Swedish rapper Cleo is determined to bring equality to the music industry backed up by the artistic collective Femtastic. Through her workshop Tell Dem and with urban music as a creative outlet Cleo encourages the next generation to challenge society’s ancient gender values.
At the age of 17 Cleo, born Nathalie Missaoui in 1987, moved from her hometown Umeå to Stockholm in order to attend an education in theatre. When asked about the music scene in Umeå she explains, “There was a certain DIY-spirit going on, Umeå was a real Mecca for Punk Rock at the time.” The Punk Rock movement was led by hardcore heroes Refused and the Do It Yourself mentality was a fact, something that was also present in the local Hip-Hop scene. “I was fascinated by the Hip-Hop sound the first time I heard it, I loved the way it allows you to express yourself” Cleo says and continues to tell me about Random Bastards, an Umeå skate and snowboard crew turned record label and clothing line.
“Today Random Bastards distributes my music, and Femtastic is my management” says Cleo. Femtastic was founded in 2010 by herself and Vanessa Marko and was born through a club event, featuring only female artists, at Stockholm’s Södra Teatern. “The clubs are still the heart of Femtastic, but we have grown so much since the start. Our two main goals are still the same though; we want to create a platform for women in music and we try to inspire young girls to raise their voices.”
Cleo carries out the latter of the goals with an urban music workshop, called Tell Dem, where she teaches women the subtle arts of rapping and performing, to boost their self esteem and to help create an equal music industry. “When I came to Stockholm from the male dominated music scene in Umeå and met other women in music, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who had been treated badly because of my sex. What I want to do with Tell Dem is to challenge the norms of society; sometimes the desire to be free from the norms is stronger than the fear to break them.”
This kind of injustice is a common topic in Cleo’s music, one particular song that carries the message is Looptroop Rockers’ track “Hårt mot Hårt” from their 2013 album “Mitt Hjärta är en Bomb”. The song was of personal significance to Cleo, her featured verse was her very first in Swedish, after rapping exclusively in English since her debut EP “Yes, She Do” from 2010. “I hesitated at first about rapping in Swedish but Mårten [Edh, “Promoe” from Looptroop Rockers] said he could hear my voice on that track, and when I did it the verse became something of an anthem.”
Ever since the collaboration with Looptroop Rockers Cleo has made music in both languages, and her co-operations with other recording artists has continued. One such collaborative effort is the newly released single “240” that features starlet Alina Devecerski. The title refers to the Volvo 240, a popular vehicle in suburban Umeå culture, and is Cleos homage to her roots. “Being ‘real’ has always been important in Hip-Hop, and Umeå has always been my reality”. The realness of Cleo is hard to deny when you hear her speak from the heart about her true faith in a future where the music business and our society at last may be free of inequality.
”Cleo’s new club ’Cleo & Friends’ premieres 9th of October at Stockholm club Marie Laveau and she can be seen in the Tv4 show ‘Lyckliga Gatan’ this winter”
Words by Filip Lindström
Photography by Simon Younan
Styling by B.A.R.T.
Make-up by Maurine Tugavune