Brazilian protest songs: “Peace without a voice is no peace but fear”
1I was born a year after the military coup in Brazil. The dictatorship that followed lasted from 1964 until 1985 - all my childhood and teenage years. But until I was 13 or 14 years old, 2I had no clue of what was going on in my country. I lived in a small town and my parents were not involved in politics. We listened to the radio, watched the news on TV and had a subscription to a national newspaper, but 3all the media were completely censored at that time. The fact that the newspaper was sometimes printed with a blank space or 4a cake recipe in the middle of the news never really caught my attention. It was always like that and I didn’t know any better.
I had my first glimpse of what it really meant to have a military government and what kind of things were going on through songs. There was a song that I liked a lot, “O bêbado e a equilibrista”, 6although the lyrics didn’t make much sense to me: “My Brazil… / that dreams of the return / of Henfil’s brother / and so many people that left / on rocket fins”. Henfil was a famous cartoonist, but who was his brother? Who were the people who left? What were they singing about? This was in 1979 and I was 13.
Thanks to this song by João Bosco and Aldir Blanc (sung by Elis Regina) and the questions I started to ask, I heard for the first time about all the artists, journalists and activists that had been persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and exiled. Many had disappeared or been killed by the military regime. This song became an anthem for the amnesty of political prisoners and activists in exile, which was announced later in that same year.
In fact, due to the extreme censorship during the period of military dictatorship in Brazil, songs were one of the few ways to send political messages. Despite the tight surveillance of the censors, they flourished, giving a voice to the resistance movement. Like “Para não dizer que não falei das flores”, by Geraldo Vandré, which was interpreted as a call for armed struggle.
Words and phrases with double meanings were used to escape censorship and persecution. The greatest master in this art was Chico Buarque de Holanda. 7His clever lyrics were often approved by the censors, who would only later realise what the songs were really about. But then, of course, it was too late. That was the case with “Apesar de você”, which was censored only after it had already become an anthem on the streets. 5At first sight, it appears to be a samba about a lover’s quarrel. Actually, it was a sharp critique of the authoritarian regime and an act of direct defiance aimed at the dictators.
With the advent of democracy and the new freedom of expression in the late 1980s, protest songs played less of a role in Brazil for a while, but in the 1990s they once again became a powerful channel to voice social discontent. One of bands active in this period was O Rappa, with the song “A paz que eu não quero”. The fight against social inequality, urban and police violence and racial discrimination are the most common themes. 8Nowadays, the lyrics are explicit and the messages are clear.
At first sight, it appears to be a samba about a lover’s quarrel. Actually, it was a sharpcritique of the authoritarian regime (ref. 5)
If the two sentences above are rewritten as one, the result is: