WeTalk with Swiss Rapper KT Gorique: the Power of Words

WeTalk. Pop culture. Swiss-Made is a Social Media campaign launched by the Embassy of Switzerland in the United States. WeTalk aims at promoting the diversity of Swiss culture and innovation by featuring prominent Swiss stakeholders. Sharing perspectives from artists, athletes and entrepreneurs, WeTalk provides its audience with fascinating insights into the diversity of contemporary Swiss culture. Watch KT’s video here!

© Jen Ries

Last year, the Embassy of Switzerland celebrated Black History Month with a wide variety of impactful voices from the U.S. and Switzerland. This year, due to COVID-19, it will be celebrated digitally during the month of February. As part of this important celebration, the Embassy of Switzerland recently sat down with the multi-talented singer-actor KT Gorique to speak with her about her music, her films, and performing in the U.S. for the first time.

KT Gorique is an artist of Ivorian and Italian origins and has been living in Switzerland since the age of 11. Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, she was first inspired by reggae, soul, blues, and R&B. KT Gorique was attracted to dance from a young age, which later led her to discover hip-hop culture, and, ultimately, the power of words and the universe of rap music. In 2012, she was the first Swiss, first female, and youngest ever participant to win the New York-based “End Of The Weak,” an international freestyle rap contest. This led to the release of her first album “Tentative de Survie” (“Survival Attempt”), in 2016. Full of energy and emotion, she has also taken her talents to the world of cinema, starring in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival selection “Brooklyn”.

Your stage name KT Gorique is a play on words that sounds like the French word “catégorique,” an adjective which can be loosely translated as “categorical,” or “certain.” What does it mean for you?

At the beginning of the 2010s, I used to do a lot of open mics, live shows where members of the audience can perform on stage. At the end of my freestyles, I liked to finish by saying: “it’s KT, KT Gorique” (my nickname at that time), which means “it’s categorical,” like a signature. So people started calling me that and I thought it was a good fit with my way of writing, and bringing my beliefs into the music, so I ended up adopting it.

What was it like for you, growing up in Switzerland after moving to Martiny, in Valais, from Ivory Coast?

My arrival in Switzerland had a big impact on me. I discovered that I was different, that I had a skin color, and that I had an accent. There were a lot of difficult moments that finally forged the person and the artist I am today, and also pushed me to write. Everything made me want to understand the world around me, to write what I felt. I discovered my passion for rap and the music scene in Switzerland, and it changed my life forever. Switzerland thus paved the way for my first experiences and many more to come, I hope.

You say that the power of words changed your life because it gave you new ways of describing reality and talking about injustice. Was there a specific turning point when you discovered that power, or was it more of a process?

It was a process with multiple phases for me. First, when I was really very young, I started dancing. I was very passionate about this art and so I practiced many types of dance including hip-hop, which was really my favorite. First, because I really liked this music, but also because I recognized myself in this culture. It was only a few years later until the ultimate step in the process, when I decided to put my rhymes on my favorite rap songs.

© Nadia Tarra

Not only did you win an international freestyle contest in New York in 2012, but you were also the first Swiss, first female, and youngest ever contestant to win that competition. Tell us a bit about your thoughts and feelings in the days following that amazing achievement.

The days following my victory were indeed very special for me. I didn’t realize it fully until I flew back to Switzerland. Finally alone with myself, I looked back on my life from Ivory Coast to that very moment and it really moved me. I knew that my life was going to change and it scared me, but I was also very happy to have had the chance to get there.

Did American rap inspire you? Who are some of your biggest music influences?

Of course, undoubtedly. I’ve always listened to the vast majority of American rap since the 90s. As a teenager, I discovered the Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan and later Missy Elliott, Foxy Brown and many others, I fell in love with the genre and am still in love with it today.

How did you feel when you stepped on stage for this international contest in 2012, which was also your first performance in the United States?

I was proud to have the chance to share my rap in French in the country where everything was born. It was a very emotional, and a moment I will never forget.

© Nadia Tarra

In 2014, you starred in “Brooklyn,” a movie directed by Pascal Tessaud that tells the story of a young Swiss rapper who leaves Switzerland and goes to Paris to try her hand at hip-hop music. Does that portrait have autobiographical elements? How did acting influence your music and performance in the years that followed?

There are no autobiographical aspects in the film, but the documentary aesthetic of the film is totally intentional on the part of Pascal Tessaud. Indeed, most of the actors in the film had never acted before, but were all excellent freestylers, slammers, or poets. So we had very precise sequences for each scene, although all the dialogues were improvised. It was a magical experience: I discovered cinema, and I loved it. I was lucky enough to be able to act in other films afterward.

I’ve always loved cinema, especially post-apocalyptic worlds. Acting in movies allowed me to have a more global look at the visual identity of my music and my character as a rapper. I like to transport the audience into another universe through my videos, but also during stage shows.

Last year, during a difficult period for the cultural scene in general and one in which musicians struggled to stay close to their audience, you launched «Biggest Female Allstars Cypher.» The project brought together female rappers from all over the world and was also guided by suggestions from your Instagram followers. Have your artistic projects always been based on collaboration with other artists and with your audience, or was 2020 a turning point in that regard?

I had already done a collaborative project with other artists and with the audience, but it was never as big, with that many people at the same time. With the lockdown, everybody was able to collaborate at the same time, so I thought it was the best moment to connect everybody around a positive project to spread love but also share a message of equality and diversity.

Did you take up anything new during the pandemic? What have been some of your biggest takeaways or lessons learned during this period so far?

I’ve been working a lot since last year and have materials to build a new project. So I hope I can announce some good news and music very soon!

Check out KT Gorique’s amazing work on Soundcloud and Instagram!

© Nadia Tarra

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