Black Rio – A Cultural Revolution That Instilled a Fear of Black People
Note from BW of Brazil: The history of the 1970s Bailes Black (black dances) is one of my favorite periods in my ongoing investigation of the Afro-Brazilian experience. For enthusiasts of the African Diaspora, the image and story of black Brazilians “gettin’ down” and connecting to black American Soul and Funk music, the dances, the clothes and afros and even the persecution of the era is a gold mine of black history.
For me, it is also one of the most important periods in Afro-Brazilian history as it was an era when the black population was beginning to shake off the mental shackles of years of Brazilian endoctrination that convinced many of them that racism didn’t exist in Brazil, that Brazilians were all equal and that the nation only had one people: the Brazilian people. While it is true that the nation is made up of the Brazilian people, it is also true that they have never been all been treated equally, a point that I have hammered home for nearly nine years now.
My first experience with the era of the 1970s, black music and dances in Brazil actually came courtesy of the film Cidade de Deus when the producers of that film re-enacted scenes of what 1970s bailes blacks looked like. The other treat for me was discovering a treasure chest of Brazilian made black music, Soul-inflected Samba, Samba-Rock, suingue and balanço. The downside of the whole thing is discovering that, in terms of the music, Brazil’s music industry pulled the carpet from underneath the movement before it could really hit a stride. By the late 70s, the groups that were producing their own interpretations of American Soul/Funk were no more as the disco era moved in and began to take their place.
The other thing that is worthy of its own documentary was how Brazil’s Military Dictatorship of the time was petrified of the rise of any charismatic black leader that would awaken the black population and create a black power movement in the tropics of South America. The stories of interrogation, forced exile, physical and psychological torture on the part of the government’s own FBI/Cointelpro styled agency, the Departamento de Ordem Política e Social (DOPS) or the Department of Political and Social Order are as shocking as any stories you’ve read about the lengths governments go to maintain their power and authority.
From the late 18th/early 19th century Haitian Revolution, to African independence movements, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, Brazilian leaders seemed to be obsessed with not allowing the influence of black leaders and groups in the Diaspora to stimulate a threat to the social order from their own descendants of enslaved Africans. And today, as more and more black Brazilians begin to politicize many aspects of their reality, we once again see a connection with their African-American “cousins” as they realize that we really are all in the same boat.
In their struggles and demands for respect for their lives, the black population has yet to become violent but with the ongoing genocide committed against thousands of Afro-Brazilians year after year, the black population could be a powder keg waiting to explode. As such, maybe Brazil’s leaders DO have a legitimate reason to fear its black population. It was true in the 1970s and I would argue that it is still true today.
Black Rio – The Brazilian dictatorship and the fear of the black people
Members of the repression investigated the black dances using the term “black power”.
By Andressa Vasconcelos
Who’s afraid of black people?
In 1970, a movement began that quickly took over the suburb of Rio de Janeiro. A movement exported here, which became known as Movimento Black Rio, which, with the explosion of Soul and the absence of internet to listen to the songs played at the time, quickly gained adherents throughout the suburb of Rio.
However, in that same decade, the Brazilian dictatorship was in full swing, mainly because, two years earlier, institutional act number five, known today as AI-5, had been declared. AI-5 was also known as the toughest institutional act during the entire Brazilian dictatorship.
The explosion of Soul in Brazil and abroad, gave a different context to the experience of blacks in the suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Empowerment already vivid in other countries, so it was exported here, where until then the fallacy of racial democracy was sovereign over any fact or proof of racism alive in Brazilian lands.
In 1976, the Black Rio Movement took over the media and on July 17, Jornal do Brasil published an article about the movement that then took over the suburbs of Rio, dragging crowds of young black people to empowerment and, mainly, to their first contact with empowerment, mainly aesthetic. The article was then responsible for naming the then unnamed movement and thus the Black Rio Movement was born.
Thanks to the great attention of the Carioca population towards the Black Rio Movement and the attention of the Brazilian media, the persecution of the movement began.
According to the newspaper O Globo, The State Commission for the Truth of Rio (CEV-RJ) found documents of the repression that stated that “an American revolutionary would be in Brazil recruiting militants to implement a regime of racial segregation in the country.”
Dom Filó, creator of the Soul Grand Prix, a team that came very close to the American Black Power movement, came to be appointed as a potential leader of a black revolt.
Dom Filó was a very politicized and charismatic guy. At that time, 80% of blacks didn’t have a political opinion. When they saw that bunch of negão (blacks) dancing together, with those clothes and hair, the military realized that if a leader is born there in the middle, he would give a big problem to the government. That’s when they started persecuting the blacks.
The persecution took away the force of the movement. The best musical moment for humanity is black music from the late 60s to the early 80s,” says DJ Marlboro. “It’s just like futebol (soccer/football) from Pelé and Garrincha’s time. Unfortunately, there was an interruption in the development of Brazilian black music, due to the dictatorship. But we have Tim Maia and so many other incredible talents,” explained DJ Marlboro to Pedro Schprejer.
In 1978, a report by the Federal Police of Rio Grande do Sul, recommended the use of the Lei de Segurança Nacional (National Security Law) against “subversive attempts to exploit racial antagonisms”.
Analyzing the racial perspective of repression is a curious matter. Antônio Viçosa, chief of the civil police, sent a letter to the director of the Departamento Geral de Investigações Especiais (General Department of Special Investigations), after the article about the Bailes Black (Black Dances) in the Jornal do Brasil, in 1976. Viçosa had written:
“In our country, there has always been harmony among Brazilians, regardless of race or religion. Miscegenation – white, black, Indian – according to Gilberto Freyre in (the book) Casa Grande e Senzala, is a privilege ”
Seeing the extinction of what they believed to be a racial democracy threatened and refusing to listen to the side of those who suffered the most with the concealment of racial facts experienced in Brazil at the time, the dictatorship then began, in the face of a regime of silence and death, to persecute blacks who were having their first contacts with cultura negra (black culture).
In 1970, the National Information Service put together a dossier entitled “Black Racism in Brazil”, with information exchanged by law enforcement agencies, in addition to materials, pamphlets and all kinds of promotional material about the black dances in Rio de Janeiro. It is then possible to realize that it was believed that in Brazil there was no racism, so fighting against this oppression was a form of racism against whites. It is also possible to see that the repression believed that the “international communist movement” was infiltrating the country through the black militancy that was established in the country with the growth of the Bailes Black.
In addition, a black empowerment was born inside bailes black, never seen before in Brazil, and from there emerged great leaders of the resistance of the time. Constructions made collectively, at that time, can still be contemplated today.
According to the newspaper O Globo, a February 1975 report, sent by the I Army to the media, warned that: “a group of young black men of above average intellectual level, with intentions of creating a climate of racial struggle in Brazil”. And it mentioned that, supposedly, one of the group’s goals was: “Kidnap children of white industrialists; create a neighborhood only for blacks; create an environment of aversion to whites.”
In 1976, Dom Filó, creator of the Soul Grand Prix, was kidnapped, taken to DOI-CODI and placed under psychological torture. José Fernandes, a regular at the bailes black and a resident of the famous Rocinha favela, was tortured for a week in a barracks on Avenida Brasil.
In a testimony to CEV-RJ, the ex-president of the Instituto de Pesquisa das Culturas Negras (Black Cultures Research Institute), Januário Garcia, spoke about why the dances were persecuted by repression:
But what happened at the dance? What drew the attention of the forces of repression? It’s just that the dance was going down, but it was really going down, the dance was at the greatest momentum, when it was at the greatest momentum, everything stopped. Everything stopped, the music stopped, everything stopped. A negão (black man) would go up, take the microphone and make the greatest speech against racism, against dictatorship, against repression, you know? And then everyone stopped at the dance and everyone watched. And then it started all over again. So, we stopped the dance three, four times to do this, do you understand? And it was scary because the kids were getting it, getting it, you know.
It is important to analyze, racially, historical facts in the Brazilian context. Oppressed groups suffered reprisals beyond the South Zone and white university students who fought against the dictatorship. The bailes black, for example, suffered repression without even having the intention to fight against the state regime. They suffered repression for being black, proud of their color and dancing excitedly. In other words, the dictatorship was afraid of blacks, not because they were great revolutionaries, but because of what they could become. O medo da pele preta (The fear of black skin) is historically known. But one question fills our heads: Who is afraid of black people?
CONGRESSO EM FOCO. Na ditadura, militares perseguiram até bailes black no Brasil. Available at: <https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/especial/noticias/na-ditadura-militares-perseguiram-ate-bailes-black-no-brasil/>
O GLOBO. Ditadura perseguiu até bailes black no Rio de Janeiro. Available at
HISTÓRIA DA DITADURA. Dançando sob a mira do DOPS: Bailes Soul, racismo e ditadura nos subúrbios cariocas nos anos 1970. Available at:
ACERVO CEV-RIO. Testimony of Januário Garcia Filho collected by the Comissão da Verdade do Rio on 05/22/2015