Note from BBT: It’s hard to believe that it’s already been more than 10 years since I heard rapper Emicida for the first time. I’ll never forget that day. I was rolling with one of my peeps, Marco di Preto, on on Avenida São João in São Paulo. Being a former musician myself, when I listen to Hip Hop, often times it’s the beats and production that grab my attention first and Emicida’s first joint, the 2009 mixtape Pra Quem Já Mordeu um Cachorro por Comida, Até Que Eu Cheguei Longe was a banger.
Since then, the rapper/entrepreneur also known as Leandro Roque de Oliveira has become one of the most critically-acclaimed, commercially successful rappers in Brazil. Emicida has earned the respect and adoration of Brazilian music fans across the country, and has always represented the realities of being black in Brazil. A few years ago, Emicida made headlines after launching his own clothing line when he put a mostly black group of models on the runway at the notoriously white São Paulo Fashion Week event.
Earlier this year, the rapper took a stand and said that he wouldn’t be participating in growing Vidas Negras Importam (Black Lives Matter) protests that were gaining momentum in Brazil, not just because of George Floyd, but because Brazil has been killing black people in the streets since the 16th century and in the 20th century, this genocide has only worsened. Quiet as it’s kept, police murder of black people often makes headlines, but the world still knows little about these tragedies in a Brazil whose police kills five times more people.
Some of Emicida’s politics have raised some eyebrows and criticism, and some of my readers will know why. In 2015, Emicida’s music video ‘Boa Esperança’ became one of the most talked about of the year with its approach toward race, revolution and interracial relations. The rapper is clearly aware of how the country’s preference for light skin makes for a situation in which miscegenation is applauded only if the offspring has light skin. Which is one of the beefs some of his critics have with him.
Like many other prominent Afro-Brazilians, Emicida has also been accused of palmitagem. I won’t get into that now, I’ll just say that a lot of people who watched his new documentary were applauding him for the quality of the film and its highlighting of the importance of black culture and important Afro-Brazilian figures in history…until they saw his girlfriend. Not gonna go there right now…
The recent release of the rapper’s documentary AmarElo combined with his CD of the same name released at the end of October of last year is the perfect one-two punch. Even though the rapper has remained in the spotlight for a decade, the 11-song disc is actually only his third full studio album and the first since 2015.
The album is quite an experience featuring a number of well-known artists from both the old and new school of Brazilian music. The title of disc is a take on a poem by Paulo Leminski, “Amar é um elo entre o azul e o amarelo”, meaning ‘to love is the link between blue and yellow’. With the disc, the rapper seems to be presenting the best of today’s music by paying tribute to the best of the past. Marcos Valle, one of my favorite Brazilian musicians, appears on the disc as well as a sample of one of singer Belchior’s songs on the CD’s title track.
Emicida also collaborated with legendary drummer Wilson das Neves, who was the composer of the melody of the song “Quem tem uma amigo (tem tudo)”, meaning ‘whoever has a friend (has everything)’. The rapper explained how the drummer didn’t use the communication app WhatsApp so he would send tapes of songs through the mail. Das Neves passed away in 2017 so he didn’t live to here the final version of thr track, which Emicida dedicated to him.
It wasn’t only song in which the rapper would have collaborated with a legendary Afro-Brazilian. Long-time actress Fernanda Montenegro read a poem for the track “Ismália”, but originally, Emicida wanted the part to be a collaboration between Montenegro and legendary Afro-Brazilian actress Ruth de Souza, but it wasn’t meant to be as de Souza passed away last year at the age of 98.
Speaking on his connection with Brazilian music throughout his career and on this CD, Emicida explained:
“Throughout my career, I have been understood as only a rap artist. What I am showing there, and have been showing for some time, is that we are a little more diverse than that, and I really want to lead Rap to the pantheon of the greatness of music made from Brazil. When I go into the studio, I take all the baggage of a century of music made in Brazil, I take it there and put it inside a contemporary texture that we learned to call Rap, but I don’t even know if in ten years it will be rap that we’ll call it. What I said in the studio to Nave (producer of the record) is that I like to call it neo-samba, just like the gringos have neo-soul, in which they bring the experience of soul to a more contemporary language. That’s what I do.”
As I wrote above, I have yet to watch the documentary, but if it’s as good as his video for the song “É tudo pra ontem”, it’s a must see. The song is a collaboration with long time MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) artist Gilberto Gil, another iconic figure in Afro-Brazilian music. The scenes of the video show the Municipal Theater in São Paulo and mixes images from the creation of Brazil’s black civil rights movement, the Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU), on the steps of that theater.
We see images of important Afro-Brazilian figures such as Lélia Gonzalez, Abdias do Nascimento, activists for black rights, samba musicians, the Oito Batutas band, an image of the orixá goddess of the sea, Iémanja, writer Carolina de Jesus, the aforementioned Ruth de Souza and, in a recent image, in the audience of the Municipal Theater, activist Milton Barbosa, one of the leaders present on the steps in the formation of the MNU in July of 1978.
The documentary is being hailed as major accomplishment and the reviews and headlines support this view. A Estado de Minas newspaper headline reads, “AmarElo – know why you need to watch this documentary”. The Notícias da TV site headline reads, “With documentary on Netflix, Emicida gives a history class in the form of poetry”, and the Veja São Paulo magazine says “Documentary AmarElo – É Tudo pra Ontem” by Emicida is historic”.
For those of us who have followed black Brazilian history for some time, we know just the video is a short lesson in Afro-Brazilian history. When I first start visiting the country at the beginning of this century, I, an American, had learned much about these people but soon discovered that Brazil had denied its black people access to their own history. The gates of education are slowly opening in Brazil so I hope that documentaries such this one, others, claasses and books will give these heroes their just due and recognition in the history of Brazil and the African Diaspora.
Below is what Roberta Camargo’s view on the film.
Emicida documentary shows the essential participation of the black population in Brazilian culture
“I cannot let mediocrity sequester my greatness”, is the main message of the documentary, according to the musician; “AmarElo – É tudo pra ontem (AmarElo – It’s all for yesterday) was released on Netflix on December 8
By Roberta Camargo
The album AmarElo was released in November 2019 with songs that carry more than messages and participations worthy of the top of the charts, featuring artists such as Zeca Pagodinho, Pabllo Vittar, Majur, Fernanda Montenegro and Larissa Luz. AmarElo Prisma, the multiplatform project that became a podcast and took Emicida’s social networks and brought an invitation to respect the plurality of Brazil and, with messages based on peace, clarity, courage and compassion, opened the way for AmarElo – É tudo pra ontem, the documentary.
This introduction is necessary when one understands one of the main messages brought by the new original Netflix documentary, directed by Fred Ouro Preto and produced by Evandro Fióti and the conception of the rapper Emicida, the time and paths that were traced by the povo preto (black people) and their ancestors so that new routes and discoveries could be outlined today. With the Yoruba saying “Exu killed a bird yesterday with a stone he only threw today”, from the beginning, the documentary is divided into three acts.
“I don’t feel like I came, I feel like I came back. And that somehow my dreams and struggles started a long time before my arrival.” It’s in this way that Emicida explains the Yoruba saying and introduces the history of the black people in Brazilian culture in the film that mixes the album release show at Theatro Municipal in 2019, excerpts from the creation of the entire project, and the journey through time where the public can get to know big names in black Brazilian history.
The history books of the black population, as the rapper has already sung, were records and it is through the art made by the group Oito Batutas that the story in the documentary begins to be told. The union of AmarElo, samba and Modernism, especially the Modern Art week of 1922, in São Paulo, is also part of the structure of this story.
Passing through samba masters Ismael Silva, Mestre Marçal, Dona Ivone Lara, Nelson Cavaquinho and Jair Rodrigues, the work teaches about the formation of Brazilian culture from an unusual perspective within conventional education.
It’s in this act that the explanation of the order of AmarElo, the 2019 album, also begins to take shape. The voices of calming at the beginning of “Principia”, a track that opens the work, explains Emicida, refers to a dream of when the people felt affection and faith and that reinforces another important message in the documentary: the meeting.
One of the most exciting encounters throughout AmarElo, é tudo pra ontem, is what happens between Emicida and Wilson das Neves, which is present throughout the work. He always said: “Stay together, so you stay strong,” says Emicida.
The references coming from das Neves come from the purchase of records to what the public hears in “Quem tem um amigo tem tudo” (whoever has a friend has everything), a track with special participation by samba/pagode singer Zeca Pagodinho.
The images from the debut of the album AmarElo at the Municipal Theater are emotional and dazzling, especially because of the way the importance of the presence of black people in this space is told in the film. For Emicida, it has to do with “marking this time and having a physical place in it”. The Municipal Theater was built by black people and it is also due to them that a good part of the Brazilian cultural identity is due, like the modernist Mário de Andrade.
The resistance to maintaining the history of the black Brazilian population and the undeniable role of this for what today is called culture is the result of the struggle of several agents who organized themselves. Like the MNU (Unified Black Movement), which in the 1970s protested on the steps at the Theater, never imagining what would happen in 2019. At a certain point in the film, Emicida mentions a trip he made to the African continent and states: “This one is to give back the soul of each of my brothers who felt that one day they didn’t have one”.
On the soil planted by Tebas, an architect responsible for several historical points in São Paulo, such as Praça da Sé, and honored in the samba-enredo (samba theme) of the Paulistanos da Glória samba school in 1974, referring to him as “legend, past and present”, AmarElo – É tudo pra ontem shows the fruits reaped with the advance of the black people who built history in the last 100 in the country.
The work also recalls the activist Abdias do Nascimento and shows, in the act of harvesting, art as a powerful political tool and that samba, when it comes to culture and also the resistance of people, is at the root. The learnings left by “AmarElo – É tudo pra ontem” are bigger than any review can bring, but if there is a tip to be given is: paper and pen in hand and tissues.
Despite all the political, social and cultural guidelines that permeate and are part of the documentary, the main message that remains is the importance of relationships. “During the elaboration of AmarElo, we kept asking the following question: ‘What is the most important thing of all?’ It really is a very difficult question. And we came to the conclusion that the most important thing of all is the relationship. It’s the meeting. Life only makes sense when we meet and that is why we put this whole story on foot, talking about meeting,” concludes Emicida.