Carlos Dafé: Explains “How Military Dictatorship Shut Down Soul Music”
Note from BW of Brazil: When I first discovered there was a period of Brazilian music in which artists were either directly creating their own style of American Soul music or mixing it with elements of Brazilian rhythms, I had to know more. Through my yearly visits to Brazil and then through one of my favorite records stores specializing in Jazz, Soul, Brazilian and World Music, Dusty Groove in Chicago, Illinois, I was becoming obsessed with finding all of the Brazilian Soul, Samba-Rock and Samba Soul that I could find.
After coming across some incredible artists in that first decade of my foray in Brazilian music, it seemed that I had already reached the bottom of the well. In reality, I had already come across this bottom of the well when I was searching for black Brazilian artists outside of the purely samba genre. If you search for samba singers and groups in Brazil, it seems that there is a never ending river of sambistas (samba musicians). And don’t get me wrong, I like samba up to a certain point, it just tends to get very monotonous at a certain point. Which is why it was so exciting to discover artists who were doing some more experimental work.
If you’re a person who likes 70s style R&B/Funk/Jazz grooves of the Earth, Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang variety (count me in), you will absolutely LOVE a group like Banda Black Rio, that was on that same vibe, but with a samba element at its root. The artist that I am featuring today comes out of that whole mid to late 70s black Brazilian music vibe. In fact, singer/musician Carlos Dafé was actually backed in the studio by the musicians of Banda Black Rio, which explains why they seemed to have a similar sound featuring heavy bass lines, bright horn arrangements and funky guitar riffs.
But back to my original point.
Digging through the crates of various sebos (used book/albums stores), I came across maybe somewhere between, I’d say, 25-40 artists, both black and white, who fit into the Soul, Samba-Rock, Samba Soul sound of that era. But then it seemed that after about, maybe 1980, these musicians and bands just kind of disappeared. Some blame it on the rise of the disco but it just seems that it was more to it than that. I’ve already documented how Brazilian authorities of the time feared the rise of a militant black movement rising in the country’s poor black and brown communities and as it turns out, that is a major part of the reason it all ended so abruptly. Carlos Dafé was there. In the piece below, he explains how 40-45 years ago, Brazil’s music industry was dominated, as it is today, by artists with a more European appearance.
Carlos Dafé, black soul against the military dictatorship and racism
By Simone Freire
Carlos Dafé, alongside artists like Luiz Melodia, Tim Maia, Cartola, Wilson Simonal, among others, shared the time and space of being a black musician in Brazil in the 1970s
The nickname “Príncipe do Soul” (prince of Soul) isn’t by chance. José Carlos de Souza, Carlos Dafé, is a composer, instrumentalist, producer, singer, among many other attributes that made him one of the greatest musicians in the country. Carlos Dafé, alongside artists like Luiz Melodia, Tim Maia, Cartola, Wilson Simonal, among others, shared the time and space of being a black musician in Brazil in the 1970s.
For those who have not followed the effervescent years of the peak of Black and Soul Music in the country, specifically the younger ones, could not witness the, say, revolution that the so-called Black Rio movement brought to Brazilian bars, dances, radio and TV – and also to the world.
“We took all these influences and mixed them together to make our music. In soul music we take samba, ballads, Blues, Jazz, Bossa Nova. […] Our movement was long-lasting and intellectual,” says Dafé.
Born in the suburb of Vila Isabel, in Rio de Janeiro, on October 25, 1947, Dafé comes from a family that encourages musicality. He started studying music as a child and established himself as a multi instrumentalist.
A member of the group Senzala, a seed of the legendary Banda Black Rio band, the singer also spent time with the band Fuzi 9, of the Corpo de Fuzileiros Naval, with which he toured nationally and internationally, and released an LP in 1970. He also worked for the band Abolição before playing in the band of Brazil’s number one Soulman, Tim Maia, and being contracted by WEA, a record company then newly installed in Brazil.
In 1977, the solo album, Pra que vou recordar, was released and he saw a transformation in his career. With the same name as the album, the main song of the album is the theme of TV Globo’s soap opera Dona Xepa, which was centered on the routine of a vendor who struggled to give a good education to her children.
“There was a launch at the Olaria club [Rio de Janeiro], I was booed when I sang a ‘new bossa’. It was Bossa Nova, but in the mold of Soul. The song became the theme of the soap opera Dona Xepa and about 15 to 20 days later, at Palmeiras [São Paulo], when I sang this song, the audience went crazy because it was already in the soap opera and they were understanding what was going on,” he recalls.
But the rise of the career was accompanied by a lot of resistance. Black, from the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Dafé and the many companions of music that he always makes a point of mentioning in each story he tells, had to subvert one of the most censored periods in the country: the military dictatorship. “They [the military] was scared because they saw the movement of black people en masse, everyone colorful, dressed differently,” says Dafé.
At the same time that the movement grew, it dominated dances and radio, the musicians of the movement were hostages of State policies. “It was crazy. Wherever there was a certain group of blacks, the police came and told them to get up against the wall, hands up. Nobody wanted to know if we were citizens,” he says.
He recalls how the Brazilian musical movement was beginning to be influenced by the fight for civil rights in the USA from audiovisual productions and from what they heard from the news reports. He also remembers some of the references he had at the time, such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. “The military saw our movement growing and ordered a break, they called Warner [record company]. It arrived at the headquarters [USA] and it stopped our movement,” he says.
According to him, the Warner label would have taken a scare at the potential of the black musician in the country. Investments until then were almost exclusively for white artists of the time. “Suddenly black people took over,” he says. “The people of Bossa Nova, from the south, were elitist. But even so they had to put up with us because we entered the stages, the spaces and ended up showing our balance, we mixed everything. As with American music, we did alchemy,”recalls the musician.
But the recognition and treatment, until today, according to him, is different. “We never get what we sell. Since last year I have been with a group of lawyers questioning Warner in court to find out why I never received a gold record,” he says.
Dafé makes a point of praising every type of musician and sees no difference in talent due to color. But he realizes, as before, that the racial profile still dictates the opportunities. “We have overcrowded shows, but when it’s time to play (the music) on the radio, what plays is the white man’s music,” he says.
For him, before, the radio was more democratic and it was possible to listen to music from all corners. But today, if it depended on the radio, he says, Soul would be obsolete in Brazil. He recalls one of the trips he made to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where he learned of a radio station that only played Brazilian music and artists that, most likely, according to him, we will never hear in Brazil again because the archive was destroyed.
About 50 years later, even with greater independence from radio on the Internet, the situation of the black artist has changed little. “If you’re going to see it right, to this day we suffer with the little profile in the media. The guys are afraid to allow blacks, even more so those with quality, for their political, existential, continuity message. What they let appear are futile messages,” he says.
An eclectic artist, Dafé has played several styles of music: chorinho, tango, Latin music, among others. Saluting what would be a “new generation” of black/soul musicians like Bid Bambas & Biritas, Coletivo Instituto, Black Mantra, Aláfia, Expresso Mantiqueira, among others, he says that it is always necessary to follow the movements that music makes over the years.
Funk is an example. Before, although they have the same name, the so-called funk was completely different from what we know today. “We always have to have an antenna on. Don’t keep talking bad about the things, about the movements. We don’t like everything, but we have to be attentive,” he says. For him, today’s funk has improved a lot.
On a tour celebrating 50 years of the Black Rio movement, about what the public or the world needs to know about Carlos Dafé, he is categorical: “I love, love, love the human being! It doesn’t matter the color, the origin, the sex. I’m a grandfather, I don’t use drugs, I don’t drink, I’m not against anything or anyone, but I had to take a position in relation to the example that we are setting for the new generation,” he reflects.
Source: Alma Preta