Singer Margareth Menezes: “Brazil’s music industry is a ‘privilege machine’

Singer Margareth Menezes
Singers Margareth Menezes and Ivete Sangalo
Singer Margareth Menezes
Singers Margareth Menezes and Ivete Sangalo

Singer Margareth Menezes: “Brazil’s music industry is a ‘privilege machine’ for white artists

Note from BBT: It’s funny, but the arts and athletics are supposedly two of the areas in which black Brazilians are on equal footing with their white counterparts. As a general rule, nearly every area of Brazilian society is completely dominated by white Brazilians, or those who are considered white according to Brazil’s racial standards. But the truth is that, even with the areas of sports and entertainment, you can still find a racial hierarchy in which Afro-Brazilians are clearly not on equal footing.

I can already hear the sighs and protests. “Brazilian futebolistas (soccer players) and singers are some of the richest people in Brazil. So, how can you say that that they’re not on equal footing?” It’s actually quite simple. Let’s just look at the facts. First of all, sure, as individual artists, black athletes and artists are doing better than common every day black Brazilians and some do quite well in their particular industries. But there are several other points to consider here.

1) Beyond the super wealthy black athletes, one report showed that the average black futebol player doesn’t earn as much money as his white counterpart. (see note one)
2) In Brazilian futebol, hands down the country’s most popular sport, it is still rare to find black head coaches in the top divisions.
3) There still a stigma in terms of teams having starting black goalies. 
4) Most of the top money making acts in Brazil’s music industry are Sertaneja artists, which is dominated by white acts.
5) In Brazilian Hip Hop, as in Bahian pop, we see a certain whitewashing of black music in which a whtie rappers have a number of advantages over their black counterparts in an art form acknowledged as being black in its origin.
6) In Bahia, a state dominated by black culture, we see white artists promoted far more, getting larger sponsorship deals and media attention. These facts play out during Carnaval time and in terms of the earnings of artists associated with musical genres such as Axé music.

Artists and activists have spoken out on this topic for a number of years and it can no longer be considered some sort of secret. In fact, many have pointed to Carnaval time in Salvador, Bahia’s capital city, as the event and time of year when a glaring Bahian Apartheid is most obvious. During this coronavirus driven pandemic, it has become very common to see artists and public figures attracting tens of thosands of viewers to online discussions, forums, interviews and live performances.

In July, well-known Afro-Brazilian actress Taís Araújo made headlines when she touched on this issue with popular Bahian singer, Ivete Sangalo. During the chat, Taís asked Ivete point blank what many people had wondered and argued for years. The actress led up to the topic by speaking about the lack of opportunity for black artists in the market and recalled the dispute that often goes down between actresses to get a television role.

Singer Margareth Menezes
In an online chat, actress Taís Araújo asked singer Ivete Sangalo why Singer Margareth Menezes isn’t as popular as she is.

“It was an unfair dispute to win that role [as a black woman]. We competed among ourselves. It is the same logic as slavery. We realized that we are more powerful if we are together. We are making a beautiful movement. I have a 5 year old daughter, I need this Brazil to change, I have an 8 year old son, I need everything to change,” said Taís. Continuing on to another point, she asked Ivete: “It’s what I say, why isn’t Margareth [Menezes] as big as you, Ivete?” The singer agreed and said she feels the same way. Although Taís never mentioned the fact that Ivete is a white woman and Margareth is a black woman, everyone knew what she was trying to say. Needless to say, Taís’s comments went viral, being re-published all over the web in various social networks and news sites.

With such a well-known actress such as Taís Araújo making an issue of the topic, it was only a matter of time before veteran Bahian AfroPop singer/songwriter Margareth Menezes would have to address the issue. And address it she did. Days after the chat, Menezes finally spoke on the subject. Via her Instagram profile and an interview that appeared on YouTube, Menezes spoke on a “privilege machine” in the music industry that works for white artists, but not going in fully on her colleague, she also defended Sangalo.

The Portal Pop Line presented the story this way.

Singer Margareth Menezes
On an interview on the YouTube program ‘Papo de Música’, Singer Margareth Menezes discusses a ‘privilege machine’

At 57, Margareth Menezes, the Brazilian singer and songwriter, has authoritatively addressed a delicate topic: the “privilege machine”, as she defines the opportunities offered to white artists. This was one of the themes of the interview to “Papo de Música”, a YouTube program hosted by journalist Fabiane Pereira, which aired on Tuesday, the 28th. The expression “privilege machine” was used by the artist when commenting on the repercussions of a live chat between Taís Araújo and Ivete Sangalo.

In late July, Margareth was one of the most talked about subjects on the internet because Taís asked Ivete an important question. “Why isn’t Margareth as big as you are?”. It was Maga’s turn, as she is affectionately known, to reply: “There is a system. This is not in the domain of Ivete Sangalo herself, who is very talented. What is questioned is the very system that makes us invisible. It is the privilege machine. Why is a white artist singing successful and the same song sung by the bloco afro isn’t?” she asked, in reference to traditional African-oriented Carnaval groups. It is a well-known fact, that often times, black songwriters affiliated with bloco afro groups pen the songs of immensely popular white artists.

The singer continued, saying: “The TV itself imposed this, the normalization of beauty. It infects all relationships,” a clear reference to the Brazilian media’s well-known imposition of a dictatorship of whiteness in terms of aesthetic standard and representation. Continuing the conversation, Menezes tried to understand Ivete’s lack of dominion on the subject and made a request: “I saw that Ivete can’t answer much, because people are delicate to talk about racism, because of the question of the place of speech. People who have representativity have to be aware that regardless of being white, black or blue, we can indeed fight the practice of racism.”

Menezes recently made headlines with her comments on Brazil’s music industry

The importance of blocos afros cannot be underestimated. Even in a state with an enormous black population such as Bahia, as recently as the 1970s, black Brazilians were all but frozen out of the state’s Carnaval celebrations. Still today, blocos afros such as Ilê Aiyê continue to play a huge role in the promoting the self-esteem of black Bahians and exhalting the beauty of black women. Menezes, knowing this very well, also spoke on this.

“Blocos afros have changed the history of years, in the matter of referencing yourself. It was helping people to raise their self-esteem, to value black women … The whole repertoire of songs was bringing strength to people and formed a basis for contemporary music in Bahia.”

Below is Margareth’s full post on the topic

Margareth Menezes Instagram post on race and the music industry

margarethmenezes: “When a question has a basis, it echoes and so does the answer.

I have a deep respect for Ivete Sangalo (@iveteSangalo), I love her and that doesn’t come from now. From the beginning before she joined the band Eva, when she made a presentation in the green area of Othon. Ivetinha sang at night accompanied by Saul Barbosa and other guitarists, she always treated me with the greatest affection and joy playing with my shyness. She is a Bahian woman with an authentic expression that won over the hearts of her people with her talent and charisma.

The question that dear Taís Araújo (@taisdeverdade) asked Ivete, resonated and will continue to resonate, because it is not a question of denying people’s achievements, but it brings to the discussion a perverse practice of the musical and cultural industry of Bahia and the Brazil. Why in the land that has so many talented black artists and undeniable qualities, do the projection spaces not contemplate us? Why, on all the rare occasions that we are contemplated, do they not think they should pay us within an amount equivalent to our legacy? Of course, it is a complex and delicate subject, we are not questioning the achievements of others, but the way in which the industry treats black artists in the scenarios of popular music.

In all styles of MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) there is this perverse racial slant and what we are looking for is a fair and necessary balance. If Afro Brazilian art is heavily used to label the identity of national culture, from cuisine to artistic expressions, we also need to reap the rewards and benefits.

What has been, has been. Now it is up to us to fight and act to reshape this format by identifying, showing and questioning in a clear and objective way these spurious practices that only bring us suffering and injustice.

My generation of black artists from Bahia, built an unprecedented legacy for the Brazilian music industry market, that is a fact. Especially with the advent of samba reggae brought by its diverse rhythmic, melodic and chorus keys eternalized in popular memory and renewing Brazilian pop music.”

Margareth’s legacy

The fact is that with or without privilege in the industry, Margereth Menezes has already written her name in the history of Brazilian music, as one of the bulwarks of Bahian music. The 57-year-old artist, who started her career in the 1980s, has more than 15 studio or live albums. Still respected around the world today, since she was once dubbed “the Brazilian Aretha Franklin” by the LA Times.

Toté de Maianga / Dandalunda – Margareth Menezes (DVD Voz Talismã)
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Margareth has always used her Afro-Brazilian origin and belief in candomblé as a source of her art. She has had numerous successes that pack the Salvador’s Carnival. From “Alegria da Cidade” in 1988 and “Elegibô”, launched in 1990, to “Dandalunda”, “Toté de Maianga” and “Saudação a Caboclo (Selei Meu Cavalo Selei)”. She also immortalized other Bahian hits, such as the classic “Faraó Divindade do Egito” (Pharaoh Divinity of Egypt), originally launched by the group Olodum.

Faraó – Singer Margareth Menezes (DVD Brasileira)
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She was nominated for the Grammy Awards twice, first in 1993 with the album “Kindala” in the category Best World Music Album, and second in 2007 with the album “Brasileira Ao Vivo: Uma Homenagem Ao Samba-Reggae” in the categories Best World Music Album and Best Brazilian Regional Music Album. Margareth Menezes is power. She was also nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2006, in addition to collecting awards here in Brazil, such as two Caymmi Awards and Dodô and Osmar Wards (a prestigious Salvador Carnival award).

Source: RD1, Portal Popline


  1. In a 2002 report, a study considering 327 players from 17 futebol clubs in Rio found hints of salary inequality. The report that 26.6% of white athletes earned up to one minimum salary, while among blacks the proportion was 48.1%. On the top of the salary pyramid, 24.8% of the whites earned more then 20 minimum wages; among blacks, the percentage was of 14.8%.

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