It was back in early February at the very first Melodifestivalen qualifying round in Luleå in northern Sweden when Swingfly, a burly yet bouncy Brooklyn-born black man who immigrated to Sweden in 1991, shocked the country’s pop music establishment by cruising straight into the contest’s final round, set to take place on Saturday, March 12th in Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe arena.
Despite having made and performed music in Sweden for the past two decades, Swingfly, born Ricardo DaSilva, is hardly a household name in his adopted country, and especially not among aficionados of Melodifestivalen, which has traditionally featured more straightforward pop music acts.
“I want to help change the way people think about schlager,” Swingfly tells The Local, referring to the Swedish colloquialism for a pop music hit and which is often associated with the Melodifestivalen.
While he’s excited to be in the finals, Swingfly is quick to admit that for much of his career, the Melodifestivalen “really wasn’t my thing”.
“They asked me a couple of years ago, but I said no. It wasn’t really my thing. It wasn’t really the right time,” he explains.
But with a strong song in hand this year, Swingfly decided to give the contest a go, and after a rousing performance in Luleå he found himself headed to the finals where he is set to square off against nine other acts in a bid to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The song, “Me And My Drum”, was written by a team of American and Swedish songwriters, and features rapping by Swingfly laid over an upbeat drum track with splashes of electronica. The chorus is sung by Christoffer Hiding, a contestant on Swedish Idol in 2007.
Swingfly characterises the song’s music style as “wonky-pop”.
“It’s playful pop music with some rap mixed in,” he explains.
“It’s the kind of music that says let’s go out and party and have fun…that’s really my style.”
Swingfly’s path to the pinnacle of Swedish pop music started with what looked to be an ill-fated journey to Sweden back in 1991.
“I had trouble with gangs and people in the neighbourhood back home and my mother told me I had to get out of the house,” he recalls.
“My manager at the time said he knew people in Sweden and that I should check it out. I had a single to promote at the time so I got on a plane and came over.”
As it turned out, however, Swingfly’s manager wasn’t as well-connected as he led on, leaving Swingfly stuck in Stockholm with no concrete prospects for advancing his career.
Luckily, however, Swingfly met Swedish music producer Christian Falk at a Stockholm club and “things went from there”.
Nevertheless, the first few years were far from easy as he struggled to adjust to being a black immigrant in Sweden.
“At the beginning, I had a lot of problems with the racism in Sweden,” he recalls.
And while things have improved in the two decades since he first made Sweden home, he still is confronted with racism from time to time.
During Swingfly’s performance in Luleå, for example, the marketing director for a handball club in Lund in southern Sweden referred to the black American artist as “a bloated negro who can’t speak Swedish”.
While the man was fired a few days later, Swingfly has learned to take such incidents in his stride.
“I just try to let it fly over my head,” he says.
While at first sticking to more traditional hip hop, Swingfly’s style shifted after he began collaborating with the electro/dub/punk trio Teddybears, with whom he recorded “Hey Boy” in 2004 and which turned into the biggest hit of his career.
“I just want to have fun and move and scream and can’t really do that in a traditional hip hop song. This is a better way for me to express myself,” he says of his new musical style.
While he admits he has “nothing in common” with schlager stalwarts Carola and Charlotte Perrelli and laments that his Swedish language skills are “embarrassing”, Swingfly nevertheless feels he is a worthy ambassador for Swedish music in Europe.
“I very much represent Sweden, music made in Sweden. The music I make now is something created in Sweden with Swedish influences,” he says.
“There are a lot of great artists in Sweden and maybe, if I win, people will be able to hear a different side of the Swedish music scene.”
Swingfly’s adopted country also holds a special place in his heart.
“I really fell in love with Sweden – with the country and the people,” he says.
“I’m a peaceful person and Sweden is a peaceful place. I like that it’s low key and that I can go outside without worrying about getting shot.”
And following the birth of his son two years ago, Swingfly began to see the chain of events that brought him to Sweden in a whole new light.
“When my son was born, everything changed,” he explains
“I really feel now that he’s the reason I ended up here in Sweden. It’s like God brought me here or something. Every time I look at my son’s face, I realise that it what it’s all about.”
Swingfly also learned recently that one of his songs, “Something’s Got Me Started”, will be included in “Larry Crowne”, an upcoming film starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts set for release in July 2011.
And while his popularity is soaring following his maiden Melodifestivalen appearance, Swingfly knows that not everyone in Sweden is thrilled about the prospect of their country being represented by a hip hop infused dance track performed by a black American rapper.
“I’m a bit worried that the really hard core schlager fans might take it the wrong way and be really upset if I win,” he explains.
“I’ve received a lot of hate mail on my Facebook page from people saying I’m crap, using the N-word, stuff like that. But I don’t let it get to me.”
But Swingfly isn’t letting his critics slow him down heading into the Melodifestivalen finals, where he expects the competition to be tough.
“Everyone in the final is a problem. I mean, they all made it this far so they must be doing something right,” he says.
“I do really fear Danny though,” he adds, referring to the 2006 Swedish Idol finalist who came in third place in the 2009 Melodifestivalen as part of the Swedish boy band E.M.D.
“He’s got a pretty cool song. If anyone else were to win, I’d want it to be him.”
Still, Swingfly hopes he is the Swedish act who gets to book a ticket to Düsseldorf after Saturday’s final.
“I really want to win,” he said.
“But there will be a lot of pressure on me if I do.”
Check out Swingfly’s performance in Luleå below: