Racionais: from the streets of São Paulo to the world

Image: Bankski


Considerations on the recently released documentary film directed by Juliana Vicente

In a two-pan balance, one can imagine that there is, on the one hand, a lot of sense, and on the other, no sense. The discourse analysis proposed by Lacanian psychoanalysis on the couch aims, through interpretation or intervention, to empty the meaning of what makes a lot of sense and, at the same time, to give meaning to what is, in principle, unspeakable. But the goal is not to balance the scales. You can't change the past, but it is possible, through words, to give meaning to what doesn't have it, in an attempt not to repeat it. This could be a third dish on the scales that, tied to words, can change the fate already supposedly written.

But in addition to Lacanian psychoanalysis, there is another discourse that I believe intends the same strategy: the art that precedes, dispenses with and teaches psychoanalysis because it subverts the discourse. The word “revolution” is, according to the dictionary, a movement with a closed curve, even when power is replaced. “Subversion” deposes, overthrows and destroys. This is what Jacques Lacan tries to show with the theory of discourses in May 1968, in Paris. It is not the act of turning the discourse around, guaranteeing the same structure, but of subverting it, breaking it or precipitating it with impetus.

The film Racionais: from the streets of São Paulo to the world, written and directed by filmmaker Juliana Vicente, recently released on Netflix, shows the thirty-one-year history of the eponymous rap group. In addition to the technical and musical quality, it is with lyrics and words that, with mastery, they teach what art is. Art interprets the social insofar as it touches the singularity of the one by one, in the subject of many of the social. Individual suffering is a reflection of the dominant discourse of the time, which, in turn, is intrinsic to the structural malaise of society. It is through the subversion of the dominant social and economic discourse that each Racionais album interprets the malaise of the historical moment.


First album: Raio X do Brasil (1993)

Subversion: A description and identification.

The first Racionais album had a dialogue with Jorge Bem: In addition to being a song with “a vocabulary that already had rhythm”, harmonic, according to Mano Brown, it was an inspiration because “it added a more political idea with a dancing rhythm”. Hip hop and soul had already exploded in the world. But the symptom of Brazil was different from what was transmitted in these two other rhythms. The Brazilian periphery had very particular characteristics, unlike the Bronx, for example, where the racial and physical limits are explicit where a black person can or cannot attend. Racism here “was not symbolized,” says Brown.

The name of the first album, Brazil X-Ray, is self-explanatory. It is a description of social exploitation, class division, the police and social system and racism. With these issues in mind, the album was recognized by youth from the periphery who identified with the lyrics and the culture exposed in the songs.


Second album: Surviving in Hell (1997)

Subversion: Two sides of political force.

The group had achieved some success and the members, a better social status. But even living on the “asphalt, it was less romantic”. Capão Redondo was considered the most violent neighborhood in São Paulo, with daily murders. The content and tone of the songs became heavier and more violent. We were at the time of the Carandiru massacre, the Candelária massacre and the Vigário Geral massacre. It was not just about the violence on the outskirts of São Paulo, but the history of slavery in Brazil. The prizes with Surviving in hell gave more visibility to the group. But Ice Blue explains that the group survived because “Racionais were strong, there were already politicians, lawyers and senators intervening in the censorship or not of the show”.

It was no longer just the periphery that was interested in the group's music. Visibility came with censorship. The fact that bourgeois white students, priests, thieves, among others, identified themselves with the lyrics, made Racionais question themselves about the phenomenon. Ironically, beyond the fragmentation of the songs, the denunciation of Inferno had the opposite effect: this CD was the moment in which, according to them, the group moved further away from the periphery.

Precisely the opposite of what the Racionais expected happened. The shows became violent, and a dead body on Mano Brown's foot during one of them was decisive for them to retreat. If what the system wants is the extermination of blacks from the periphery, and the idea was precisely not to enter the system and the killing machine, a strategy of subversion of discourse was needed. The most visible moment in the history of Racionais was also the moment of leaving the scene.


Third album: Nothing like a day after another day (2002)

Subversion: “Lysergy” and the modern world.

It was five years between the album Surviving in hell e Nothing like a day after another day. The turn of the century held the promise of a modern world. The subway arrived at Capão Redondo, the PCC already commanded and organized crime and violence, Lula was on his way to the presidency. Leaving the scene and returning to base and origins “made me understand everything again”, says Mano Brown. Suffering was different, crazy people were different, drugs were different and there were already other meanings for life on the periphery. Collectives were born, the form of representation of the hood no longer passed through the subordinated, oppressed, ignorant and alienated periphery.

Mano Brown says in the film that this CD needed “lysergy” – the composition of the word “lysergic”, from which “lysergy” was derived: “mind” and “sensory”. For the group, it was necessary to talk about individual neurosis, the weakness that everyone suffers, but that no one can talk about, like the maxim saying that “man can't cry”. The sound had to have layers, have dimension, "it couldn't just be stoned in the face". Milton Nascimento, Milies Davis and observing the Guarapiranga dam for hours musically determined the group on the third album.

But in 2007, after a riot between the public and the police at a show for 100 people, at the Virada Cultural in São Paulo, Racionais were silenced, banned by the State from playing in public and open places for ten years. They already knew that doing and talking about the black revolution results in persecution and censorship. But it was the invitation to participate in the film marighela which brought the group back to life.

During that ten-year period, they made an alliance with private and closed spaces to perform concerts. If violence and confusion no longer occur in these spaces, this is not due to this alliance. On the contrary, the subversion is in the detail of the inverse. This partnership took place with the public, not with physical and private spaces. Strengthening the members' connection on stage and with their audience was of the nature of an “umbilical cord”. The idea was to support the existence and survival of life, says Eliane Dias, lawyer and producer at Racionais. The union between them is the only reason that guarantees passivity in the shows because “they listen to the Racionais and the Racionais listen to them”.


Fourth album: Colors and Values ​​(2014)

Subversion: The fear of black coming to power.

The last album, colors and values, is loaded with funk, with musical reference also with Tim Maia. The album continues the “loka life” of the 1990s, but from a new reality. It is an album for modern times with a critique of new means of segregation and racism, says Mano Brown. Now blacks from the peripheries also have access to the material goods of the bourgeoisie, and “this is reflected in the music and in the streets”. The cliché imposed by the dominant discourse, by associating the Racionais with corpses and violence, is subverted by the group. Staying alive is not the only life project. The fight is not just fought for basic rights because blacks are now, accompanied by dreams and hope and a project for the future.

Group members say that the Racionais learn and teach courage. Guimarães Rosa says that to exist you need to have courage with judgment. Jacques Lacan says that, faced with a structural impossibility, the ethics of the subject is in the desire to act, in the “courage in view of this fatal destiny”. In the movie Racionais: from the streets of São Paulo to the world, Edi Rock says that it is impressive that the four members of the group, black and peripheral, are alive, when the only possibility was “to be shot”. Indeed it is. But, more than that, it is impressive that in these thirty-one years of existence, Racionais have subverted, with brilliant strategies, the discourse of class struggle and racism.

The other day, at a concert by one of the founders of the group Fundo de Quintal, in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, a friend called my attention to the fact that the DJing, during the intervals of the show, was rap and songs by Racionais, sung in chorus. That was what accompanied and shaped this generation from the outskirts of Brazil. My samba idols and my MPB heroes excuse me, but resistance against modern dictatorships is carried out by rap and funk.

The two-course seesaw now has three, and the subversion of discourse unbalances the strength of these other two. The poetry and wordplay of the Racionais subverted the understanding of the history of class struggle and racism in Brazil. Even today, the dominant discourse intends to empty, silence and exterminate black people, but the fight is now different: “we already have a voice”, says Kl Jay in the film.

*Mirmilla Mousse is a psychoanalyst and teacher. Master in psychoanalysis from the University of Paris-VIII (Vincennes-Saint-Denis).


Racionais: from the streets of São Paulo to the world
Brazil, Documentary, 2022, 116 minutes
Direction and script: Juliana Vicente
Cast: Mano Brown, KL Jay, Ice Blue and Edi Rock

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