Note from BW of Brazil: I have to say that we are living in inspiring times if one seeks black representation with black artists who proudly display their blackness in not only their physical aesthetics, but also in their music and their attitudes. Afro-Brazilian singers, bands and blocos have come a LONG way since the times of the 1970s when groups such as Ilê Aiyê were prevented from using the name Poder Negro, meaning Black Power, by the state of Bahia’s Federal Police, because, under the Military Dictatorship of the time, the name signaled “inconceivable subversive intentions”. This was also the era in which singer Tony Tornado, with his black fist stretched high, afro flying and James Brown-influenced style was repeatedly interrogated by the Military regime who believed he had intentions of forming Black Panther-inspired organizations and incite a new militancy of blacks which they viewed as being a threat to Brazil’s so-called ‘racial democracy’ that in fact never existed.
Nowadays, Brazil’s black population demands punishment of students who try to “pass” for black and thus enter universities through hard-fought affirmative action policies, demands more representation in the media, calls out those who continue to think wearing blackface is cool or appropriate aspects of black culture that black people themselves have long been repressed from expressing themselves. Singers such Larissa Luz, Luedji Luna and Xênia França represent this new wave of black singers who no longer want to be forced to cede more prominent positions in Brazil’s music industry by white artists who earn much more money and prominence in the media than the people of the culture in which they borrow. These three women are powerful forces individually, so just imagine their power if they were to come together. Actually, you don’t have to imagine, because they’ve done just that!
Aya Bass brings together powers of Larissa Luz, Luedji Luna and Xênia França
Project redeems black singers from Bahia and puts new crop in prominent place
By Guilherme Soares Dias
The Aya Bass is the power of the black woman. Uniting the new crop of Bahian music – Larissa Luz, Luedji Luna and Xênia França – the project intends to redeem black female singers from Bahia and occupy the prominent place relegated to them historically. With different styles and ascending careers, the three singers appear on the national scene making a different sound from the commercial axé music, that so much emphasized música negra (black music), but little contemplated the cantoras negras (black singers).
Carrying the name given to the female orixás (yabás, African deities), the project was conceived for the summer of Salvador, the great moment of effervescence of the city, and premiered last January 26 at the Festival Sangue Novo (New Blood Festival), which brings artists concerts in music of the Northeast. Larissa, Luedji and Xênia prepare Aya Bass’s new show during the Soteropolitan Carnival, but they have not yet intended to perform it in other cities or throughout the year. “Let’s digest everything that happened here still,” Xênia said at the end of the show. If it depends on the public, the three should make many presentations of the project. After all, the audience watched in ecstasy, sometimes stunned at what they saw, sometimes singing the best known songs. Meanwhile, the three of them seemed to have fun on stage, aware of the strength of what they were producing.
Afrontosas. Idealized by Larissa Luz, the artistic director and choreographer of the project, Aya Bass makes a redemption of black singers and sends a message to branquitude (whiteness) and its privileges: “the color of this city is me, and we will occupy the spaces that have been relegated to us”, as Larissa yelled during the show. “They want the música negra, but they do not want the pretos (black people); they want the dança negra (black dance), but they don’t want pretos; they want the cabelo dos negros (black hair), but they don’t want the pretos. It’s time to make concessions, to stop using a place of speaking that is not yours.” And she said: “preto de alma não existe (black in the soul does not exist). Quem é preto é, quem não é, não é (Whoever is black is, whoever is not, is not). A música preta é nossa, Wakanda é nossa (Black music is ours, Wakanda is ours).”
The message seems to serve several recipients, but it also had a certain address: singer Daniela Mercury, who was not mentioned in the speech, but released the song “Pantera Negra Deusa“, in which she talks about Wakanda and the strength of Africa. Daniela is considered the queen of Axé music and always sang songs of appreciation of blackness, which doesn’t make her black despite making statements saying that she is… Luedji Luna added within the verses of “Um corpo no mundo” (A body in the world), in which she sings “Cada rua dessa cidade cinza, sou eu” (Every street in that gray city, is me), a verse of Daniela’s most famous song, in which she sang: “a cor dessa cidade sou eu” (the color of this city is me). Larissa inserted a phrase at the end of her song “meu sexo” (my sex) requesting: “respeita as pretas” (respect the black women). And it’s better that everyone understands that they are the revolution in progress.
Presentation. The show began with a light song that reminds a sound of terreiros (temples of Afro-Brazilian religion) titled “Aya bass” that brings verses “for all the girls”. Dressed in white and accompanied by female instrumentalists, Xênia, Luedi and Larissa also sang two major songs from their respective careers and sang songs by iconic Bahina acts Margareth Menezes, Ilê Aiyê and Timbalada. From the international repertoire, they made reference to Destiny’s Child, a group of the 90s composed by Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, in which they called themselves Nordeste’s Child (Northeast’s Child) when singing Survivor, “I’m a survivor”, in which they asked the black women who were surviving some difficult situation to have strength, because the moment would pass.
Besides the songs, the show had a strong political slant. A talk from Tia Má, as the journalist Maíra Azevedo is known, was used to speak of the força da mulher negra (strength of the black woman). Luedji stressed the importance of the moment when three black women compose, sing and live their art even with all the historical erasure and reminded of other singers like Mariene de Castro and Márcia Short. “We have sound and perception together for love.” Xenia asked black women not to stop being what they are: “the shit”. The adjective was the same used by Duda Beach, who sang in the same festival, and by the Globo actor Fabrício Boliveira, to define the presentation. Loo Nascimento, fashionista and digital influencer, defined the group: “a show of our color”, she said running her finger up long arms.
The show’s proposal was born after Xênia and Luedji met in Brasília and thought about doing something together. The next day, Xênia went to Rio to watch Larissa Luz in the musical Elza, about Elza Soares, and came out impacted. “We need to do a joint project,” she prophesied. It was when Larissa took out of her sleeve the Aya Bass, which she had already idealized and in less than a month, taking advantage of the holidays of the three in Bahia, everything materialized. And who still doubts the strength of the black woman?
Daniela Mercury criticized for cultural appropriation.
Courtesy of Jovem Pan
Still reverberating are the comments of singer Larissa Luz, who on Saturday during the debut of the project Aya Bass, Festival Sangue Novo, made a critique of Daniela Mercury, who recently released the song “Pantera Negra Deusa”, in her talk about Wakanda, a nação negra (black nation) created by the Marvel universe that is in sub-Saharan Africa, being the most advanced nation in the world and home to the Black Panther. Accompanied on stage by project partners, Luedji Luna and Xênia França, Larissa said:
A lacradora (The marvelous) @danielamercury made a song to pay homage to Wakanda, the black nation created by Marvel. But these black singers didn’t like it at all and accused her of “apropriação cultural” (cultural appropriation).
“It’s time to stop using a speech that is not yours to make a profit. It’s time to stop using a talking place that is not yours to earn. Because preto de alma (black in the soul) does not exist! Brazil is a country that kills, it is a country that humiliates, a country that condemns the color of the skin and not the color of the soul! Whoever is black is black. Whoever is not, is not! Black music is ours! And Wakanda too, Wakanda is ours too!”
The track, released in December by Daniela Mercury says:
“A pantera negra, a deusa (The black panther, the goddess)
A mãe original do mundo (The original mother of the world)
Mãe da única raça (Mother of the only race)
A raça humana (The human race)
Somos todos filhos da preta (We are all children of the black woman).
Da preta ancestralidade africana (From the black African ancestry)
Filhos da tua nobreza (Children of her nobility)
Filhos da mama Wakanda. (Children of mama Wakanda).
If you want to understand the critical points about the song, read here.
Note from BW of Brazil: When singer Larissa Luz made her bold statements on cultural appropriation, most people, including myself, assumed she was speaking directly to another Bahian singer, Daniela Mercury, a white woman, who has been accused of nibbling from the fountain of black culture throughout her entire career. Mercury recently revived a certain animosity directed at her with the release of her latest song, “Pantera Negra Deusa”, meaning ‘Black Panther Goddess’. In the lyrics of the song, Mercury paints a portrait in which the fictional black nation of Wakanda belongs to Europe and other geographical locations besides Africa. She also promoted the idea that, as Africa is the mother of civilization, and the whole world being children of the black woman, we are all simply of the singular human race. This message can be taken two ways and I take issue with this “We Are the World” sort of vision when people who look like Mercury have no intention of sharing the power and the wealth that continues to maintain darker-skinned people, who they claim are their brothers and sisters, symbolically under their feet. Miss me with that rhetoric Ms. Mercury.
In terms of Luz, she made her powerful statements on cultural appropriation shortly after the release of Mercury’s video and even mentioned Wakanda in her comments, as such, it seems a little strange that she would back pedal and claim she wasn’t speaking about Mercury. Maybe she wasn’t, I just think that there must be something at stake for her say that. OK, maybe she is speaking to whiteness in general, I just don’t think she would have said “Wakanda is ours” right now at the very moment when Mercury is basically saying that it belongs to everybody. That’s how I see it, but below is Luz’s explanation on the issue.
Larissa Luz says she spoke to white people in general and not to Daniela Mercury
By Hagamenon Brito
“They called me a separatist (laughter), a reverse racist, and that I was sending a message to Daniela Mercury because of the song “Pantera Negra Deusa”. I even called Daniela because my speech was and is for whiteness in general and for the future. People have to understand and respect differences. Whites can have empathy with black art and be together with us in the struggle, but the protagonism has to be ours,” she explains.
“My strong way of speaking is stigmatized as something of ‘‘negra raivosa’ (angry black woman)’ (laughs), but it’s just a positioning. Far be it from me to want to separate people by skin color, but there is structural racism in Brazil, which is much more complex and serious than calling us ‘monkeys’, for example,” she says.