Feira Preta is the largest black cultural event in Latin America, but even with 18 years of success, it suffers the same fate of black businesses: a lack of funding
By Marques Travae
So, as another Feira Preta (FP or black expo) event has come and gone, I wanted to sit back and reflect upon why this annual festival of black culture is such a big deal. Of course, it’s always great to see thousands of black folks getting together to enjoy themselves, but FP is far more than just seeing the presence of black people every year. It’s also the fact that it’s organized by black professionals, features well-known black artists and reaches a black population that is becoming increasingly aware of its place in history, is demanding its fair share of the economic pie and wanting to consume products and culture made for them by them. This perspective is on full display when we see the African-inspired attire, the abundance of folks rocking kinky/curly, braided and natural hair and the overall appreciation of so many black folks supporting their own.
But even with these signs of success, in many ways FP is perhaps not as big as it should be. And there is a definitive reason for this. Back in 2014, a dear friend of mine, Mable Ivory, from New York, got involved in raising funds for a number of black organizations in Brazil. A few of these organizations were Feira Preta in São Paulo, the Steve Biko Institution in Salvador, Bahia, and Ser–Alzira de Aleluia, in Rio de Janeiro. According to Ivory, if it hadn’t been for her fund raising efforts with Coca-Cola that year, Feira Preta may not have happened.
At that point, FP had been put on for 12 years, and as I had been to the event several times, I had difficulty believing this to be true. But this is a common problem for black-oriented companies and entrepreneurs. It’s one thing just to be able to move an idea to becoming an actual company, but then it’s another maintaining it and attracting the necessary funding to make the venture grow. This is also the case with the FP. It seems that what happened in 2014 wasn’t just a one-time thing.
Every year, Adriana Barbosa and her team has to jump through hoops to try to secure the funding and sponsors to put on Feira Preta. We’ve read in recent years how companies in Brazil are increasingly open to making ‘diversity’ more than just a buzz word, but then when it’s time to actually match that openness with a financial commitment, this pledge is not prioritized. All black companies need the investment, but companies deal with this need in a sort, “we already have our black _______” sort of manner.
In same way that the media and companies will have one or two people outside of the standard in their organizations and think they are contributing to diversity, these same companies deal with black entrepreneurs in the same way. And with more and more black-oriented events being developed, there are more aspiring black entrepreneurs in need of funding.
Adriana Barbosa can vouch for this. Although we may see the Feira Preta for a weekend, what we as consumers and participants don’t see is the year long planning and organizing that goes into making this event happen. And even with all of this hustle and bustle going on for months, often times the actual funding to make the event happen only comes a few months before Feira Preta is scheduled to begin for a particular year. Can you imagine? This year was the biggest grossing FP to date but, like every year, it seems that people were biting their nails waiting on the financial backing.
But even with the struggle to put the event on and attain the proper funding, this year’s FP did not disappoint and the highlights were numerous. For starters we had a performance by the legendary Elza Soares. The 82-year singer who was named “Singer of the Millenium” by the BBC is idolized by a new generation of black women who see in her long career and struggle as a black MPB singer a symbol for representation of all black Brazilian women. Soares sang a few of her hits which included a Hip-Hop flavor with the backing of two other singers. Soares’ performance brought a well-deserved ovation.
Other highlights of the event included performance by four of São Paulo’s blocos afros, Umoja, Ilú Obá de Min, Zumbido and Ilu Inã. The entrance of these groups was a sight in itself as they descended down from the overhead walkway across Avenida Auro Soares to the sounds of the drums. Velha Guarda da Camisa Verde e Branco (Old Guard of the Green and White Shirt), a traditional and one of the oldest samba schools in São Paulo, also performed. Besides the appearance of the samba school, the location of FP 2019 was also significant as Memorial América Latina is located near Largo da Banana, where black people used to get together at the beginning of the 20th century. This region also gave birth to the samba in the city of São Paulo.
It was here that newly freed blacks arriving in the city would participate in leisure time activities, such as rodas de samba (samba circles). In 1914, Dionísio Barbosa founded the Grupo Carnavalesco Barra Funda that would later become Camisa Verde e Branco. The vicinity would become an area where people sold fruit to supplement their already meager income, bananas being one of the main items. As such, the area became known as the Largo da Banana. Today, the Avenida Pacaembu viaduct takes buses, taxis and cars over this historic area.
Two artists that also stirred up this year’s FP were Bahia-based artists, singer Larissa Luz and the group Attooxxa. Readers may be familiar with Luz due to her video pointing out the importance of black girls having dolls that look like them, her representation within a group of black Brazilian artists labeled as Afro-Futurism, her stance on whiteness appropriating black culture and perhaps most for her award-winning performance in the musical Elza, about the abovementioned Elza Soares. In her performance, Luz mixed elements of Rock and Electronic music in her homage to orixás, African deities, which have been so long demonized in Brazil. With assistance from singer/rapper Linn da Quebrada, Luz’s beat induced the crowd to dance. Luz also represents a new consciousness among a up and coming group of black Brazilian artists who are conscious of the political nature of black music and black culture.
The group known as Attooxxa, or ÀTTØØXXÁ, represents yet another intriguing twist in Brazilian music that has a history of mixing international sounds with specifically Brazilian rhythms. In the case of this group, that has been able to earn a following with its unique mix of Electronic beats merged with Brazilian Pagode, the very fact that it counts Kendrick Lamar, Justin Beiber and São Paulo Pagode group Soweto as influences is intriguing enough to make anyone unfamiliar with their sounds curious as what this musical stew might sound like. The group whose 2018 Carnaval hit “Elas Gostam (Popa da Bunda)” brought them fans all over Brazil, had the party in full swing. Connecting the power of their music to something bigger, drummer/vocalist Ozzy saw their show at FP 2019 as “a gathering of black people to party” and understanding their place in the world. “It’s very special to be in this process and do this dance full of groove.”
While the musical artists moving the crowd and keeping everyone hype, Feira Preta is perhaps most important for black entrepreneurs, many with their own brands who often don’t have physical stores in which to sell their merchandise throughout the year. Some of those brands include Xeidiarte, Bastt, Da Lama, Liana D’AfriKa, Ateliê Xongani, Kuavi, Berimbau, Hibouwax, Ojire Moda Afro, Afra Design and Art Abana.
I particularly appreciate the fact that representatives from Rio’s Kitabu Livraria Negra, a black bookstore, always make it out to São Paulo to present the works of black authors that are, for the most part, impossible find in Brazil’s top chain bookstores. Marie Reine-Adélaide of the Hibouwax may have spoken for all when she said that Feira Preta is:
“a place where we can find a great diversity and reach a larger number of people, who came from outside or who go to the expo every year. There is a very large exchange with other entrepreneurs. It’s important to feel this black economic power growing.”
Another aspect of FP every year that cannot be stressed enough is the debate and lecture part. With all of the music, food, clothing and vendors, it can be easy to forget that there must be some sort of review and reflection on where this yearly expo is going and what the ultimate goal for the black population at large is. Some of the topics addressed during this part of FP 2019 were the growing entrepreneurial endeavors taking place in the peripheries of major Brazilian cities, the necessity of financial knowledge, future goals through public policies and the influence of the black aesthetic.
For Pri Fonseca, who was responsible for this part of FP 2019, everything that goes into the expo speaks to another necessity that so many Afro-Brazilians have discussed in the past few years: empowerment. In her analysis, the debates/lectures and FP itself brings together all of the elements for black Brazil to realize its full potential:
“We reflect on how the work of the black population, the social movements, has contributed to empowering everyone. We think about the organization of money, how to charge for work. In addition to how this appreciation of black aesthetics has to do with greater self-esteem.”
Participating in the conversation were a number of entrepreneurs and organizations that are stirring up things in their particular areas. These entrepreneurs and organizations included Preta Inova (black innovation), Infopreta, Vale do Dendê, Perifacon, Preta Lab, Diaspora.Black, Black Bird Viagem, Conta Black, Empregueafro, and others.
Feira Preta is just a small sampling of the growth and the best representation of the innovations of black entrepreneurs in past decade and a half or so. The success of expo is a huge inspiration for Brazil’s black population, but it is also the best example of the struggle to augment and expand the concept of ‘black money‘ when the movement itself still depends heavily on resources that don’t come via black hands.
With info from Guia Negro