Feminism in samba rhythm

Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema, 1958


Comment on the books “Feminista, eu?” and “Song of Queens”

Professor and literary critic Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda dedicates the new book Feminist, me? Literature, Cinema Novo, MPB “Rachel de Queiroz, who was truly terrified of being recognized as a feminist. Lost, Rachel! I miss you so much”. Her dedication is a curious ignition to the book. Faced with her and the excellent title, I ask myself: “would the 'feminist' identity be self-declared, like the 'color' in the IBGE census, or attributable by third parties?”. The sender and recipient of the dedication would differ. Without knowing how to give an opinion, I will grope ideas in this text.

I bring a new quote now… from Song of queens: the power of the women who wrote the history of samba, where the journalist and screenwriter Leonardo Bruno portrayed the sagas of Alcione, Beth Carvalho, Clara Nunes, Dona Ivone Lara and Elza Soares and the examples of other sambistas. The author, whom I also admire as a friend, concludes almost at the end: “they used their voices to rock our joys, but first they were the voices of all women in this country, demonstrating how it was possible to face the difficulties created by a world dominated by figures masculine”. Would their voice really be everyone's? (Only certainty: I will cite the authors by name instead of a last name spacer.)


More than voice owners, feminist spokespersons

Feminist, me? revisits writers, filmmakers and musicians whose work in the 1960s and 80s “crossed barriers, faced some clubs in Bolinha and said what it meant”. Hence the author came to map works with reciprocal influences with feminism, whether the artists had a feminist self-image or not... Only activists had it and even progressives like those of The Quibbler they called them masculinized, unloved, dangerous, ugly, or undesirable.

The expression of feminist ideas and attitudes is initially highlighted in prose, such as that of Carmen da Silva, Lygia Fagundes Telles and Marilene Felinto, and in poets such as Adélia Prado and Ana Cristina Cesar. When feminism became more visible in Brazil, less than half a century ago, women writers were already recognized and echoed concern with the condition of women. In Cinema Novo, however, women found space to create more in front of than behind the camera. Heloisa highlights the growing production of films by female directors in the final half of the XNUMXth century, portraying their new role in this market.

In music, Brazilian women have traditionally been more singers than composers. It is with this role that Heloisa deals most, which is welcome given the lesser appreciation of this facet even among performers-composers. Even so, Elis Regina and Nara Leão did not fail to have their feminist stance highlighted – clear to everyone – during the rise of the movement. Nara was even decisive in projecting Sueli Costa by recording her “For example you”; and Sueli did not raise flags, but set songs with avant-garde references to women.

The first feminist composer was Joyce Moreno, who, in 1967, was booed for “Me disse” (“I've already been told / That my man doesn't love me / I was told he has a reputation / Of making women cry”). Afterwards, she would see “Não Muda Não” obtain popular success and criticism for her “anti-Amélia”, safe, asking her man not to leave the bohemia (“Me alone in my kitchen / Waiting for the neighbor to talk / And you’re missing / With a friend in any bar / But please, I don't want to change you”). Precursor.

A decade later, MPB experienced a rise of composers such as Angela Ro Ro, Fatima Guedes, Joanna, Marina and Sandra de Sá. “All with very different styles, but converging on the need to speak (sing) addressing women's issues”, highlights Heloisa. “However, the environment of MPB was still very masculine”. In rock and samba, it was no different, with Rita Lee and Leci Brandão illustrating the minority.


Feminists as well as samba dancers

song of queens, already in its subtitle (“the power of the women who wrote the history of samba”), emphasizes the inclusion of female singers in this male-dominated environment that is samba. Certain images translate this well, as in the LP booklet standing on the floor (1978), a classic where Beth Carvalho innovated alongside sambistas from Cacique de Ramos: this daughter of the Carioca elite is the only woman in a photo with 18 men. Like Heloisa, Leonardo emphasizes the minority presence of women, but, above all, their voice.

Alcione, Beth, Clara, Ivone and Elza entered a style in which women were seen more as muses than professionals – in sports, one sees more such addiction in women's volleyball. Clara Nunes had her femininity stressed even in the name of the show Poet, girl and guitar, while Vinicius de Moraes and Toquinho were alluded to for their arts. “She wasn't described as 'the voice' or 'the singing.' She is there simply because… she is a woman! As if it had a decorative function, to 'beautify' the stage”, assessed Leonardo, in a lament beyond genres.

In times of singers neglected by the press who invented novels to be news, Clara pre-bestseller broke that cycle together with her producer and first husband Adelzon Alves. Even couples without fake news, like Elza-Garrincha, yielded speculations like she-spends-his-money (it was the opposite between them) or she-exploits-his-publicity – her brilliance is her own, having been an example for what she lived and for what she sang, as the author noted when recalling “A carne” (“The cheapest meat on the market is black meat”).

Solid careers did not shield “queens” from barriers of structural machismo common among “subjects”. There are several examples, but it is worth mentioning how the researcher Jurema Werneck read an ambivalence in the image of women in “A loba” (“I love your sassy hand / Your touch, your simple look already leaves me naked”), a classic in Alcione’s voice : “Despite being described as a fighter and potent, (…) the woman in this song does not seem to shift her gaze away from the male-female relationship, nor does she contest their privileges. She just claims good treatment, ”she said in the doctoral thesis quoted by the journalist. And Beth even asked Jorge Aragão for an “anti-macho” samba, without speaking ill of women – the carioca made a good dedication on the album in the pagoda (1979) to pioneers of samba de pagode.

The more cadenced rhythm of Dona Ivone Lara's career illustrates the hardships of women. In part, because female composers in that scene were more extras (ghostwriters at the beginning of it) than protagonists and supporting actors. In part, for having in music a parallel project to her work in nursing and social work, her source of income, and family life, a link responsible for postponing her projection and for the “owner” who anticipated the artist’s marital status. The author's good point was to attribute this delay to society – and not to “A” or “B” – sexist.


boundless echoes

Leonardo's epilogue about his (non-?)“place of speech” when profiling women weaves an involuntary dialogue with the beginning of Heloisa, about a (pre-?) “place of speech” of women artists. At the end of the readings, we give thanks for being part of a society that is more plural than before.

And I go further: I agree with the extemporaneous expansion of the “feminist” label not only to Rachel de Queiroz and I agree that voices like Alcione or Elza echoed other women. For our sake and that of society as a whole, here are eternal voices, for their echo has no limits.

*Mario Luis Grangeia He holds a PhD in sociology from UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Brazil: Cazuza, Renato Russo and the democratic transition (Brazilian Civilization).



Leonardo Bruno. Song of queens: the power of the women who wrote the history of samba. Rio de Janeiro Agir, 2021, 416 pages.

Heloísa B. de Hollanda. Feminist, me? Literature, Cinema Novo, MPB. Rio de Janeiro Bazaar of Time, 2022, 224 pages.

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