Charlotte Dos Santos

In 2020, Charlotte Dos Santos was in Oslo when life as we knew it ground to a halt. The Norwegian-Brazilian artist already had the makings of her debut album sketched out. Plenty of songs, crafted as she wrote her stunning 2020 EP Harvest Time, were nearly ready to go. But she ripped those up, and started afresh. In the stillness of isolation, padding around a brightly lit flat with her husband, she reformed the foundations of her debut album, Morfo, out in autumn 2022 on Because Music.


“Morfo started out as being called Metamorphosis”, she remembers, “and connected to a sense of transformation.” Fittingly, the album name mutated just as its contents did. “I wanted something where I could show my more playful, happy side, and I wanted people to dance,” Charlotte says, with a smile. If 2017 EP Cleo set out Charlotte’s kaleidoscopic talent as a singer, songwriter and producer, and Harvest Time took it to new chamber-pop heights, Morfo feels like a steadying, uplifting truth. Underpinned by an exploration of love, and sometimes the pain it can cause, this beautiful album harks back to Cleo’s pop sensibilities as well as Charlotte’s heritage. It swoops between staccato percussive elements, soaring strings and Charlotte’s signature acrobatic vocals. Jazz, pop, soul, funk, música popular brasileira – all find a home here. “Sonically, I wanted to pour rays on people,” she says, chuckling. “I wanted to have some kind of contact with people; to touch them in some way,” as though reaching through the fog of quarantine. Growing up with her Brazilian father and Norwegian mother, Charlotte imbibed music without the limitation of genre. Morfo harks back to that rich archive, casting a warm glow over universal themes from partnership and trust to betrayal. Even when her words are sharp, as on “Bye” or single “Hello Hello”, the timbre of Charlotte’s voice softens the blow. She also stands more boldly in the footprints walked by her Brazilian ancestors. The result is a body of work steeped in history – both personal and familial – yet timeless. Morfo didn’t always sound like this, though. By early 2020 Charlotte had wowed listeners with her two EPs. Both were critically acclaimed, picking up praise from The Fader, The Observer, Wonderland Magazine, Pitchfork, The Independent, Bandcamp and more. Cleo earned her a Newcomer of the Year nomination at the Norwegian Grammy Awards, while Harvest Time’s title track was playlisted at BBC 6Music and its single “Helio” added to numerous New Music Friday Spotify playlists. Then, her planned US tour was cancelled. She was propelled instead into a cocoon of writing and rewriting. This is in many ways a pandemic album, written from spring 2020 into 2021. Initially, “it was really hard” to focus, as each day narrowed to the boundaries of home. “I had to sit down and force myself to write and think of all the stories in my life. To carry those stories, bring them up and make new songs out of them,” she remembers. “It was interesting because I am a very emotional person – I think a lot, I cry a lot, I'm a whole bunch of emotions.” Shaping those feelings into her art saved Charlotte. She built single “Patience” around a looped drum sample, in June 2020. It was “one of those songs that just instantly came to me” she remembers, before breaking mid-sentence into singing the hook: the word patience, delivered four different ways in a lilting, insistent flow. The song blossoms from a stripped-down intro – strings, a flute, the groove of a bassline under a wash of synth pads – before that drum loop drops, boom-kat pattering along. It’s layer upon layer of vocals and instrumentation, ascending into the euphoria of a chorus about the calming sensation of a gentle love. At other points, tracks beckon you towards the dancefloor. Single “Away From You” floats over a syncopated, samba-like rhythm. Synths and strings create a wall of sound into which woodwinds flicker, like darting dragonflies, as Charlotte intones that she never wants to be alone, “or away from you.” She uses “Cupid’s Bow” to tell a dream-like story of giving in to love, after initially hesitating. Singing about the “butterflies in my body” and being struck by the titular cupid’s bow, she pulls from unexpected melodies plucked from the jazz tradition. On the process of writing, she’s full of energy as she reflects: “It's like having a garden. You plant the seeds and then you water it and they start to grow.” Part of that growth came from collaboration. Morfo sees Charlotte work more closely with other producers for the first time. She smiles, thinking of the renewed energy generated by producers Josh Crocker (Kali Uchis, Celeste) and his Ivor Novello-nominated Gotts Street Park bandmate Tom Henry (Mabel, Rosie Lowe). They worked together remotely – “I would stay home, write the song, do my vocals, send it”. This process added another meaning to the album’s metamorphosis concept: she learned, along the way, how to relinquish control; to be OK “with other people touching my project”. She evolved. Third single “Hello Hello” exemplifies this. Charlotte worked with Tom on the darkly soulful breakup jam, with its driving bassline and hints of Sade and Amy Winehouse. “It's a song about a toxic relationship; a person that you are trying to get rid of, trying to just not think about anymore,” Charlotte says. It marks the time right before she met her husband, she remembers. “The end of that chapter. And the song is a light way of talking about something that was horrendous at the time.” Ultimately, there are various levels to Morfo. There’s love, and as she explains, “most people know love, even if they haven't really actually fallen in love before”. There’s romance, the sensation of falling away from yourself and into the comfort of someone else. And there’s the subtlety of percussion and instrumentation that can transport you to another time or place. Charlotte interpolates Brazilian composer Edu Lobo’s “O Açoite Bateu” on “Filha De Sol” (daughter of the sun), a slice of acoustic guitar, strings and a harmonising chorus in Portuguese that explodes into a percussive frenzy in its final minute. It was a cathartic composition. “I remember almost crying after I'd finished making it, because it's a song for my father, but also my mother. It's a direct homage to Brazil and my lineage,” she says. The song that hers is based on has a title translating to “the whip is beating”, and a foreboding link to the stories of enslaved people. And so her version is “about overcoming; knowing that our pain won't last forever.” Beyond the sonics, the album title too connects to Brazil. Charlotte’s eyes light up as she mentions that the iridescent blue morpho butterfly, one of the largest in the world, is native to the Amazon forest. Just as a butterfly journeys from unassuming larva to an airborne marvel, Charlotte incubated this album before it could reveal itself fully to her. She elbowed aside the pressures to be productive for productivity’s sake during the pandemic’s height. And she trusted herself and her collaborators to share her most personal, exposing work to date. When it comes to songwriting, “I've always thought it has to be honest, and it has to be true. And I tried to take that, but also make it a little bit lighter. It doesn't have to be so sad, I realised”, especially in the depths of so much despair in COVID-19’s shadow. Rather, you can find your centre. “Take a breath; just do one thing at a time. Most importantly we have to be us. We have to do us. What's life if we can't do that?”