Photos by Alex Robaina (Produced by Struka y Jojotopia)
More and more it seems that the appeal of the larger than life, egocentric musician is fading in this city, and every artist that I’m lucky to meet is just as humbled by a simple compliment as the last. Miss Ampi Bardo aka Catnapp, manages to stand out amongst them. Down to earth, sweet, and at times a little shy, Catnapp is an absolute badass and yet totally approachable. Her lyrics are honest and her ambitions high. Boredom seems to be her only enemy in the game, and simultaneously her greatest motivator, but on the eve of her new album’s release it’s clear that Catnapp is far from feeling bored.
I met Ampi at her place in Belgrano and was greeted with not just a warm embrace but a warm apartment (this winter seems colder than most). Both of us were worried about arriving late, she was rushing to get home from work and I was trying my hardest not to make a bad impression, thankfully it all worked out.
I shed my outer layer of clothes as she prepared the tea. She admitted that she doesn’t like it, but was trying to do the responsible thing for her throat as she had a show the next night in Cordoba. I was indifferent but welcomed anything that came my way especially if it was warm. Kitchu, her cat (she obviously has one) checked me out while I tried desperately to pet her; she would eventually warm up to me after a little persuasion. We sat down, I got my stuff set up and we both dumped generous amounts of sugar and honey into our cups, mine with a cute penguin from Ushuaia, and hers, predictably, with a kitty.
An Olivos native, she stills finds a huge part of her life there. She’s a regular fixture at Garden Groove, and was actually headed over there right after our interview. To my surprise she has a job at IBM. I had imagined her working at some cool underground spot but she works a 9-5 (technically a 1-9) just like the rest of us.
They don’t care about her piercings or tattoos or her constantly changing hair style, her unconventional yet feminine Mohawk had just been touched up the day before. With that knowledge, her working at IBM didn’t seem so contradicting to her image as Catnapp, it seems like the ideal job: get out of the city for a little every day and have the funds to make your music.
At 23, Ampi has accomplished a lot and has the musical background to back up her persona. Starting out as a DJ working with mostly electronic music, minimal and house tech it was a trip to Bahrein on its infamous Tuesday (+160 Drum & Bass) night that changed everything. What resulted would be the catalyst for her progression into the realm of lyricism.
“It drives me insane to get bored, I have to try very hard to not get bored…I got bored of being behind the tables, I wanted to do something that was more interactive, I wanted to do something that was mine and not someone else’s track.” A lot of the decisions that Catnapp has made have been beneficial business wise, strategic almost. She pointed out that there are no live performance components with drum and bass, no singers or MCs, when DJing it’s just you behind your table. She offers something different, a live MC, a show and that has definitely contributed to her relative quick success and following. She recognizes that those moves (take out the “are”) help her marketability, but assures that strategy is not her motive, anyone in that game doesn’t last long.
So comes the natural question, why rap in English? Is it a marketing tactic? Or an emotional connection to a foreign language?
“There was never any question: it was always English.” The language comes easy to her, and I can attest to that; she speaks with absolute fluency. For her it’s the sound, English words are easier for her to work with, no accented words or complicated syllables, although she has hinted that something in Spanish might be in the works.
Writing in English isn’t an attempt to appeal to the United States, neither is it because she doesn’t identify with her Argentine community. She writes in English because that’s how she best expresses herself. That isn’t to say that she hasn’t considered the interest of her Spanish speaking fans, but she is conscious of not compromising her work for anyone but herself. She points out that it’s more than just the language, it’s the beat, the melody, the way that the words sound (even if you don’t understand them). “Son of Kick, I love all of their work but I don’t understand a single word they say.”
Most of her lyrics talk about relationships, notable in Tight, Telephone and Come Here. “When I write about a relationship it’s usually [one of] two types of songs, when I’m angry at someone or when I’m excited about someone,” she cites Slow Motion as an example, “I was so angry because they wouldn’t talk to me and I just wanted to be their friend.” When listened to carefully the lyrics are at first contradictory to Ampi’s tomboy image, although her gentle demeanor scales down her tough look. She’s not the prototype. The first time I met her at a house party in Almagro she was with a girl, although in no way does she limit herself. “I don’t know what I am, I am certainly not bi, not lesbian, or straight, that is what I am not” Hearing that, I began to see just as much femininity flow out of her as tomboy swag.
And in the end it’s that lack of trying to fit into a look, a sound, even a sexual preference, that makes her music so relatable. The entire album speaks to the typical ups and downs of relationships, but without ever compromising the tempo of the mood. You won’t find any ballads coming out of Catnapp, just an energetic intensity whether she is angry or elated, making for an explosive album.