Singer Lenna Bahule Discovering the Differences in Treatment
Note from BW of Brazil: I’m always intrigued by how other foreigners come to see Brazil. My own first experiences and understanding of the country came through hundreds of books and articles and, less than year after my ”discovery”, my numerous visits and extended stay.
But my background as an American also prepared me to understand the manners in which my own skin color would always be used to naturalize my place in the world. Brazil actually helped to sharpen my understandings of the ways in which the influence of such markers can be cleverly denied as if they don’t exist all the while more obvious subtleties actually end up re-enforcing their importance. This in a country where people, many shaped by an aspiration for whiteness, know very well how to detect someone’s non-European ancestry.
It’s a whole other animal when we consider people who come from countries in which the entire population has the dark skin color that Brazilians are taught very early on to avoid like some sort of plague. I’ve often read how Africans go to the United States and ‘discover’ they are black for the first time, so what else could be expected from a country such as Brazil where people are extremely sensitive about skin color, particularly if one is considered ‘too black’?
Lenna Bahule: ‘I only discovered that I was black in Brazil’
The Mozambican singer who performed Friday (18), at Jazz nos Fundos, to show off her stunning vocal work, talks about how she only realized that there were people treated according to skin color from the day she arrived in the country
Courtesy of Terra
Upon arriving from Mozambique to Brazil in 2012, Lenna Bahule discovered that she had color. She was black and saying it that way, with all the letters well-spoken, enhanced the meanings that the Africans in Maputo did not know. Being black in a country where people were judged by the tones of their skins, and even by the tones of the tones of their skin, put her in a context of extremes, whether she wanted it or not: the prejudice that kept the amazing idea of evolutionary reductionism and explained the unequal insertion was challenged by a position taken by a generation that came to say it’s enough by simply saying the name of their color aloud. And the color black outside of Africa had more power, just as Africa outside Africa seemed to have more power to the point of making Lenna, in Brazil, discover that she was powerfully African.
Thus her singing has been gaining a special place for eight years, taking on the Mozambican matrices directly, without the filter of the American gospel path, which has become a kind of mistaken reference of black originality to the world, nor the contaminations of Brazilian song itself, which Lenna heard from her early years in her homeland. Brazilian novelas – soap operas – came into her home, to the happiness of a DJ and record collector father, taking with them the voices of popular Brazilian musicians and singers such as Djavan, Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Ney Matogrosso, Nana Caymmi and many others. “I visualized Brazil when I started singing. And on TV, I was absorbing this culture.” But her timbre does not pursue the Brazilian schools of song. It’s clean, sweet, with vibratos at the end of the phrases but without excess or naturalism of someone who wants to avoid them.
Her arrival here was almost accidental. Her original destination was Berklee, in the United States, but the lack of funds forced her to spend some time in Brazil, which was becoming definitive. “I don’t regret staying,” she says. Two years ago, her first and unfairly little-known album Nômade came out as a gem, a meeting of ancestral Africa with the modern in arrangements of more voices than instruments, more melodies than percussion, a lot of body sound and an intriguing warmth in every word in chopi, changana, xitswa, nganda, zulu, Portuguese or any language being sung. Lenna is now preparing her second work, Raízes, with women’s voices, with no date to be finalized. Still on Nômade, she performed on Friday, the 18th, at Jazz nos Fundos. And tomorrow, Tuesday, October 22, in the Centro da Terra.
At the age of 30, with a narrative of one who study historical heritage with the same curiosity that leads her to research voices and body sounds of her works, Lenna Bahule speaks of two effects that her condition as an African woman in Brazil provokes. The good side: She is guaranteed work when she sticks to a niche that is in demand for African approaches, ideologized or not. Musicians and workshop producers are looking to explore this brand in their work. The not-so-good side: People no longer seem able to listen to music produced by a black woman without her necessarily going through an ideological tube. The fact is that the beauty of Lenna’s work – the song ”Solomi” from the Nômade album is just one example – would be stunning in any chromatic tone. “Over 90% of the invitations I receive for work are with this (politicized) slant. I know this is something important, but just looking at it can kill the creativity of a job.”
Since arriving in Brazil, Lenna has gone through a process of awareness that took time. Since there was no need for affirmations in Maputo, where everyone is black, she slowly began to notice differences in behavior. Here, colors stipulated types of treatments. She went to Maputo and returned twice, adjusting her eyes to investigate the differences and, on the last of the trips, more knowledgeable about the deformities of prejudice, returned to Brazil on the day they killed activist Marielle Franco. “I panicked, it was very depressing. I thought, my God, am I going back to a country where people kill others because of their color, their struggles? There, I turned the key.”
Her virgin eyes of Brazil also saw the beauty where the Brazilian, in general, does not know exists. She realized that unlike Africans, Brazilians connect with their religions with a devotion and a commitment to keep the beautiful and the sacred unique. It is not just feast or survival, as many do in Mozambique, but a need to take care of your most valuable weapons in any combat.
Courtesy of Terra