Guest post by Derek Pardue
Sobrevivendo no Inferno was a landmark recording and influenced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Brazilian youth to speak up, to record music and minimally to be engaged with the world around them. After Sobrevivendo, the group recorded several live performances and a couple of more albums, the most recent in 2014, Cores e Valores (Colors and Values). Musically, the production remains faithful to the minimalist approach of Sobrevivendo but with more contemporary sound qualities, including occasional flutters of trap-influenced deep bass lines and hi hat flurry sequences, for example, in the track “O Mal e o Bem.” With that said, it would be a mistake to come away with the idea that Racionais MCs’ influence can be defined by one or two recordings or, for that matter, relegated to music.
While Ice Blue, Edi Rock and DJ KLJay all ventured into solo careers around cultural entrepreneurship, Mano Brown has managed to crossover and expand his presence without compromising his ethical commitments to Black, working-class politics. Brown has demonstrated a greater sensitivity and complexity to his thoughts about Brazilian society. I highlight two recent events that show Mano Brown as a confident yet flexible public intellectual.
At the time of this writing, millions of Brazilians have fallen back into extreme poverty due to the extreme neoliberal policies under the current regime. There is a palpable, collective anxiety over what will happen as the country moves into a scheduled election year in 2022. The return of military rule, a suspension of the legislative and judicial branches of government, an intensification of genocidal policies aimed at indigenous, Black, LGBTQI+ communities? In this milieu, Brown initiated a new podcast, “Mano a Mano,” and in the 4th episode aired on September 9, 2021, two days after a controversial celebration of Brazilian Independence, he invited Lula da Silva. The former union leader, president and political prisoner (released after over 18 months in jail, held without evidence) and Brown discussed a wide range of topics for over 2 hours. What was impressive to me was Brown’s proficiency in the new role of facilitator, the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Both Lula and Brown are master storytellers and remarkably charismatic. Brown was able to create a flow, a natural back and forth thereby avoiding a long-winded Lula monologue or an antidemocratic witch hunt.
A year prior Mano Brown was on the other side of the (virtual) studio as an invited guest of Sílvio Almeida, a leading Brazilian lawyer, philosopher and public scholar. Almeida is probably best known for his book on structural racism. In his Youtube series called “entrelinhas” (in between the lines), Almeida described Brown and the group Racionais as key providers of “survival strategies.” Brown replied with controlled humility and, as he has done so many times throughout his career, produced a gem of philosophy and self-empowerment. “[Survival comes] after a series of failures. There are many obstacles to overcome. The first wall is the most difficult because it features a mirror.”
Mano Brown continues to be relevant in Brazilian art and politics, because he not only sees and understand the macro-level machinations of power but also empathizes and, most importantly, know how to communicate with individuals to inspire resistance and effect change.
Derek Pardue holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and is an Associate Professor in Global Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has conducted fieldwork and archival research in Brazil, Portugal, Denmark and Cape Verde.