A Summary of “Music, Revolution, and Censorship” by Nathalia Santos

Reviewed by Associate Editor Sunny Chen

Samba, MPB, and funk are genres of music that were criminalized and repressed in Brazil during its authoritarian regime in the early 20th century. They were created by lower-class Brazilians.   Brazilian music under the authoritarian and militaristic regime is loosely categorized into three forms.  Some artists avoided political themes and created music influenced by American soft rock about love and innocent concerns.  Protesters like MPB musicians made music that was openly contemptuous of the military.  More extreme activists used performance art and wild lyrics and allusions to attack commercialism, populist politics, and American individualism.  The paper explores the history of samba, MPB, and funk; how it was suppressed and why it was valued.

Samba originated in Africa and related to the slave trade.  It was bloomed in the intercity Brazil.  Because it was associated with “inferior culture,” the racist government tried to suppress the music by forbidding use of percussion instruments, arresting sambistas, and regulating the when and where people could meet to play samba.  Samba was used as a symbol of Getulio Vargas’ nationalist project to bring cultural homogeneity to Brazil.  Popular music emerged in the 1950s as radio and television became more accessible. Now Samba is a considered a central part of Brazilian identity and is appreciated around the world.

MPB emerged later than samba, in response to the Brazilian politics.  It is known as the genre of protest songs.  Since 1930, Brazil experienced much political turmoil as the President was ousted in 1960 and the military began to play an increasingly dominant role in the economic, financial, and political reconstruction of Brazil. Repressed of MPB was heaviest under the dictatorship pf Costa e Silva in 1968.  As the MPB and samba were both intertwined with protest and class struggle, many artists were sentenced to prison, torture and death alongside union leaders, journalists and politicians, and religious groups.  Anyone who threatened the government was in danger of being captured. In order to play music, artists had to send their music to the Public Entertainment and Censorship Department who rejected anything deemed “morally degrading” or politically dissenting.  Since Brazil has a history of “moral censorship,” the department had a lot of public support.  Artists found a way of expressing their dissent by performing on university campuses and at TV festivals.

The funk emerged in the 1970’s and was inspired by the African American music.  Like samba, it was disparaged because of racism towards blacks.  When the Miami Bass was introduced to Brazil in the 1980s, the funk became more empowered and upbeat and included increasingly strong themes about drugs, violence, poverty, and criminality in Rio de Janeiro.  Funk was outlawed because of the musicians’ association with the drug trade movement to prevent violence and drug abuse in young people.  Indeed, funk was explicit about sex and violence, however the music also became a way to empower poor kids and women.

Santos concludes that the criminalization of these genres did not have a moral objective, as the government claimed, but was rather a way to silence the poor and marginalized who were creating a way to subvert and question the social order. The censorship cast the blame of drug abuse and poverty upon the very artists who were protesting the social structure that has forced them into crime-ridden environments.  However now, samba and MPB are celebrated and taught in schools.  This is because in order to control dissent, the Brazilian government ultimately realized that harsher regulations would not only be ineffective, but potentially counterproductive.  Thus, they reclaimed the rhythms of samba and MPB, making it a part of Brazilian identity and stripping it of its subversive quality.


Read the full paper here!

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