Engaged Music in the XNUMXst Century

George Grosz, God with Us (Gott mit uns) from the portfolio God with Us (Gott mit uns), 1919, published in 1920.


Every song is political, it contributes to the concrete organization of living

There are several concepts in history that change in meaning over time. In the field of the arts, it is an interesting exercise to compare the dictates of literary naturalism in the XNUMXth century with much of the literature that is practiced in the XNUMXst century. What differentiates a young contemporary writer who describes a beggar looking for food in the trash on the sidewalks of a metropolis, and a scene by Aluísio Azevedo, for example? Filtering the language of the time, the difference is minimal.

The history of the 2021th century, which is the one that influences us the most (I am writing this reverie in January XNUMX), with two world wars, the rise and fall of the communist dream, the emergence of new powers built on the foundations of communism (China) and , mainly, the political emergence of identity struggles that demarcate a new level of political perception. And, why not?, aesthetics.

The construction and affirmation of feminism, the black movement (in the West), environmental groups, indigenous peoples (in the Americas), LGBT+, caused a good amount of cracks in the status quo. And it generated a series of creative waves, which have been influencing generations.

When rap became a dominant genre on radio and virtual airwaves in the early XNUMXst century, displacing the rock'n roll that prevailed 50 years ago, did not seem to have a great impact on the academic, journalistic, literary, theatrical, etc. The reason is simple: the holders of the dominant discourse grew up listening to rock (or samba, bossa-nova and MPB, in the Brazilian case) and that was “teenager stuff”.

As has always happened since prehistory, teenagers have grown up and are there, wanting to take the reins of power. They live in a new world, where the virtual is as or more important than the real, and where the audiovisual connection between previously isolated groups can be configured in a movement, a wave, a rolê or a rebellion.

In a small book written in 1976,* the Portuguese philosopher José Barata-Moura, of Marxist training, who in addition to being rector of the University of Lisbon is also a composer and singer, states that “every song is political”. For him, any so-called alienated or escapist artistic production, whether good or bad (quality is another debatable topic, by the way), “contributes to the concrete organization of living”, transmitting or perpetuating values ​​that are of interest to the system. For him, imperialism exports music (and cinema, I add) that “plays a powerful political role in the ideals it spreads, in the forms of coexistence it sponsors and disseminates.” This reasoning applied today to the avalanche of gospel music that invaded the media, for example, corroborates the political role of these songs and of the churches that promote them.

Rap, even if it's not music strictu sensu**, can largely be classified as engaged art. It criticizes the powerful, confronts police violence, denounces inequalities, calls for unity among peers. In Brazil, it often points to the recognition of race, black color, Afro origins, although it is not limited to that.

Today, it is possible to hear rap made by young indigenous people on social media, sung in the native language. Of young people born in the periphery, claiming the right to the body. Or pop songs from artists championing the LGBTIQ+ cause. Or musical libels in defense of nature, punks attacking predatory capitalism, folk singers warning of the effects of global warming or garage bands hurling abuse at authoritarian governments.

This effervescent melting pot of social elements decant into new forms of protest songs, engaged art, war slogans. They can be social denouncement, political propaganda, identity anthem or warning cries, symptoms of a world in disequilibrium. They can organize marches, gather brothers and sisters, push established values, defend minorities or attack those in power.

Faced with this scenario, only those who do not see their own time can classify engaged music as a dated phenomenon, reminiscent of the XNUMXth century, which in Brazil is usually identified with the era of festivals and names such as Vandré, Taiguara, Chico Buarque, Sérgio Ricardo, Gilberto Gil, Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Inti-Illimani, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Lennon, Lluís Llach, Zeca Afonso and many others.

The big difference is that engaged music and, by extension, engaged art, always existed and always will exist as long as we are human. Censoring this goes against the grain of history. Long live Chico Cesar!

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


* Aesthetics of political song – some problems. Horizon Books, 1977.

**Rap, from English Rhythm and Poetry, rhythm and poetry. Music, in addition to these two elements, incorporates melody as an essential element. It's interesting how Brazilian rap stars, like Criolo or Emicida, seek approaches and mixes with popular music, especially samba, expanding the limitations of the genre.

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