Rapper Djonga becomes first Brazilian nominated for a BET Hip Hop Award
By Marques Travae with information courtesy of O Tempo, Rolling Stone and UOL
It’s pretty amazing how the internet has internationalized music to such a degree. Of course, we’ve all known at least a little about music outside of our own countries, but with modern technology, sampling music from other countries has never been so easy. And for Brazilian artists, this is good news.
Living in a country in which English is not the official language, in many ways Brazilian artists don’t get the exposure they may deserve. For decades, some Brazilian artists have attempted overcome this obstacle by singing some of their music in English. Some of today’s current artists are continuing this trend and/or attempting to take their career to the international stage by linking up artists who already have access to this market. We’ve already seen this with artists such Anitta, Ludmilla and IZA.
Career wise, these are good moves, but not the only method of reaching an international audience. With music platforms such as Spotify and YouTube, Brazilian artists are attracting fans in many countries outside of Brazilian borders. This in turn is leading to bigger sales, international touring possibilities as well as recognition.
Rapper Djonga, from the city of Belo Horizonte, is another artist whose work is being praised outside of Brazil. In 2020, in a year dominated by a pandemic and social isolation, the artist from Minas Gerais was anything but isolated to just Brazil. In May of this year, the artist was featured in the American music industry magazine Billboard.
The artist, who had released a new album just two months prior, in March, regretted not being able to tour behind the álbum but also saw the time as moment of reflection and a time in which he could spend more time with his children, Jorge and Iolanda. In the first week alone, songs from the new album were heard 25 million times on YouTube.
Last week, for the second straight year, Djonga took home an MTV Miaw Beat BR award. With a performance on top of a building roof, the rapper once again had people talking. Performing his songs “Oto Patamá”, “Olho de Tigre” and “O Cara de Óculos”, the rapper was accompanied by three dancers, Hugo Fernando, Raquel Cabaneco and Nicolas Cabaneco, in which he drove home an anti-racist message that included strong social criticism.
In the performance, the dancers appear sitting on thrones wearing t-shirts that spelled out the sentence “Parem de nos matar”, meaning ‘Stop killing us’, which has been a popular battle cry used by black protest movements against Brazil’s ongoing genocidal agenda against the black population.
In the song “Olho de Tigre” (eye of the tiger), the rapper rhymes:
“Whoever has my color is a thief / Whoever has the color of Eric Clapton is a kleptomaniac / At the time of judgment, God is black and Brazilian / And to save the country, a Christian, ex-military man / Who thinks that women getting together is a whorehouse”
These lyrics speak to how Brazilians are judged for crimes by society depending on their skin color, an opposite image of the Almighty in the minds of millions and an obvious jab at President Jair Bolsonaro. The rapper’s lyrics on his albums offer stinging criticism of social inequalities and Brazil’s treatment of its black population. The lyricist’s songs also present expressions of love for his origin, ancestry and family as well as the necessity of shattering stereotypes.
Adding to his list of accomplishments, last week it was announced that Djonga was among the nominees for best international rapper for the annual BET Hip Hop Awards. The artist will compete with artists such as Kaaris (France), Khaligraph Jones (Kenya), Meryl (France), Ms Banks (UK), Nasty C (South Africa) and Stormzy (UK). The BET Hip Hop Awards will take place on October 27th.
As the Brazilian media always hypes up any Brazilian getting exposure in the United States, thus the news of the nomination was all over the internet declaring the rapper the first Brazilian to be nominated for the award show. In 2018, the teenage rapper MC Soffia became the first Brazilian artist to be nominated for the BET Awards, but this year Djonga becomes the first Brazilian rapper to be nominated specifically for the BET Hip Hop Awards. And for good reason.
The rapper is at the top of his game. Djonga’s lyrics and visual images go hand in hand with the black Brazilian struggle and in many ways put the frustrations and aspirations of the country’s black community to music. Frustrations and aspirations that the society at large continues, for the most part, to turn its nose up at.
In one line from his song “Deus E O Diabo Na Terra Do Sol”, which is actually the title of an important 1964 Brazilian film (meaning ‘God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun’), he addresses a common viewpoint of non-blacks when the topic is racism and racial inequality. He raps, “They say I only talk about the same things/It’s proof that nothing has changed, neither me nor the world” a clear reference to the fact that the experience of Brazil’s black population is the same as it’s been for decades going all the back to the country’s three and half century experiment with human bondage.
Just as powerful as the rapper’s lyrics are his thought-provoking videos, three of which I will break down here. The first is for the song “Hat-Trick” in which the rapper appears as a slave. The character that video follows throughout the song is a black man with his face painted white, possibly a reference to the classic Frantz Fanon book, Black Skin, White Mask, which has been widely read among black Brazilians.
The character’s behavior seems to confirm this as he passes through his neighborhood, totally ignoring all of the black people who see him in the street. Arriving at an office, he greets all of his white colleagues. At this point, Djonga appears around his neck and in his ear, following him throughout the video, perhaps reminding him of who he is.
At a certain point, the black man painted in white face has his face cleaned and he begins to interact with his family and people., until he gets shot while in a circle of his friends. As the video ends, instead of the man who had desired to be white being laid out in the street after taking a bullet, we see Djonga lying in the street with the same bullet wound. The video begins and ends with the phrase “And if it were the other way around?”
In another video, for the song “Corra”, the rapper makes direct reference to the 2017 film Get Out, with hints appearing that the song has a connection to the movie. First, the film was released in Brazil under the title Corra, meaning ‘run’. At one point in the song, the rapper says “Minha mente me diz: “get out, Gustavo, corra!, meaning ‘my mind tells me: get out, Gustavo, run!”
In various sections of the video, we see the rapper literally running. The name Gustavo refers to the rapper himself, as his birth name is Gustvao Pereira Marques. Running in the video, we also see that the he is dressed in African-inspired prints. Standing in front of a large video screen, the Djonga watches images of various scenes of history such as the Black Panther Party, the Nazi swastika and the bombing of Hiroshima.
In the song, the rapper becomes a voice that sings the collective pain of those who were victims of genocide and enslavement in Brazil, the black and indigenous peoples. The running is an apparent attempt to escape the suffering of his people. The refrain of the song enforces this:
Love, look what they have done to our people
Love, this is the blood of our people
Love, look at the revolt of our people
I will, I swear that today I will be different
At the end of the song, to the sound of various single gunshots, the screen flashes the names of black people who have been murdered in Brazil. One such name was Cláudia Ferreira da Silva, whose murder shocked the nation in 2014. Video at the time showed the da Silva, after being shot by police bullets, being thrown into the back of a police truck. As the police pull off, her body dangles from the back trunk and is dragged on the ground for the length of a football field. Another name that appears was that of Rio city councilwoman, Marielle Franco, whose professional hit style murder in 2018 led to protests around the world.
The third video I will review, “A Música da Mãe”, meaning ‘mother’s song’, is noteworthy in the message it sends by playing on the viewer’s sense of the foreground and background. According to the video’s director, the video for the song was influenced by the 2018 video “This is America” by Childish Gambino. The video seems to be a metaphor for the way society has a habit of focusing on certain things while ignoring other things that may be just as important or more so. Or perhaps the message is that the mainstream media’s job is to divert the public’s attention away from certain things that it should be seeing. A few of the topics the video addresses are racism, police violence, bullying, pedophilia and feminicide.
A few scenes in the video that you may or may not see depending on what you focus on are:
1. The beginning of the video starts with an extremely white-skinned male singing the lyrics of the songs, being the main focus. Out of nowhere, Djonga gives the guy a flying kick from the left side of the screen. Could it be a knock against society’s beauty standards or the advantages of being white within the music industry? A critique of the appropriation of rap? In both cases, black people/artists often get the short end of the stick. Just so people know there was no ill intent against the guy on the receiving end of the kick, Djonga said that the guy’s name is Enrico and that he’s a friend of his.
2. Djonga is seen at one point wearing a crooked crown which could be a reference to a famous photo of American rapper Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls.
3. While Djonga greets fans at an ice-cream parlor, a boy is being enticed by what could be seen as a pedophile at a table in the background.
4. In this scene, Rapper Djonga is harassed by his fans when entering a bar. Then, with no any explanation, a young black man is assaulted by two men. Does this scene speak to how Brazilian society sees and treats young, black males?
5. Two white men in suits come out of the bathroom scratching their noses. For years, Afro-Brazilians have denounced that police and society always stereotype black men in favelas as dope dealers but seem to ignore the rich white playboys, often in important positions, who are the consumers.
6. Various people have cell phones in their hands recording Rapper Djonga but aren’t aware that a girl is being assaulted in the middle of the street in the background.
7. “They really want to put me in the cell. If they see me rolling in a sunroof Focus, the police come and beat me, I think that’s how fairy tales always end,” says Rapper Djonga in the lyrics. In this scene, while surrounded by fans in the street, he is arrested by police, rifles drawn, thrown to the ground and forced into a police car. The message? Even being a star rapper, he is treated as a common criminal by police. A number of Afro-Brazilian celebrities have shared such experiences. In general, successful black men and women have also spoken on how they are sometimes treated with disregard by society.
Since the late 80s, when Hip Hop started to become the language of the streets in Brazil’s favelas, there have been numerous rappers who have educated, represented and raised the consciousness and self-esteem of poor, mostly black youth. Some of those names include artists such as the Racionais MCs, Sabotage, MV Bill, Marcelo D2, Gog, Emicida and others. The introduction of an artist such as Djonga is a signal to a Hip Hop industry still dominated by the United States, that the genre has a lot of talent outside of US borders and such artists show us that our struggle is the same wherever in the world we are.