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Brazil under Bolsonaro : how is the music sector reacting ?

Since Jair Bol­so­na­ro became pre­sident of Bra­zil in Janua­ry 2019, culture, alrea­dy affec­ted by a long-stan­ding eco­no­mic cri­sis, has paid a hea­vy price. Clip­ping the wings of the Minis­try of Culture, sla­shing sub­si­dies, cut­ting bud­gets and sabo­ta­ging the Roua­net Law, which made cor­po­rate cultu­ral fun­ding tax-exempt, are the key mea­sures intro­du­ced by his govern­ment. Dee­ply impac­ted by this scor­ched earth poli­cy, how has music reacted ? 

Under the mili­ta­ry dic­ta­tor­ship (1964–1985), MPB (Bra­zi­lian pop music) was a wea­pon of resis­tance and those who wiel­ded it best (Chi­co Buarque, Cae­ta­no Velo­so and Gil­ber­to Gil, to name but a few) are now taking a stand against the powers that be as citi­zens, but are no lon­ger devo­ting their art to it. “They gave a lot in their time, it’s now up to the young people to take over”, says Chi­co César, in his 50s, who is trying to unite an oppo­si­tion move­ment among musicians.



But the times are not in step. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly pro­gres­sive, the MPB com­mu­ni­ty today mir­rors the left-wing par­ties whose various fac­tions are unable to come toge­ther. Acauam de Oli­vei­ra, who has a PhD on rap, explains : “While under the dic­ta­tor­ship tele­vi­sion gave visi­bi­li­ty to artists and allo­wed ideas to cir­cu­late des­pite cen­sor­ship, nowa­days music is broad­cast through social media. Musi­cians are losing their impor­tance to You­Tu­bers, who are now influen­cers. And para­doxi­cal­ly they’re pro-Bol­so­na­ro. It’s not just them : the “forró safa­do” (forró pig) scene in the Nor­deste and “músi­ca ser­ta­ne­ja” (Bra­zi­lian coun­try music) in the south east and cen­tral west also sup­port the president.”

And yet”, Acauam de Oli­vei­ra adds : “the music indus­try is more com­mit­ted than ever. But not where you’d expect it to be. Des­pite the no holds bar­red cri­ti­cism aimed at Bol­so­na­ro during Car­ni­val by the sam­ba schools, hea­vi­ly pena­li­sed by the cuts in sub­si­dies, the pro­tests aren’t tar­ge­ted at the pre­sident or the poli­ti­cal regime, but at spe­ci­fic social pro­blems : racism, sexism, pover­ty, unem­ploy­ment, homo­pho­bia, vio­lence, eco­lo­gy… The struggle is prag­ma­tic rather than ideo­lo­gi­cal”. So, the pro­tests have chan­ged regis­ter. As well as sides. 

In the 1970s, pro­test music came from middle-class uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents, who were undoub­ted­ly har­sh­ly per­se­cu­ted by cen­sor­ship, but did not suf­fer from the socie­tal pro­blems they denoun­ced – racism, machis­mo, pover­ty, capi­ta­lism, conser­va­ti­vism… These young acti­vists were spea­king on behalf of the vic­tims. Since the 1980s, it is the vic­tims who have been spea­king. From wor­king-class back­grounds, they refo­cus the debate at the level of their own expe­rience, spea­king in no appa­rent order on dif­ferent fronts and each accor­ding to their own temperament. 



Things are angry in the outs­kirts of São Pau­lo – the equi­va­lent of Paris’s ban­lieue – where the rebel­lious, serious, bru­tal and impe­tuous rap spea­rhea­ded by Emci­da denounces racism, vio­lence and mise­ry, in short, dai­ly life in the “neigh­bou­rhoods”.

There’s more laugh­ter in the black music scene in Bahia, which led a simi­lar fight in the joy­ful spi­rit of the 1970s, when the slo­gan “Black is beau­ti­ful” had awo­ken the black conscience. In the conti­nui­ty of Afro-Bra­zi­lian groups that emer­ged at the time, the youn­ger gene­ra­tion conti­nues to posi­ti­ve­ly impact black iden­ti­ty by figh­ting against the racism and mise­ry that affects their com­mu­ni­ty. The inter­fe­rence of femi­nism in this kind of music is a sign of the times. 



A gene­ral trend across a coun­try in which the struggle waged by women, joi­ned by the LGBTQI com­mu­ni­ty, repre­sen­ted in par­ti­cu­lar by the drag queen Pabl­lo Vit­tar, occu­pies an impor­tant place on the new music scene. Beyond the incre­dible 90-year-old sam­ba sin­ger Elza Soares, whose latest album Mul­her do Fim do Mun­do [Woman of the End of the World] holds the torch of femi­nism high, this is expres­sed power­ful­ly (and very vigo­rous­ly) in the funk that has taken the country’s major cities by storm. 



Tra­di­tio­nal­ly macho and plea­sure-see­king, it has been gra­dual­ly can­ni­ba­li­sed by girls who’ve made it a stan­dard bea­rer for both vin­dic­tive and hedo­nic femi­nism. With harsh words, pro­vo­ca­tive looks and sug­ges­tive dance rou­tines in which their but­tocks take the lead, the funk girls appro­priate the para­digms of sexist por­no­gra­phy to assert their right to take control of their bodies and claim their inde­pen­dence.  This so-cal­led “músi­ca de puta­ria” (whore music) is far from outs­tan­ding either in the qua­li­ty of its melo­dies or the refi­ne­ment of its lyrics, but it makes many girls aware of the serious­ness of the situa­tion in the coun­try and begins intro­du­cing “pro­tes­to” into their “puta­ria”. It may not improve the stan­dard of the lyrics, but the funk girls do shake up people’s thinking. 



But while there is sub­ver­sion, contes­ta­tion and demands in these areas of music, the pro­duc­tion is serious­ly lacking in crea­ti­vi­ty. And a lock­down that seems end­less to eve­ryone is not going to fix that. With the inter­net having reshuf­fled the cards and mul­ti­na­tio­nals being unable to nego­tiate the cri­sis, MPB is col­lap­sing while social net­works pro­pel rap, funk, coun­try and forró artists into the lime­light, crea­ting super­stars and the wealth that goes with it. “We were wor­ried the lock­down would ruin the mar­ket for music, but musi­cians on social media have ear­ned a huge amount of money”, says Alceu Valen­ça, a sur­vi­vor of the deci­ma­ted MPB, which, accor­ding to the music cri­tic Hugo Suck­man “is now only musi­cians sel­ling their ins­tru­ments, giving music les­sons remo­te­ly and plan­ning to retrain”



What is left then is what was there before Bol­so­na­ro, some­thing Bra­zi­lians will never for­get : a cen­tu­ry of music of unde­niable rich­ness that, in des­pe­ra­tion, musi­cians are trying to revive in concerts here, there and eve­ryw­here. Ima­gi­na­tions are no lon­ger used to write music, but to invent ways of sha­ring it. Actions that are not at all poli­tical, but allow them to sur­vive psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly. “In Bra­zil at the moment”, says Luiz Fer­nan­do Vian­na, “with a govern­ment that wants people to die, staying alive is an act of civil diso­be­dience”. Remem­be­ring that Bra­zi­lian music has resis­ted three dic­ta­tor­ships and plen­ty of incom­petent govern­ments, Hugo Suck­man reas­sures us that : “The music indus­try is dying, but not music”. That is immortal.

Thank you to : Acauam de Oli­vei­ra – Alceu Valen­ça – Chi­co César – Luiz Fer­nan­do Vian­na and Hugo Suck­man – Car­los San­dro­ni – Car­los Sion.


Dominique Dreyfus


Après avoir passé son enfance au Brésil (Recife) et son adolescence en Espagne (Madrid), elle s’installe à Paris pour y faire ses études supérieures. Agrégée de Portugais, docteur d’état en civilisation brésilienne (thèse : Musique miroir de la société brésilienne), elle enseignera à Université de Poitiers, à Paris III, et à Sciences Po Paris. 

Journaliste, elle collabore pendant plusieurs années au journal Libération, comme spécialiste de la musique brésilienne. Elle dirige la première édition française de Rolling Stone, écrit épisodiquement dans Télérama, la Vie Catholique, Le Nouvel Obs, Mouvement… 

A la radio, elle fait des chroniques sur la musique brésilienne pour l’émission Rock à l’œil sur Europe1 et anime à partir de 1987 l’émission « Brésil sur Scène » sur Radio Latina, dont elle prend la direction en 1992. 

A la télévision, elle réalise des reportages sur la musique brésilienne pour « Rapido » (Canal+) et dirige l’émission « La Sixième dimension » sur M6.

Depuis 1997, elle se consacre au documentaire. Auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur la musique brésilienne, dont la biographie officielle de Baden Powell. Elle a été commissaire générale de l’exposition « MPB – musique populaire brésilienne », à la Cité de la Musique et « Raizes da musica brasileira » à Rio de Janeiro, biographie de Baden Powell.

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