Note from BW of Brazil: The history of the Brazil’s national music, samba, is in many ways very representative of the history of representation and resistance of the Afro-Brazilian population. Once described as a “coisa do negro” or a “black thing”, years later, when elites heard in the sound a means of unifying the country, it would later be commercialized and become one of the main symbols of Brazil along with the rise of the yearly Carnaval celebrations. As the Absurdos Turos blog explains it:
“At the dawn of the twentieth century, the samba was essentially performed and heard in a specific geographic area – Cidade Nova (meaning “new city”), then known as Pequena África (Little Africa) (1). The houses of the “tias” baianas (“aunties” from Bahia) who inhabited this area were transformed into true musical schools, where black former slaves and their children practiced a curious mixture of African lundu and European maxixe, this mixture acquired its own style until consolidate itself as samba.
“Inseparable from the culture of the newly freed slaves (1888), the samba was often seen by the authorities as “the music of blacks and strays”, which complicated the life of anyone wandering around town with a guitar under his arm. Even the house of the tias, on party days, the only space fitting for the samba was that of the kitchen and backyard, while choro music, endowed with greater prestige, occupied the living room – according to the testimony of the great choro musician Pixinguinha.
“However, it is the consensus among researchers on the theme that the arrival of (President) Getúlio Vargas to power (in 1930) substantially altered this scenario; the project of construction of Brazilian identity by the statesman, and grounded in the myth of the three races that gained strength with anthropologist Gilberto Freyre and modernists such as Mário and Oswald de Andrade, lifted the samba to the condition of symbol of such a national identity that was forged at that time. Moreover, the profusion of white musicians who went to the homes of the tias and to the Estácio morros (hills of the slums) to listen to samba – many residents of Vila Isabel such as Noel Rosa, Almirante, João de Barro and Francisco Alves – contributed to this musical style having increasing acceptance and endorsement of the elites. Today, already for many decades, nobody is surprised that samba is carried on in the blue eyes of a Chico Buarque or reproduces itself in white skin of a Marisa Monte.”
Today, nearly a century after the first samba was recorded (1917), nearly all Brazilians partake in the celebration of this joyous, most Brazilian of all rhythms. But even with the sound crossing over, or even being appropriated, it cannot be separated from its roots that even in its various styles and interpretations symbolize the struggle of a people, many of whom were and are black women. We must always pay respects to the “tias” (aunties) who helped create the environments and conditions for the perfecting of the sound and culture and recognize the roots as the story continues represented in newer generations.
During the recent Festival Latinidades celebrating the diaspora of black women, researcher Jurema Werneck highlighted the the symbols of struggle as personified by some of samba’s great black women singers.
Researcher associates black female samba singers with the struggles of black women’s movements
By Mariana Tokarnia
The current struggle of black women against racism and sexism must take into account what has been achieved over time by other black women activists defended the coordinator of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Criola, doctor and Ph.D in Communications and Culture, Jurema Werneck.
Called “ialodês” these women, according Jurema always existed and transcend so-called black feminism – protagonized by black women. “Today it’s difficult, but it doesn’t compare,” she said, noting that she reached her doctorate, but her grandmother was illiterate and her mother only studied up to primary school.
According Jurema, the struggle of black women has always existed and demands were transforming. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the struggles were for education, child care, the demands of the State. A generation later, hers, has continuity in these demands and conquested laws that guaranteed equal rights. Now, in the evaluation of the coordinator, it’s necessary to keep fighting for these conquested provisions are met. “Racism will not disappear by decree, it disappears in the everyday struggle,” she argued.
In her doctorate, the researcher sought in samba references of struggle of black women. Alcione, Elza Soares, Leci Brandão, Jovelina Pérola Negra and Mart’nália were some of those she cited in the conference Festival Latinidades 2014: Griôs da Diáspora Negra (griots of the Black Diaspora). “If you think of the name of a black woman who is not anonymous, you will think of names that are in popular culture,” she said. “If racism is this horrible thing, imagine the conquest of these women to appear on the public scene,” she compared.
One by one, Jurema highlighted in the work and life of sambistas (singer/musicians of samba) aspects that hail the black woman and showed the context in which they were inserted. Elza Soares, for example, appeared as a singer on a talent show of Ary Barroso program on Rádio Tupi (Tupi Radio). She sang to raise money to feed her child and made clear “the planet from which she came: the planet hungry.”
“If they were to read an interview with Elza Soares, everyone wants her to tell this story and always say then, ‘in spite of this she has strength, it was a long way.’ As if the problem was resolved and only she had been born in this context. They try to isolate her from the community, but everyone knows that people who have got this load of challenges,” says Jurema.
Alcione, she highlights the lyrics that speak to women. Jovelina Pérola Negra put her own face in close-ups without makeup and with a rag on her head on the cover of her first album, with her own name. “Who does she look like? Like my aunt, my mother, my neighbor,” the researcher explained. According to her, the Jovelina’s intention was to show that each of these women is like her, a pérola negra (black pearl) (2).
1. Pequena África, meaning Little Africa, was the name given by samba musician Heitor dos Prazeres to a region of Rio de Janeiro understood as the port area of Rio de Janeiro, Gamboa, Saúde where the Remnant Community of Quilombos (maroon societies) of Pedra do Sal, Santo Cristo, and other places inhabited by freed slaves and that from 1850 to 1920 were known as Pequena África.
2. In an interview, popular singer Ellen Oléria spoke of how Jovelina’s appearance affected her career and also showed the racist character of Brazil’s media. Oléria said: “Once I heard (singer/congresswoman) Leci Brandão say that Jovelina Pérola Negra was rarely invited to do TV because her skin was too dark to do television.”