Nara Leão

Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff, Oh Mother What Have You Done #032, 2021
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By HENRY BURNETT*

Comments on the strength of the feminine in the singer from Rio de Janeiro and the controversy surrounding the song ¨With sugar, with affection”

Extremes never seem to be the best way to go, but they are becoming more and more the order of the day, so we must not be cowed. I don't know if this most recent debate involving the song “Com Sugar, With Affection” is an extreme case, composed by Chico Buarque at the request of Nara Leão in 1966. Chico himself minimized the repercussion of his speech in an interview with the portal Brazil 247: “I thought it was an absurd reaction. There was no reason. I didn't think it would raise any controversy, any controversy. I said that I no longer sang “with Sugar, with affection”, as in fact I haven't sung for many, many years. And an artist stops singing a song, it doesn't seem like news to me”.

It all started with a sentence said by Chico in the documentary Nara Leão's free song (Globoplay): “I will always agree with feminists, but they need to understand that at that time it did not exist, it did not cross our minds that this was oppression, that women do not need to be treated like this. They are right. I won't sing 'with sugar, with affection' anymore”.

As always, newspapers are a thermometer, for good and for bad. In my area, philosophy, haste is the greatest enemy of reflection, it is not by chance that there are at least two ways of doing philosophy today, at least the media and the academic; their results are very different, but many times, as I do now, it is necessary to face the public debate even at the risk.

I will not do here what good journalism values, that is, recover all the texts that dealt with the subject, nor would I know how to match the opinions that our reading of the newspaper keeps attentive, but I must admit that, having read them all, I decided to write after reading the text by the Portuguese humorist Ricardo Araújo Pereira. That it was through irony that my courage was awakened has to do with my unwillingness to put an extra egg in the debate omelette. But the music – and the irony – sent for me.

Said the humorist: “Those musical notes were impeding progress – and the poem, then, is not even mentioned. 'With sugar, with affection' generated inequality – and probably type XNUMX diabetes too. Unfortunately, Chico didn't name the feminists who are right, which is a shame. We don't know whether he is referring to Germane Greer's or Catharine MacKinnon's, Nancy Fraser's or Judith Butler's, Nadine Strossen's or Andrea Dworkin's” (Folha de S. Paul, on February 5, 2022).

I leave the erudition for the knowledge of so many variants of feminist thought to his account. Of those mentioned, I know Butler and Fraser, the first for being one of the most refined readers of Nietzsche that I have read recently – yes, Nietzsche, that misogynistic philosopher of the XNUMXth century (no irony). The second, by name. The others I need to know, the Amazon cart list has increased. I went there following the journalistic debate, where well-constructed pros and cons swarmed.

A few weeks ago I had watched the aforementioned documentary about Nara Leão. I found myself in front of a woman I didn't know. I understood that knowing about the “bossa nova phase” or the “engaged phase” was nothing. I was run over by a vigorous feminist, conscious to the core of her position among powerful, sexist, oppressive men, who constantly belittled her: “until today I didn't understand how it was that I was a muse and everyone made fun of me [...]. They didn't give me a lot of tea spoons. They mistreated me a lot. They thought I sang badly, that I was out of tune ('shut up'), you know? Everyone mistreated me. I was kind of lost [...]. They thought I was a mixed bag” (transcription of Nara's statement to the MIS, recovered in the series).

At one point Nara threw the bossa nova ax away. Nelson Motta, hesitant, and Menescal inform that she abandoned bossa nova after being betrayed by Ronaldo Bôscoli with Maysa. It is impressive that, despite everything she faced – the fierce machismo described to Sérgio Cabral (father) in the testimony to the MIS and all its consequences –, the cesspool seems to prevail as the reason for her radical change. She discreetly mentions the betrayal in her statement, when she remembers discovering the work of Zé Keti, Nelson Cavaquinho, and the meeting with director Augusto Boal and Grupo Opinião: “all that movement really impressed me, you know? To become aware of a social reality that I did not know, absolutely, had never heard of [...]. And, suddenly, when I discovered these things, I said, wow, I think maybe I can be of service, maybe I can make my life useful, you know? And doing something for others and, after all, I'm in a deep hole, but my problem is very small because there are people there with real problems and then I took a turn on my part”.

Betrayal was part of the package. But sexism at that time (sic), as Chico recalls, was normal, so she didn't leave bossa behind because she was belittled as an artist, as a singer, as a woman, etc., but because she was betrayed by the alpha male. In some way, she confirms this impression, in a delicate moment of the testimony; but her political position, seen through the lens of the series today, is much more incisive and decisive to understand who she was than this particular fact of her personal life. The future would show what Nara Leão should be remembered for.

The series plays a fundamental role in shedding light on a little-known personality, mainly because, despite the various testimonies of men and women, she is the one who has the final word. In short, Nara talks a lot about herself and about that world where she has forcefully asserted herself. Let’s go back to the song that motivates this text, “with sugar, with affection”. Chico will no longer sing it and, without Nara being able to speak, he assures us: “If Nara were here, she certainly wouldn't sing”. Talking about her made me strange. Putting it simply: he couldn't speak for Nara. To say that she would no longer sing the song goes against her legitimate deference to feminists. As a matter of fact, no one could say that, not even feminists, only Nara Leão herself, and she cannot. The texts that exalted Chico's decision solemnly ignore (?) another fact: it was she who asked for the song.

Fact: one of the most libertarian women of her time made an express request to a composer. He wrote the classic, as expected, on the verge of perfection. Why would a woman who broke all conservative ties of her time want to sing something that was the opposite of her attitudes and positions?

When Nara asked for the song, recalls Chico, she wanted a samba that recalled the sambas of the past. He would have said: “I want a song of a suffering woman”, and he gave examples of songs by Assis Valente, by Ary Barroso, those sambas from the old days, where the husbands went out to party and the women stayed at home suffering, like Amélia, that thing , she ordered and I did. I enjoyed doing it”. From this we deduce that Chico did not write the song to take any kind of personal position, but to answer an express request from his friend.

From her statement, Nara expressed complete certainty about the theme of the song, she wanted a samba in that old-fashioned way. It seems that Nara wanted to aesthetically revive a literary motto, she wanted to play a character that wasn't her, that she didn't want to be anyone, that shouldn't exist anymore, that is, a position of female passivity against which she spent her life fighting .

The intention of the anachronistic song was not sexist, it was against the sexism of the time, against the sexism of “other times” – this is where the knot lies, dissected by Maria Rita Kehl through irony. I venture that Nara might actually sing “with sugar, with affection” today, because, contrary to what Chico claims, although he and the men of the time did not think about it, that it was normal to be sexist, she thought and, unlike her friends men, acted against that sexism all his life.

I would sing today because, despite Chico's legitimate mea culpa, machismo is at its peak. In its current version, it does not oppress women asking for cold blood for the bohemian life – I doubt that most accept staying at home these days, like Penélope. Today many men, now abandoned, at the limit, commit femicide, brutally kill when they see their power threatened by the strength of the feminine, a strength that Nara incorporated like few others in her time.

*Henry Burnett is a musician and professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Musical mirror of the world (Phi publisher).

 

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