and purpose to sound fun, but it’s not a formulaic type of pop. Instead, it sounds like MPB that veers into the pop sphere. 

The idea of MPB, as a genre, took form in Brazil in the 1960s, to designate a fusion of genres such as samba (which is heard in Sena’s songs like “Tamborim”) and bossa nova. Songwriting-wise, its melodies are less linear than those genres and feature more techniques that aim for a catchier sound. But as Brazilian music evolves, MPB goes with it. But saying MPB, in its traditional sense, and pop sound-alike is not quite accurate. The MPB category is usually assigned to singer-songwriters whose music doesn’t channel any other genres (like rock or soul music) too explicitly. Pop, on the other hand, is music made with an intentional commercial appeal. These lines are blurred, and each generation of Brazilian artists challenges them even more. In Sena’s case, she checks many boxes of being an MPB singer as well as a pop star. But to her, this isn’t a paradox at all. “When people tell me I’m walking a thin line between being an MPB singer and a pop singer, I say, ‘An MPB singer can be pop, though,’” she explains.

Sena believes pop allows her to transit between all styles, and that pop music made in Brazil has to carry the DNA of Brazilian regional genres. “The way I see it, pop is not [put] in a box. It’s universal. It’s music that any singer in any part of the world makes, and it has regional artifices,” she says. “Pop with no identity doesn’t go anywhere. Pop can only go somewhere if it carries [within] the identity of a place, a region, a country.”

It’s hard to synthesize a country that is so culturally heterogeneous like Brazil. But at its core, there’s a brand of cheekiness that is familiar to most Brazilians, and its music styles perfectly encapsulate the Brazilian essence. Sena’s music truly carries that identity. Music-wise, it is not limited to one single genre or side of Brazilian culture. While De Primeira is heavy on reggae, it also incorporates funk carioca and samba. It’s a testimony to Sena’s vision of Brazilian pop, but it’s also the outcome of a songwriting process that happens in a very natural way. “I write songs with a guitar. And when you’re writing with a guitar, there isn’t any specific style to follow,” she says. “I create a song, but it can turn into 300 different things. However inspiration comes, I will make the song that needs to be made.”

“I always had a lot of trust in myself, so the things people say about me are not new. [The praise] moves me, but I don’t let it get to my head, because what really matters is if I’m feeling myself. If I am, then it’s all right.”

But you can’t get the full Marina Sena experience until you watch her live performances and music videos. She moves freely, oozing sensuality, confidence, and humor. The way she sings, deliberately nasal and trembling, feels almost psychedelic. She lets her voice be dragged by the melody, experimenting with the possibilities of her timbre and range as she goes from highs to lows. While her singing style is unique, her timbre has been compared with famous MPB singers such as Gal Costa and Marisa Monte. But Sena isn’t bothered by the comparisons, she actually thinks it’s wonderful. “Gal Costa is my biggest reference in life. Her aesthetics, voice, absolutely everything about her inspires me. And don’t even start me with Marisa Monte… Everything [in Brazilian music] that came after Marisa Monte is inspired by her—and if it’s not, then it’s wrong,” she says as she laughs. “I love them both and I love being compared to them.”

But the comparisons to music icons and being called the next Brazilian pop star can be too much for an artist who, until a few months ago, wasn’t used to having her lyrics sung by people from all over the country. But Sena ensures that she is most connected with herself than with people’s expectations and pressure. “I got where I am today working like this: having a connection with what I want, what I like, my own personality, and not letting other people’s opinions mold me.” The success and critical acclaim do not tell her anything she didn’t already know about herself. “I always had a lot of trust in myself, so the things people say about me are not new. [The praise] moves me, but I don’t let it get to my head, because what really matters is if I’m feeling myself. If I am, then it’s all right.”

We’re only beginning to see what Marina Sena can do as a solo artist, but she already seems to have found something that works for her. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be one of the artists to make the world understand Brazilian pop a bit more. And she doesn’t want to be the only one. “Brazil is too diverse, which is why we gotta have many [artists] representing it.” She is not scared by the idea of being one of these artists. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one that I feel very excited about. If I have to [represent Brazil to the world], I gladly will. And I want to take a lot of people with me.”