“Racist? But some of the richest singers in Brazil are black!!” Recent reports show how white artists are the most popular and best paid in Brazil’s music industry
In a recent post, I mentioned how sports and entertainment are two areas in which black Brazilians have a prominent presence. ‘Some of the highest paid, most well-loved and respected musicians and athletes are black’ is what you’ll hear from time to time when the discussion of black success in Brazil comes up. This idea seems to be an attempt to deflect away from the under-representation of black Brazilians in most other areas in society, particularly those of important or influence. I mean, sports and entertainment keep us, well, entertained, but these aren’t the people who will have the power to change the structure of the society. On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet that there aren’t any clearly black Brazilians on the recently released Forbes list of 200 Brazilian billionaires, for example. Now, these are some people with power and influence.
The point of the previous post was that while there are certainly some highly paid black Brazilian futebol stars (even without counting Ronaldo and Neymar, neither of whom define themselves as black), stardom on the field doesn’t necessarily lead to coaching positions or roles in the front office, as we have seen and will see in an upcoming article.
For now, let’s take a look at some very revealing information that tells us about which Brazilians singer/musicians are really gettin’ paid. Again, the belief is that black Brazilians make out very well in this industry. But how well do they do among Brazil’s most loved and best-selling artists? Let’s take a look.
One report from a few years ago ranked the country’s wealthiest singers and just considering the category, do you think there are any black artists among this top ten list that features earnings of artists over the course of their careers? I already know the answer but let’s take a peek.
Top 10 richest singers of Brazil
OK, here’s a spoiler alert for you. Media darling Xuxa Meneghel is the richest female singer in Brazil while Brazilian Popular Music legend Roberto Carlos is the richest male singer in the country. The results of this are already a bit deceiving in the fact that it places Xuxa at the top of the list. Number 1, Xuxa isn’t really a singer. Most of her money comes from the various TV shows she’s hosted, with most those shows them targeting children and teens. From those shows came a string of albums of Xuxa singing mostly kiddie songs. I mean, I don’t consider Xuxa to be a singer any more than I would someone like fitness guru Richard Simmons.
The fact that Xuxa is considered to be richest female singer in Brazil tells us something about its music industry. According to the numbers, Xuxa has earned over 1 billion reais, but again, I would imagine most of that money is due to her many years hosting kids’ variety shows on the Globo TV network and not her record sales, although these figures are impressive. According to various sources compiled in a Wikipedia article on the top-selling Brazilians artists and albums, four of Xuxa’s albums are ranked among the top 11 biggest selling Brazilian albums of all-time!
But again, a more respectable representation of a Brazilian singer would be the man who comes in second place as the highest paid singer, Roberto Carlos, who is considered “The King” of Brazilian music. According to the Wiki article, Carlos is the top-selling Brazilian singer with an estimated 140 million records sold in a career going back to the end of the 1950s. Carlos still earns a fortune from his performances today at the age of 76.
As we go down the list, we start seeing more artists from the genre that is considered Brazil’s Country Music, Sertaneja. I’ve already shared my feelings about Sertaneja so I won’t get into that, but nowadays, this genre dominates the music industry, which probably isn’t a problem for folks who like the style. I just happen to HATE IT. No hate on those who like it. To each his or her own, I’m just not feelin’ it.
A few years back, one of Brazilian Hip Hop’s most popular rappers, Emicida, voiced his opinion on this dominance. In his view, today radio stations and streaming outlets are dominated by Sertaneja artists.
“I find it contradictory that we have trailed a path with (artists such as) Jair Rodrigues, Elis (Regina), Tom (Jobim), Pixinguinha, Pena Branca and Xavantinho, Racionais (MCs), Caetano (Veloso), (Gilberto) Gil, Tom Zé… and, suddenly, there comes a time when the whole of Brazil is forced to listen and applaud a single genre,” he says.
My exact sentiments. Depending on how and where you roll in a city such as São Paulo, for example, you may escape the Sertaneja flavor, but not if you turn on the TV, the radio or go to music stores where the images of the artists are plastered everywhere. So, what should artists do to overcome what appears to be a Sertaneja monopoly?
“Press the mainstream, so that diversity exists within the FM universe and Brazilian art is known for plurality”, Emicida responded.
What Emicida is pointing out in his comments isn’t necessarily throwing shade at Sertaneja music as much as he’s exposing another genre in which Brazil doesn’t practice what it preaches. We are constantly sold this Brazil of diversity, but just like in the case of so many other genres, the highest selling music is dominated by a musical style that features almost exclusively white artists.
Make no mistake, Hip Hop and Música Preta Brasileira (Black Brazilian Music) is gaining its own slice of the MPB market, but it’s nowhere near the dominance of where you see the same genres in the US. According to reports, in 2017, Rap and R&B surpassed Rock as America’s top-selling genre for first time in history.
In my view, in terms of market share, Hip Hop and Música Black in Brazil today is somewhat similar to where it was in the mid-80s in the US. On São Paulo’s top radio stations, if you want hear Hip Hop or Música Preta, you still have to listen to certain stations at certain times of the day. Brazil may promote itself as an ethnically diverse country, but in terms of what it promotes in music, it’s about as diverse as most magazine covers. You find much more diversity of musical tastes in the very poor, mostly black neighborhoods that Brazil either ignores or sends its security forces on genocidal “war on drugs” missions.
Emicida also pointed this out:
“I think there’s a beautiful diversity on the street and we transfer that to music. I grew up in a neighborhood where the kids listened to grunge, reggae… We grew up in samba school rehearsals, in pagode groups. And then came the American music and we identified with it”, says Emicida. “I think it’s very honest that, within our music, there’s a great mix of everything that’s always been our universe.”
As we continue down the list of richest singers, you’ll see evidence of this lack of diversity. At number three of the “richest” list, we find Sertaneja duo Zézé di Camargo and Luciano who have earned over 200 millions reais. Coming in at number 4 is former Banda Eva singer Ivete Sangalo, whose successful career of CDs, DVDs, sold out performances and endorsements have brought her estimated earnings of over 180 million reais.
At number 5, we have another Sertaneja act, the long-time duo of Chitãozinho and Xororó, who are among the richest performers of the genre with estimated earnings of 120 million reais. At number 6 is singer Leonardo, who began his career forming the Sertaneja duo Leandro & Leonardo with brother Leandro. With Leandro’s death from a rare lung disease in 1998, Leonardo went solo on a career path that would earn him over 100 million reais.
At number 7 is Banda Calypso and even though this group hasn’t existed since breaking up in 2015, the band known for its mix of Calypso, Cúmbia, Carimbó, Zouk, Lambada and Merengue, rhythms, was one of the richest in Brazil, with an estimated earnings of over 70 million reais split between the band’s members, singer Joelma Mendes and guitarist/producer Cledivan Almeida Farias, better known as Chimbinha.
With more than 60 million reais of earnings, singer Daniel is another of the richest of Sertanejo singers in Brazil. Like Leonardo, he started out in a duo with the late João Paulo who died in a car accident in 1997. Daniel’s earning place him as number 8 on the list. At number 9 is singer Claudia Leitte, whose fortune as of 2015 was estimated somewhere in the ballpark of 30 million reais. Having become a media darling over the past decade, Leitte is often pointed to as another (off) white artist who makes a fortune off of Afro-Brazilian musical styles such as Axé. The accusation has also been made of the aforementioned Ivete Sangalo.
The youngest and last on the list, Luan Santana, yet another Sertaneja artist, has earned an estimated 30 million reais since his debut on the music scene in 2009. Again, keep in mind, as this report considers data from 2015, chances are his earnings have increased substantially since then.
This list considers the accumulative earnings of these artists over the course of their careers, but now let’s take a quick look at some of the data that considers only the most popular artists of recent years using some of the most popular online resources where people listen to music, YouTube, Spotify as well as a recent report from the music industry “bible”, Billboard magazine.
List of the 10 richest singers in Brazil
Position – Singers – Amount
1 Xuxa – 1 billion reais
2 Roberto Carlos – 500 million reais
3 Zezé di Camargo and Luciano – 200 million reais
4 Ivete Sangalo – 180 million reais
5 Chitãozinho and Xororó – 120 million reais
6 Leonardo – 100 million reais
7 Calypso Band – 70 million reais
8 Daniel – 60 million reais
9 Claudia Leitte – 30 million reais
10 Luan Santana – 30 million reais
According to data taken from YouTube, some Brazilian artists have managed to crack the top 100 list of the artists with the most views. This is quite an accomplishment considering that English is the dominate language in the world of music and very few Brazilian artists sing in English. Among YouTube’s Top 100 artists we find seven Brazilians on this select list. Artists such as Marília Mendonça, Henrique and Juliano, Zé Neto and Cristiano, Jorge and Mateus, Wesley Safadão, Anitta and Gusttavo Lima are some of those lucky artists. We know that that there are countries in which people are into Brazilian artists, as we recently saw in our list of top Brazilian female rappers heard outside of Brazil.
But the fact that Brazilian artists managed to make this list is actually quite astonishing considering that Brazil’s 210 million people are the base market of these artists, this against the billions of people in the global reach of artists that sing in English. Add this to the fact that the United States is still the world’s largest exporter of Pop culture in the form of film and music and you realize what an accomplishment this really is.
It should come as no surprise that there aren’t any artists that I’m really into on this list. I wonder why? Four of the artists are from the world of Sertaneja, one is classified as Electronic Forró, another plays Sertanejo and Forró and the seventh mixes elements of Pop, Funk Carioca and Reggaeton. The last description applies to Anitta who has a few songs that I’m familiar with.
Even not being a big fan, it’s almost impossible not to know a few of her of hits such as “Show das Poderosas”, “Vai Malandra” and “Você Partiu Meu Coração”, that she recorded with Nego do Borel and the aforementioned Wesley Safadão. The only song I can say I know by Wesley Safadão himself is the song “Porque Homem Não Chora”, that I know in the voice of singer Pablo. That song caught my attention a few years because it was one of those tunes that everyone was playing back in 2015. The second thing that caught my ear and later my eye was that I didn’t know that the singer of that song was actually a man! Check it for yourself here.
In terms of the list, at the top is Marília Mendonça, the 35th most listened to on YouTube with 6.6 billion views, with her most accessed song being “Infiel”, with 470 million views. To put her accomplishment into perspective, consider the fact that her total views place ahead of artists such as Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.
The brother duo of Henrique and Juliano, come is at number 50, with 5.8 billion clicks, with the song “Flor e Beija Flor”, a duet with Marília herself, being their most popular with 425 million clicks. The duo of Zé Neto and Cristiano also made the Top 100 list with 4.8 billion views. Their 2018 track “Jogado às Traças” is even bigger than songs by the previous two acts Marília Mendonça and Henrique and Juliano with more than 588 million views.
Jorge and Mateus come in at fourth place among Brazilians and 79th in the overall ranking with 4.2 billion views. Rounding out the list are Wesley Safadão with 4 billion video views placing him at 5th among Brazilians at 82 in the top 100, Anitta, no. 88 of the Top 100, with 3.8 billion views and Gusttavo Lima, coming in at no. 7 among Brazilians and 99 of the Top 100 with 3.6 billion song clicks.
If you’re keeping score of these lists, you’ll conclude that there are either no black artists or one, depending on how you classify Anitta. The funk lite singer has been the subject of several previous posts as black Brazilians grapple with the artist’s chameleon like looks. According to her critics, Anitta is “conveniently black”, meaning, when she’s in Brazil, she adapts looks and settings (darker tan, braids, curls and favela) that blacken her appearance, but when she’s doing her international thing, she whitens herself up. Whether you see Anitta as black or not, it’s revealing that the only artist that could possibly be considered black on the YouTube list goes through a series of racial gymnastics, perhaps precisely to reach national and international markets that may not be as easily accessible were she to market herself as unapologetically black.
Looking at a recent breakdown by the online music platform Spotify and we see yet another display of Brazil’s “dictatorship of whiteness”. Here’s a recent list of the “Most heard artists in Brazil”, the “Most heard songs in Brazil” and the “Most streamed albums in Brazil”.
Most heard artists in Brazil
Zé Neto & Cristiano
Jorge & Mateus
Matheus & Kauan
Most heard songs in Brazil
Jorge & Mateus – “Propaganda” (Ao Vivo)
Anitta, MC Zaac, Maejor, Tropkillaz, DJ Yuri Martins – “Vai Malandra”
Matheus & Kauan, Anitta – “Ao Vivo e A Cores”
MC Kevinho, Simone & Simaria – “Ta Tum Tum”
Gusttavo Lima – “Apelido Carinhoso”
Most streamed albums in Brazil
Zé Neto & Cristiano – “Esquece o Mundo Lá Fora (Ao Vivo) Deluxe”
Jorge & Mateus – “Terra Sem CEP (Ao Vivo)”
Matheus & Kauan “Intensamente Hoje!”
Henrique & Juliano – “O Céu Explica Tudo (Ao Vivo)”
Gustavo Mioto “Ao Vivo em São Paulo”
As we can see, Sertaneja artists also dominate the Spotify listings. This dominance isn’t just my opinion. A recent survey found that Sertaneja is Brazil’s most popular musical genre, followed by, MPB (Brazilian Popular Music), Rock, Gospel, Pagode and Pop music. In the 12 capital cities where the study was conducted, six (Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Curitiba, Manaus, Porto Alegre and São Paulo) counted Sertaneja as the most popular music. The accordion-driven Forró style was most popular in northeastern capitals such as Fortaleza, Recife and São Luís, while MPB reigned in Rio de Janeiro. Still not convinced that the big money is in Sertaneja? Well, also consider that in 2016, 89% of Brazil’s Top 50 on Spotify fall under this genre.
The latest Spotify list brings us a few other interesting details here though. The only artist bringing any amount of melanin to the list is, again, Anitta, and with her smash hit “Vai Maladro”, she also presents guest artists who are black, such as MC Zaac, Maejor, and DJ Yuri Martins. But in a way, this doesn’t really count. Without participation in Anitta’s release, these other artists wouldn’t be anywhere near this chart. On top of this, the rapper Maejor (Brandon Green) isn’t even Brazilian, hailing from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
In turn, Anitta expands her brand by appearing in the song “Ao Vivo e A Cores” with a top-selling Sertaneja act, Matheus & Kauan. We can say what we will about Anitta’s dubious racial politics, but in terms of marketing, she knows how to sell some records and with her dibbing and dabbing in Spanish and English lyrics, her international star will only continue to rise in coming years.
The other intriguing thing on the Spotify list is seeing the funk/sertaneja collaboration “Ta Tum Tum” between MC Kevinho and another top-selling Sertaneja act, the sister duo of Simone & Simaria. Here you have a white sister duo from Brazil’s top-selling musical genre appearing with a white…well, a sort of “Latino-ish” white funk singer. In essence, between Anitta and Kevinho, the funk genre that was created in black and poor favelas of Rio only enters the ranks of Brazil’s top-selling music when it is represented in fair skin, another point explored in previous articles.
The last list I wanna take a look at is Billboard magazine’s 2017 list of Brazil’s 30 top artists streaming internationally. As you might imagine, white skin also has a lock on this list although the international market seems to give black artists more opportunity. Of the Top 30, the only clearly black artists we see are singer/actor Seu Jorge at number 9, the mixed-race reggae band from Brasília, Natiruts, at number 16, MPB legends Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben at numbers 18 and 21, respectively, and Alexandre Pires at number 30. The others, Anitta at number 8, Sergio Mendes at number 10 and Vanessa Da Mata at number 27 are up for debate.
As previous articles have demonstrated, Anitta’s racial identity, classification and cultural appropriation have been long debated. In terms of Vanessa Da Mata, I’d say if she were born and raised in the US, I think she would be defined as a black woman and she even raised the issue in her song “Eu Sou Neguinha?” (am I a little black girl?). In terms of Sergio Mendes, perhaps the biggest-selling Brazilian artist outside of Brazil of all-time, I’m sure most Brazilians don’t see the leader of the Brasil 66 band as black. The artist himself reveals that his grandfather was a black man, which in the US, would be enough to define him as black. But we’re talking about Brazil here.
My whole point in doing this expanded piece here today was to point out what previous articles only hinted at: A racial hierarchy remains strong and dominant in Brazil’s music industry. This, seven years after I wrote an article on why Brazil could never produce an artist with the status of a Whitney Houston. This is not to say that there haven’t been black singers, rappers and musicians who haven’t done well or earned a great living do what they love to do. I’m sure well-known artists such as Djavan, Alcione, Racionais MCs, Péricles and Ludmilla have swollen bank accounts and live in houses that most people can only dream of but they aren’t making that LONG money that just happens to be concentrated in the mostly white genre of Sertaneja music. None of the artists even appear in the Wiki article on record sales. This even considering that the first three have been recording music for 30-45 years. The facts don’t lie.
According to that same Wiki article cited at the beginning of this piece, out of the top 40 highest-selling musical acts in Brazilian music, only four, MOR/samba-canção singer Angela Maria (3), samba-pagode group Raça Negra (12), pagode singer Zeca Pagodinho (35) and samba-pagode singer Alexadre Pires (36) are listed in the top 50. Even in Hip Hop and Funk, two genres that one would expect to see dominated by the black faces that created these genres, we see certain advantages of having a white face that often leads to having bigger bank accounts than their black colleagues. This seems to also be the case with the samba, a style created and associated with black Brazilians. In June, long-time Carnaval samba singer Neguinho da Beija Flor shared his own experiences with the hierarchy that seeks to continue to exploit and de-value black artists.
Yes, it is true that Samba still represents Brazil’s black history, culture and roots, but similar to the American Blues, it may be respected, and is certainly still alive, it is still seen as something of the past, in a way that is not unlike how white and many light-skinned mestiços see their black ancestors. Acknowledge them, but at a certain distance. So, the next time someone wants to argue that black artists are some of the most highly paid people in Brazil, agree with them, but also point out, they aren’t nearly as well-paid as the white artists.
And in Eurocentric Brazil, I don’t see that as a coincidence.
Information courtesy of Knoow, R7, Technoblog, Jovem Pan