Note from BW of Brazil: So it seems that even some white Brazilian journalists are “getting it”. In fact, the question posed in today’s article has been touched upon in numerous previous articles, in one way or another.
In February of 2012, we posted an article entitled “The meaning of Whitney Houston and the obstruction of a black female pop superstar in Brazil”, detailing the hoops black female singers in Brazil have to jump through in order to not be pigeon-holed into the category of ‘samba singers’ and face exclusion from the more lucrative pop music market. Coincidentally, it should be pointed out that ten days ago marked the fourth anniversary of that superstar’s death. Later in 2012, we also analyzed “The continuous white appropriation of northeastern Afro-Brazilian Axé music”, a genre originating from the cultural center of black culture in Bahia but dominated by pale-skinned women.
In “Brazilian Beyoncés”, of April 2012, we presented six Brazilian women who have been compared to, in some way associated with, or the closest thing to the American diva. The simple fact is that Brazil doesn’t have black entertainer who has attained the level of success that Mrs. Knowles-Carter has been able to achieve in her record-breaking career. But the question is why? Of course, as the United States dominates the world is so many areas (militarily, economically and politically) and English is the most spoken international language, it would be nearly impossible for any Brazilian artist, regardless of race, to reach such a level of record sales and super-stardom as the ‘Queen B’ has reached. But even on the national level, there is simply no black Brazilian equivalent to Beyoncé.
The simple answer that most would likely make is that there simply aren’t any black female singers talented enough to reach this level of success. But in a Brazil in which almost EVERYTHING is dominated by white faces, is this a realistic response? We’ve shown time and time again that Brazil continues to reserve only a few specific areas for black Brazilians to shine in. Futebol, samba, the kitchen/domestic services, street sweeping or Carnaval-related events/positions are just about the only areas that are reserved for them and where they are expected to be prominent. Can you think of the reason why? Could it be for the same reason that there’s no ‘Brazilian Oprah’, and that the women who would come closest to that title are also white? Could it be the same reason that politics, academia, diplomacy, elite positions and so many other areas are dominated by white Brazilians?
Well, if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, it’s really not hard to guess. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Brazil has ALWAYS proclaimed itself less racist than its North American neighbor the United States, but there, even with the deep history of racial discrimination in that country, black Americans have a quantity of opportunities and prominence that their Afro-Brazilian counterparts can only dream of. In the piece below, well-known journalist Tony Goes attempts to address the issue. This writer doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Goes on everything (see the footnotes section) but it’s still noteworthy that he even approached the topic.
Why is there no ‘Brazilian Beyoncé’?
By Tony Goes
Quick response: Who is the great black female star of Brazilian music? The diva that earns a lot of money and attracts the masses?
It’s no use responding Alcione or Elza Soares. Both have already sold a lot of albums and have their places guaranteed in the pantheon of MPB (Popular Brazilian Music). But they have more than 40 years in their careers, in other words, they are not exactly idols of the garotada (young people).
The sad and appalling fact is that we don’t have a national equivalent of Beyoncé. In spite of the extreme importance of African rhythms for the formation of our music, Brazil wasn’t capable of producing a black female singer with the status of “superstar”.
Of course there are numerous super talented successful black female vocalists such as Negra Li, Karol Conká, Paula Lima or Margareth Menezes. But none of them have arrived to the first team where names like Marisa Monte, Gal Costa or Ivete Sangalo shine.
The case of Ivete is symptomatic. She’s part of a holy trinity of “Axé music” at the side of Daniela Mercury and Cláudia Leitte; a musical genre that was born black from head to toe in the blackest capital of the country, Salvador, Bahia. And in the meantime its three greatest exponents are white singers.
Nothing against whites singing black music; I am totally in favor of miscegenation in every sense (1) (and I find ridiculous the concept of “cultural appropriation” that has come to be fashionable among some activists) (2). But it’s not a requisite that a black rhythm, coming from a majority black city, needs to be sung by white women to be successful in all of Brazil?
Beyond that, the style that most sells around here today is Sertanejo, almost totally dominated by white men. Another curious detail, even more in a country that boasts of being much less racist than the United States.
However, there Beyoncé is not the only one of prominence, but also Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross and so many, many others. In the history of American popular music, the list of black goddesses is immense: Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan…
And in Brazil? OK, we had Elizeth Cardoso, Ângela Maria, Dolores Duran. All mulatas, none exactly black (3). And Alaíde Costa? Hmm, she could be, but she never went beyond the level of “cult”. Understand, I am not discussing musical quality but the level of stardom achieved.
There is hope. As, for example, the Rio born funkeira (funk singer) Ludmilla that has already shown herself not being one hit wonder. Ludmilla has a voice, beauty and charisma and I cheer for her to have a long and beautiful career. Maybe, in the near future, she will release a manifesto-song as blunt as “Formation”, the political bomb that Beyoncé released last week and that has divided opinions.
Much is lacking to come to this point, and the reason is really simple. Do you know why a Brazilian version of Beyoncé doesn’t exist? Because we are racists. Period.
Source: Novidade New
- In the context of simply love, miscegenation wouldn’t be an issue worth discussing. But Goes, like so many others, doesn’t seem willing to question some of the other reasons that interracial relationships are so widespread in Brazil as numerous bloggers have over the past few years. As the Brazilian objective for more than the past century has been the gradual disappearance of the black race by means of miscegenation, I often wonder if such writers would be “totally in favor of miscegenation” if the skin color of the average Brazilian were getting darker and darker rather lightly tanned.
- In the context of a white male, this writer carries most of the privileges that give him the right to label cultural appropriation as “ridiculous”. One of the very examples of cultural appropriation is something he described in the article: white women taking an art form associated with black people, being praised for it, receiving more recognition for it and earning more money from it. The denial of cultural appropriation is yet another privilege of whiteness.
- This question continues to be very subjective. Many Afro-Brazilian activists have come to reject the term “mulata” in reference to women of visible African descent. In fact, there are numerous sites on the web in which all three of these singers are referred to as “negras”, or black women. At the same time, on Brazilian sites, it is quite common to find people referring to both Beyoncé and Rihanna as “mulatas” while Goes refers to them as black. Many have questioned Rihanna’s ancestry and the artist herself once referred to herself as “mixed”.
In the same context, it is also intriguing that Goes refers to legendary American Jazz singer Billie Holiday as “negra” when Holiday was as light-skinned as the Brazilian singers he referred to as “mulatas”. It cannot be denied that colorism clearly exists within any community of African descendants with certain benefits being bestowed upon those with lighter skin. It should also be pointed out that in the eras of these singers, it was quite common to refer to Cardoso, Maria and Duran as “mulatas”, and in modern times, categories such as the “Globeleza” keep the term fresh in the Brazilian imagination. Although Goes seems to want to present himself on the right side of the racial justice question, his failure to analyze the historical question of miscegenation in Brazil as well as his continued usage of the term “mulata” when Afro-Brazilian activist circles reject the term, show that his views on race remain trapped in an era in Brazil in which everybody believed in the idea that the country was a “racial democracy” even as some continue to cling to the idea today.
4. Raíssa de Oliveira, rainha da bateria, or queen of the drumbeat of the Beija-Flor samba school, is yet another woman who the media has hyped up as a Beyoncé-type.
Raíssa revealed that she draws inspiration from Beyoncé. “As I started very young, I was inspired by actresses, singers, in their videos to construct a way, a style. But I am a fanatic about Beyoncé. Everything about her: the way she dances, her face, how she throws her hair. I try to bring this to Carnaval.”