As the president completes his first year in power, his opponents are finding their voice and fighting back.
Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency was still a week away when Edu Krieger penned his first critique – a ballad lamenting the rise of Brazil’s incoming leader and lampooning him over the corruption allegations that continue to haunt his family.
“It’s important for us to counterattack with our art,” said the 45-year-old singer-songwriter who has since become a specialist in musical parodies of the populist provocateur.
But as Bolsonaro completes his first year in power, Krieger is far from the only Brazilian artist finding their voice and continuing a rich tradition in one of the world’s most musical nations. From raperos to roqueiros, a growing chorus of musicians are denouncing the extremist politician and his assault on their trade.
“We can’t become anaesthetised and think, ‘Oh, he won [the election]. There’s nothing we can do,’” said Krieger, who has written songs for some of Brazil’s most celebrated female voices.
“At least through our music we can pester them a bit and make some noise. This is the most efficient kind of resistance we can mount right now … We can’t just passively accept the kind of situation they are trying to impose.”
Another artist joining the resistance is Manu da Cuíca, a 34-year-old composer who wrote the 2020 carnival anthem for one of Rio’s leading samba schools, Mangueira.
The song’s standout lyric – which warns of the perils of “gun-toting messiahs” – is a clear swipe at the pro-gun president, whose middle name is Messias.
“There’s no shortage of false prophets in today’s Brazil,” said Da Cuíca, whose baby daughter’s name – Havana – hints at her leftist leanings. “And it’s these ‘messiahs’ who end up dragging us down with their hateful policies,” added the musician, whose real name is Manuela Oiticica.
Chico César, a 55-year-old troubadour with seven albums to his name, is another setting his scores on Bolsonaro.
César, from the northern state of Maranhão, said he received insults and threats for a song skewering Bolsonaro’s “fascist” followers. The president’s assault on Brazilian culture was the reason for the artists’ backlash, he said.
Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has enraged musicians, film-makers and visual artists alike by slashing public support for their work in what many see as payback for their opposition to his rule.
“Art is like an anthill,” César said. “When you tread on it … it bites the aggressor.”
Marina Iris, a 35-year-old singer from Rio, makes no explicit reference to the president on her new album. But it is infused with angst and upset over growing police violence and discrimination in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.
One track, a Brazilian standard called Onze Fitas, tells the story of a woman shot dead with 11 bullets – a song Iris said spoke to growing state repression under a new wave of far-right politicians.
“We are trying to stop ourselves going backwards,” Iris said. “There’s no way my music could ignore this.”
Not all Brazilian artists are joining the cultural counterattack, however – and a small number of rightwing rappers have even used their verses to sing Bolsonaro’s praises.Krieger, the son of one of Brazil’s leading conductors, said many artists still felt reluctant to challenge the president for fear of alienating his supporters and harming their careers.
“Artists have bills to pay. Artists have to work. They need places to perform,” he said. “I understand it’s really hard for artists to speak out in a way that might make them lose their audience. Like it or not, 58 million people voted for this guy.”
But as Bolsonaro’s first year in power draws to a close – and Krieger prepared to fashion another post-Christmas critique of his country’s radical leader – the composer said more and more artists were taking up instruments.
“I think we’re moving out of the period of general anaesthetic that started the year.”
Krieger said his music was battling not just against Bolsonaro, but against the kind of intolerant and lopsided country Brazil had become “over more than 500 years of inequality”.
“Bolsonaro and his team are a faithful portrait of this Brazil: the Brazil of intolerance, the Brazil of homophobia, the Brazil of inequality, the Brazil of privilege,” Krieger said.
“Through our art we need to show that those people who are now in power represent exactly the kind of society we do not want to be.”
“Or is that actually the society we do want?” he wondered. “That’s the big question now.”