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Selina Carrera: Setting Fire To The Rain.

August 23, 2012

Text by Sofiya Ballin. Image by G.W. Miller III.

Selina Carrera enters her apartment slightly breathless, bringing not only the flurry of her day with her but rain from outside. She apologizes for being a bit late. Her copper curls bounce as she walks down to the basement that was once a makeshift studio.

“Today was a bit crazy,” she explains. “I got back from New York at 6 a.m. this morning.”

After attending a writing session with producer G*Lee and contributing vocals to Lee’s collaborative project with !LLMIND, Carrera made her way back to Philly.

“I came back for my older cousin’s birthday,” she says. “She does a lot for my grandmother, who I’m really close to. I wanted to make sure I got out there.”

The Philadelphia-born and -raised songbird then meets up with her bass player to go over a song she wrote for the “Let it Bump” festival.

“I happened to come out of a dream singing this melody and these lyrics,” she explains. “I had my phone right next to me so I recorded it and when I woke up I finished it.”

Carrera’s freestyle spirit is one of the traits that makes her a fixture not only in the Philadelphia music sphere but also the poetry scene.

“Art shouldn’t be pressured,” she says. “Music is the universal language, so when it speaks to you, you’re just a vessel for whatever is trying to communicate.”

Carrera was exposed to music at a very early age. Her father is a Latin percussionist and DJ. He introduced her to Brazilian music. Carrera grew up with people playing congas in her basement. Her mother is a dancer. Her brothers introduced her to Wu-Tang. She developed an eclectic ear and a strong voice.

“It was always apparent that I could sing,” she says. “My mom has photos of me grabbing the microphone when I was six or seven.”

Lauryn Hill’s album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill inspired and influenced Carrera.

“She’s just so soulful, her voice, her rhythm patterns” she says. “She made her pain so pop.”

Carrera attended the Girard Academic Music Program but it wasn’t a great experience.

“I was one of the kids who got picked on a lot,” she remembers. “I was one of the only mixed kids in the whole school. With the Italians, I wasn’t Italian enough. With the Puerto Ricans, I wasn’t Puerto Rican enough.”

Carrera felt more at home after transferring to the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).

“It was so diverse – kids from all over the city who were in love with music and in love with the arts,” she says.

It was in the soundproof rooms at CAPA that Carrera found her voice.

“I was going through a lot of growing pains,” Carrera says. “I would get it out by talking with my best friend, freestyle singing all these songs. I didn’t have any outlet for that emotion, which is when I started writing massive poetry. I have stacks of books of poems and songs.”

Carrera signed with Sony at age 20, working as a songwriter for Monarch Music group, as well as becoming a member of AxiXs, a group created by The Fugees’ Pras Michel.

“I got to see the world,” Carrera says. “I’ll always love and respect Pras for giving me that opportunity.”

The songstress has no regrets and gushes about performing with Diddy in the Ukraine and watching the rain in Johannesburg.

“I saw a cloud this thin,” she says, raising her hand and forming the tiniest pinch. “Rain was falling underneath it and it just kept going.”

Carrera then found herself coming full circle when she auditioned in front of Lauryn Hill to become her backup singer.

“It was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” she says. “I was so humbled, but still I felt validated at the same time. She would communicate through her manager that she was very fond of me and my energy and my style. One time she called the engineer to ask my opinion on how I felt the rehearsal was coming along. I felt really honored.”

Carrera walks out to her car, which she says has a good sound system. She wants to play some of her new music from her upcoming album, which will be her first official solo release. The night air is still wet but it’s finally stopped raining.

“I’ve been getting into a really good writing space,” she says as she plugs in her iPod. “In the midst of going through changes of life, it’s kind of hard to write because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Now that I’m kind of grown, I’m separated from that form of self and I can look back.”

The first track plays. It’s slow, calm and turbulent all at once. It starts to rain again and Carrera’s voice matches the backdrop.

“It’s called ‘Fuck What They Say,’” she explains. “It’s about being in a relationship that everybody else is against.”

She plays “Move” next.

“This is for when you don’t want to think about anything and just dance,” she offers.

Then, “Come Closer,” her personal favorite, clicks in. She moves her fingers like a conductor directing the beat.

“It’s very progressive, experimental,” she says.

After doing nearly 50 features for other artists, solidifying her name as one of the leading ladies in the Philadelphia music scene, this album is for Carrera by Carrera.

“This is the first time I’ve had complete creative control,” she says as the rain beats down faster. “It just feels right.”

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