Fan reports episode of racism at concert of legendary musician Jorge Ben; at end of show, artist invited women onstage to dance, but production team only allowed white women
By Marques Travae
For people who don’t live in Brazil, but have read about it or even visited the country, some may wonder some to the effect of, “Brazilians seem so nice, how can racism exist in such a happy country?”
Well, a recent incident at a concert of famed singer/songwriter Jorge Ben that serves as a good example of how things work in Latin America’s largest, most populous nation. Ben was performing at a show on Saturday, August 4th, at the Concha Acústica do Teatro Castro Alves, in Salvador, Bahia. For readers who may be new to the blog, the northeastern state of Bahia and its capital city, Salvador, are recognized nationally as the center of cultura negra (black culture) in Brazil, with both representing areas that have the among the largest concentrations of Afro-Brazilians in the nation. And as the blackness of Salvador and Bahia is so prominent, the media is often accused of trying to whitewash the physical appearance of the majority of the city’s and state’s inhabitants.
On Saturday, toward the end of Ben’s show, as is customary for the artist, the singer called out to the audience to invite women on stage to dance during the performance of the song “Gostosa”, a term that when applied to women is generally translated as “hot” or “sexy”. No problem up to that point, right? Well, that’s actually when the controversy started.
You see, fans in the audience quickly began to question the fact that it seemed that only mulheres brancas, white women, were being invited onstage with the musician. According to the perceptions of many, there wasn’t a single black woman onstage with the singer. One woman that managed to get onstage to talk to the singer provoking Ben to stop the show and ask who had prohibited her and other black women from getting onstage with him.
Reacting to the accusation, Ben then called for another group of women to join him onstage but by then, the damage had already been done and when the woman attempted to speak into the microphone, the sound of the mic had been cut and she had to leave the stage.
Controversy over an apparent banning of black women having access to the stage recently marred a concert by Jorge Ben
The woman later explained what went down.
“The preta (black woman) that went up on stage was me, the producer (a white guy) chose the ‘mulheres brancas e gostosas’ (white and hot women) to get on stage at the end of the show, he passed over a lot of black manas pretas (black girls), including me. I requested a bracelet, and he, with a face of disdain, said: ‘You, no!’ When I saw, just the white ‘standard’ coming up on the stage, I went to talk to Jorge in front and he immediately stopped the show and explained that there were only had white girls, that’s when he started to call the other beautiful black women who were at the show,” said Jaqueline Sales.
Needless to say, in today’s world of things blowing up online due to the power of social media, the story caught fire almost immediately.
“The singer asks 9 women to come on stage to dance with him. The producer chooses 9 white women, 9 white women in a black majority city!”, wrote Júlia Freitas through her social network, revealing how security had basically made the decision to ban black women from access to the stage, with the women in turn uniting in protest a clear practice of racial exclusion.
“But that didn’t inhibit us, in the midst of choruses against racism and some of the most repressed boos, we went up on the stage. Black women in the blackest city of Brazil, occupying spaces. It may seem silly, but these daily microaggressions give shape to the institutionalized racism that we experience in this country,” the young woman wrote.
Jorge Ben seemed to have been caught off guard by the insistent as he revealed that, in his memory, he had inviting women on stage with him for about a decade and a half and nothing there was never any confusion over the type of women that ended up getting’ into the groove onstage with him.
The idea expressed by the artist may or may not be true. Who’s to say? Is it possible that it has happened, but he never noticed? Could it be the artist himself just let his production team choose the women they wanted to get onstage? Could it possible that the artist himself has directed his people to only allow women with “boa aparência” (literally “good appearance” but code for “white”) to boogie onstage with him and he is simply feigning surprise to save face? Could it be that the artist himself has no control over the women who have front line access? When we look at many videos by Brazilian funk artists, a genre of music that began in Brazil’s poor, majority black favelas (slums) we see a similar trend of mostly white women being featured in the videos of black as well as white artists. It’s hard to come to clear conclusions about what happened at that show but let us also not forget that the vast majority of black male, and a significant portion of black female singers in Brazil count white men or women as their significant others, so go figure.
In terms of Jorge Ben’s apparent surprise overt the incident, one fan wasn’t surprised that only “snow bunnies” were allowed on stage at the show. For her, what happened was “unacceptable, but unfortunately (it’s) a repeat of other times Jorge Ben was here!”
To conclude here, I must point out that such complaints and incidents are not rare coming out of a city and state known for its large black population and debts to cultura negra/africana. Remember back in March of 2017, fans called out popular singer Léo Santana for only featuring white women in one of his live performance music videos. In August of 2014, there was a huge controversy surrounding the state’s beauty contest in which Bahia’s representative for the annual Miss Brasil competition would be chosen and 75% of the contestants were white or at least something close to white. This in a state in which pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) make up more than 75% of the population. Then we have what many consider to be cultural appropriation and the prominence of white singers in Axé music, a sound of Afro-Bahian origins. Add this to the dominance of white artists receiving the spotlight and more lucrative endorsement deals and yearly accusations of blatant racial segregation among crowds participating in Salvador’s Carnaval and you can see that what went down at the Jorge Ben show was clearly not an isolated incident.
As such, it may be true that Bahia recognized by most as being a black state; but this doesn’t mean that the powers that be like this image.