Note from BW of Brazil: To be honest, I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon the music of the Hip Hop collective known as Senzala Hi-Tech. Checking out their 22-minute debut 2015 EP, I had even more difficulty describing their sound. At first listen, I heard elements of all sorts of global musical rhythms, including some of Brazil’s most beloved roots music. There were parts of that first joint that seemed to be influenced by a bit of 90’s New York Hip Hop group collective known as Native Tongues as well as a bit of Atlanta rap legends Outkast. But make no mistake there’s simply too much going on in Senzala Hi-Tech grooves to pin them down to any one style or influence.
Listening to the six-song EP again and again, I hadn’t even considered who the members of the group were. But then when I wanted to learn a little bit about the group, I discovered that I was at least familiar with a few of its members just from being exposed to news out of Brazil and its Hip-Hop scene. I first became aware of one of its members in another genre, martial arts.
Although I hadn’t put in a lot of time looking into his life, besides the medals he claimed representing Brazil in taekwondo, I DO remember his second claim to fame. He was the brotha that imitated the famous fist in the air pose of African-American Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympic Games. At the time, during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the pose was featured all over Brazil’s media. I hadn’t heard much about him since then until discovering he was a part of Senzala Hi-Tech.
Not knowing the other members directly, I am familiar with their affiliations in Brazilian music. Rapper Sombra as well as producer Minari Groove Box come from the São Paulo rap group known as SNJ or Somos Nós a Justiça, meaning ‘we are justice’. DJ Ajamu is affiliated with the groups U-Time, RZO and arguably the most important Hip Hop group in Brazilian Hip Hop history, the Racionais MCs, while percussionist Gustavo Da Lua is remembered for being a member of the seminal funk/rock/manguebeat group Nação Zumbi from the northeastern state of Pernambuco.
With the backgrounds of all these guys individually alone, you just know that coming together as a group would have be an interesting project. And that it is. I mean think about the name of the group. A combination of advanced technology with the senzala, the name of the slave quarters where Africans and their descendants rested and slept during Brazil’s near four decades of slavery. From there, referring to the ancestors, to promoting the concept of Afro-futurism and the envisioning of a better future, Senzala Hi-Tech is bringing the black future to the present. Learn a little more about the group below.
Senzala Hi-Tech: Music that thinks of a future where black people “exist”
Inspired by the concept of afrofuturismo (Afro-futurism), the group recently released the album “Represença”.
With information from Rede Brasil Atual, Alma Preta
To think of a future in which black people “exist”. From an initial point of view, this is the concept of afrofuturismo (Afro-futurism), a term coined and theorized in the United States in the 1990s. The idea has spread like powder in Brazil and around the world, especially in the art world, boosting the re-reading of African traditions and knowledge. Recognize the past to understand the present and project the future. Led by this philosophical current, the band Senzala Hi-Tech has just released their first album, Represença, a disc that reinforces Rap’s union with Afro-Brazilian culture.
Despite only now releasing the first album, the group has been together for 10 years, a time necessary to strengthen and mature musically and politically. The new CD mixes elements of Afro-Brazilian Samba and Afro-Latin rhythms as well Reggae and sounds from the African continent. Producer Minari says the idea is to unite these rhythms without abandoning the essence of the band’s militancy. “I see Senzala as an instrument of struggle and communication seeking equity in an increasingly unfair world,” he says.
He adds that the group tries to bring to the discussion not only the struggle of the black community, but of all minorities. “This search for unity and desire to break paradigms keeps me instigated to be part of this project,” he adds.
“We study our songs a lot, avoid falling into the fad to earn ‘likes’, this isn’t our goal. Our goal is to make people aware that they can have fun but have ownership over their bodies, about past problems that are more present today. We need to understand the history of Brazil in order to understand the current context. This government today is no accident, it’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s not from now,” explains Senzala Hi-Tech singer-songwriter Diogo Silva.
“To understand what are the evils of our country, and how we can talk about them,” says Diogo, a former Taekwondo fighter, gold medalist at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, and fourth place in the Athens (2004) and London (2012) Olympics. In Athens, by the way, after losing the semifinal, he put on a black glove and raised his right fist, repeating the historic scene of American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.
This politicized vein is the soul of Senzala Hi-Tech. A position that Diogo Silva makes a point of emphasizing beforehand is non-partisan. “Corruption for us is ambidextrous, it’s everywhere. We don’t defend any party, we defend the people, social justice. This is our message in the songs, and we are putting our origins of African matrixes, the drums…” Drums that the group mixes with the digital sound of a Hip Hop beat and other electronic interferences.
For the former Olympic athlete, singer and songwriter, the album Represença follows the concept of afrofuturismo by wanting to play a leading role in what blacks always did, but was never recognized for and, worse, credited to other people. “We’re owning our own work, and that is extremely strong.” The band operates as a company, hires black professionals and makes “black money” circulate. “The Jews created it, the Masons created it, Rotary (Club) created it, why haven’t we created it yet?”
The empoderamento do povo negro (empowerment of the black people) and the appreciation of Afro culture materialize in the band’s music, the sound of African drums. Instruments that, he explains, created new musical strands depending on the place. In Brazil, for example, samba was born, in Cuba came salsa and in Jamaica, reggae. “Everywhere African people were spread, the origin of drums is fundamental to their musical culture.”
MC Sombra ponders that the band rescues the values of the homem negro (black man) in socially vulnerable situations. “It’s the continuity of our ancestry in music and culturally speaking,” he says. For Sombra, it’s precisely because of the concept that the group has been traveling to different places, helping to construct the future of Hip Hop. “The future of Rap and Hip Hop culture is now, with the digital inclusion that is happening, with the cultural expansion of other countries into the Rap soundtrack, expanding knowledge to many people around the world. This is the future of Rap, which is already happening.”
Cartoonist, journalist and responsible for Senzala Hi-Tech’s percussion, Junião goes beyond. He emphasizes that many people are beginning to recognize the African continent as a producer of knowledge. “We always looked at Europe, the United States, and thought that Africa only provided bodies, labor. Today, after much struggle, we see that Africa has always been a producer of knowledge. Not only in rap, but in literature, the arts in general, philosophy, sociology.”
With eight tracks, four unreleased, the album marks the group’s 10 years of existence. The songs composed by vocalists Diogo Silva and MC Sombra address violence as a generation of profit, the political conjuncture of the country and the freedom of the body.
On the Hora do Rango program, the group performed live the song “Bozolândia”, (see note one) whose lyrics appeared on the inauguration day of President Jair Bolsonaro (PSL). “Bozolândia” talks about the transition of government, of this current system that we have been part of for a long time, and with each passing day we have been trying to have more knowledge about it and pass it on to people,” explains MC Sombra. “It is the government that has the greatest discredibility in the world. A shame for Brazilians, for our country, and especially for those who gave the vote of confidence to this government.”
Another song performed live was “Na Terra da Pilantragem”, whose inspiration needs no explanation. “These are strategic plans to swipe the nation. They point out that it is our fault: ‘You will not retire because you are getting old, dying sooner’”, says Diogo Silva.
For Diogo, the rise of figure such as Bolsonaro wouldn’t be possible without the country’s violent trajectory that presents one of the highest murder rates in the world. The new album’s lyrics refer to the way the quartet interprets the environment in which they live. “It’s necessary for the country to be violent in order for someone to sell security, and that’s what we’re talking about: old practices that gain new guise with new characters,” he explains.
“What is the difference between rap and samba
From Cartola to Mano Brown and Chico de Holanda
From poor to rich, from white to crioulo
When the tambourine hits the ground until it catches fire
From the fat aunt who makes the fejuca
Even the little princess who lives in Tijuca
The cheap is hot, the body feels
A desire to dance that even the sandal shakes
Back and forth, with spin or no spin
Let’s go in this hi-tech footprint that you’re down with”
– Excerpt from the song “Pegada do Vampiro”, from the album Represença
The power of information
If Afrofuturism aims to rescue and value Afro culture to project a future for the black people, Diogo Silva considers that a similar idea is useful for Brazilians who still do’t know the history of the country. And without knowing the past, the present is not understood. As an example, the singer and songwriter says that people don’t remember the deaths of indigenous people caused by the dictatorship during the construction work of the Transamazônica Highway. An idea that comes up today through the mind of Bolsonaro.
“Today when he changes the director of Inpe (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais/National Institute for Space Research), all the people that since the 70’s have been here to protect the forests of our country, he replaces it with the plan to open a new Transamazônica. So, if we don’t understand the historical factor of our country, we think this is from now, it’s new, but it’s not,” he says.
Fake news stimulated, among other ways, by the way information currently circulates in society. A world where lies, fake news and the manipulation of information on social networks is gaining ground every day, as shown by the music video “Em trance”, addressing the supposed digital inclusion in Brazil and in the world.
“Every day we’ve been thinking less about the information we get, and passing it on more. And you don’t realize it,” says beatmaker Minari. Information for Senzala Hi-Tech is also the way to build a possible future.
Senzala Hi-Tech was created in São Paulo and put its first EP on the streets in 2015, with six tracks. In 2016, the group was a finalist in the “Hip Hop” category of the Prêmio Profissionais da Música (Music Professionals Award). Throughout their career, the quartet has also participated in several festivals such as Afrika and AfroMusic.
- “Bozolândia” is a reference to the nickname that critics of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro use when discussing him. Instead of Bolsonaro, he becomes “Bozonaro” or simply “Bozo”, an obvious reference to the famous clown.