Brazil: Music and Politics

How to party when there is a climate of sadness? It was with this question in mind that I arrived at the festivities of Brazil Day, in London, on the 10th of September. What were we really celebrating in a moment when basic rights are been taken away from Brazilians by an illegitimate government? When crooks have taken over power through a fraudulent impeachment of a democratically elected president?

I felt my trepidation was justified as soon as I arrived in Trafalgar Square. In contrast with last year’s event, the atmosphere was not as laid-back. The whole area was surrounded by metal barriers and we had our bags searched before allowed in. There where security guards everywhere.
Brazil Day entrance of Guest Area
Setting the tone of those who are now in charge, this year’s Brazil Day in London had a “Guest Area” a stiff and intimidating bouncer at its entrance. It was assembled as a posh theatre boot in the highest part of the square. From below, we could have a glimpse of the champagne glasses. That was very different from the approachable Embassy’s marquee we had last year, where anyone and everyone could just pop in and chat with the staff. The party was for all, but not everyone felt invited in the same way. After years of observing a steady progress towards a more egalitarian country, it was upsetting watching the return of elitist practices.
Stage at Brazil Day 2016 London, Trafalgar Swuare
The schedule was still very good, but the artists seemed constrained. Were they on the stage waiting for the audience to say something? Or were we all there waiting for them to say something? I was informed by someone in the inside that the performers had to sign a contract with a clause prohibiting anything “political”. But how can anyone forbid a Brazilian musician from making a political statement when Brazilian music is all about politics? For a start, Samba, which is very much part of Brazilian identity,  is characterised by a style that defies rules through spontaneous melodies and cheeky, playful lyrics flowing through an upbeat attitude towards life’s hardships to pure political satire. As a reminder of the centenary of the first ever recorded Samba, DJ Limao played “Pelo Telefone” (Through The Telephone”) – a piece with lyrics that pokes fun of authorities suppressing gambling in the early century.
Forro Dancers
Brazil Day 2016 started with plenty of Forró, a genre from the Northeast of Brazil,  with Zeu Azevedo.  The accordionist, singer and songwriter has become one of the foremost exponents of the style outside Brazil.  The style is often looked down by those who see themselves above everything that is enjoyed by impoverished communities. One of the versions about the origin of the term gives credit to the English Railway Engineers of the Great Western Railway of Brazil in Recife. During the weekends they would throw events that were either for the Railway Personnel only or “For All”. As the term “For All” was passed from mouth to mouth, it became Forró. While dancers spin around graciously on the stage, against a background of a overcasted sky, people in the audience danced spontaneously, not caring a bit about the rain.
Audience enjoying ForroZeus Azevedo
In a climate of political resistance,  we couldn’t have a better choice than Capoeira. This martial art was developed by West Africans who were slaved and taken to Brazil. During their captivity, they disguised their practice with acrobatic movements that appeared to be a dance. This disguise was aimed at avoiding suspicion from the slave masters. Their aim was to equip themselves with skills that would help with fleeing and resisting any attempts of recapturing them. In 2014, Capoeira was granted the UNESCO’s special status of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”.
The singer and composer Aloisio Menezes, one of the most prominent promoters of Black Consciousness in Brazil, joined the stage with his strong voice and a varied repertoire that included songs from the Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion that is, once more, suffering persecution from the Christian fundamentalists who have embedded in the government to force the approval of regressive legislation.
Aloisio Menezes
Towards the end of his performance, Aloisio paid homage to Gilberto Gil, who was recovering in hospital, by singing “Andar com Fé” (Walking in Faith) . Gil, the Tropicalia musician and activist who was persecuted for opposing the Military Dictatorship from 1964-1984, was again being attacked by right-wing campaigners for opposing the impeachment and the formation of an unelected government. As Aloisio started singing the first verses of the song, the audience joined him enthusiastically.
Fora Temer
It wasn’t until the singer Tulipa entered the stage that the protests against the coup in Brazil started. “Fora Temer” (Get out Temer) – they shouted from the middle of the audience with banners and cards. A security guard approached the protesters and they argued for a while. According to the “Democracy for Brazil” and “Arts for Democracy”, they were thrown out from the event and some of their banners were confiscated. The group continued with the protests outside the area. The feeling was the one of the return of the darker days of censorship and political repression.

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