Following up on a report from yesterday, a second popular Brazilian song within the period of about a week was deemed racist leading to a settlement against the distributor of the song. Reported on December 17th, 2011, music giant Sony was ordered to pay retroactive compensation back to 1997 for the release of the song, “Veja os Cabelos Dela (Look at Her Hair)” by the singer known as Tiririca. The Court of Justice in Rio de Janeiro judged the song to be racist and passed judgement against the Sony record label that distributed the song on the CD entitled Florentina back in 1996. The CD sold about 250,000 copies. The settlement forces Sony to pay $1.2 million Brazilian reais (worth about $656,000 American dollars) in retroactive pay back to the year 1997. The suit was brought forth by 10 non-governmental organizations that fight against racism including the Centro de Articulação das Populações Marginalizadas (Center of Articulation of Marginalized Populations), Instituto das Pesquisas das Culturas Negras (Research Institute of Black Cultures), Grupo de União e Consciência Negra (Union Group of Black Consciousness), Instituto Palmares de Direitos Humanos (Palmares Institute of Human Rights) and Criola Organização de Mulheres Negras (Criola Organization of Black Women).
In 2004, Sony was ordered to pay $300,000 Brazilian reais but the record label filed an appeal against the judgement, an appeal that they recently lost in the Civil Chamber of Rio de Janeiro. On Tuesday, December 29th, the court determined that interest and inflation on the value of the suit should be calculated retroactively back to 1997. At the end of 2009, Sony Music made a deposit in the court valued at $663,159.37 but this amount was deemed insufficient by the NGOs. According to the defense attorney of the NGOs represented in the case, Humberto Adami, black women were offended, exposed to ridicule and felt violated due to the lyrical content of the song. In his view, while the decision and value of the judgement shows an advance in these types of cases, racial issues are still not treated as they should be in Brazil.
“This decision is a direct message to show how the issue o racial inequality should be treated. It is a moment to celebrate. The compensation won’t even go to the authors of the lawsuit. The money will go to the Diffused RightsFundof the Ministry ofJustice”, comments Adami.
Adami claims that the damages paid in the suit are the highest ever paid for compensation of a racist act in Brazil. Even so, he maintains that: “The quantity is still small when compared with other elements of moral damages like injury and defamation.”
A representative for Sony maintained that the song was not intended to offend women and that the artist was in fact alluding to his own wife in the song and that the terms used in the song are used by Brazilians in reference to not only black women but white women as well.
Below are some of the lyrics of the song in Portuguese and English:
Veja veja veja veja veja os cabelos dela (4x)
(Look look look look look at her hair (4x)
Parece bom-bril*, de ariá panela
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans)
Parece bom-bril, de ariá panela
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans)
Quando ela passa, me chama atenção
(When she goes by, she catches my attention)
Mas os seus cabelos, não tem jeito não
(But her hair just isn’t right)
A sua catinga quase me desmaiou
(Her stench almost made me faint)
Olha eu não aguento, é grande o seu fedor
(Look, I can’t take it, her smell is so bad)
Veja veja veja veja veja os cabelos dela
(Look look look look look at her hair)
Parece bom-bril, de ariá panela (2x)
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans) (2x)
Eu já mandei, ela se lavar
(I told her to take a bath)
Mas ela teimo, e não quis me escutar
(But she’s stubborn and doesn’t listen to me)
Essa nega fede, fede de lascar
(This black woman stinks, she stinks horribly)
Bicha fedorenta, fede mais que gambá
(Stinking beast, smells worse than a skunk)
Besides the case itself, there are other little interesting nuances that go along with the case. First, although the artist Tiririca was the singer of the song in question, the lawsuit and damages were not directed toward him but rather the record label responsible for releasing and distributing the record. Second, while the song was judged to be racist, Tiririca himself is considered black, his mother being a black woman.
Third, although the excuse that Sony claimed in which the derogatory terms used in the song were used by Brazilians in reference to black or white women fell on deaf ears, there is an extra twist to the use of the term “nega”. In its literal definition, the term “nega” is simply another way of saying “negra”, or black woman, and is often used in demeaning and racist ways. Its origins go back to colonial era of slavery in Brazil in which white slave masters had only formal, rigid types of sexual relations with their white wives while they had more casual, experimental sex with their black and mulata slaves. In the Brazilian context, when a white man uses the term “nega” with his white-skinned partner, it can be an affectionate way of saying that she is a good lover or that “she is able to preserve for him….something of the sexual mystery attached to the real other” (Moehn 2010 citing José Carvalho), ie, the black woman.
The fourth interesting piece to this story is that the case of Tiririca, whose real name is Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, speaks to society’s continuous obsession with fame, fortune and notoriety. Although Tiririca gained fame as a clown, singer and humorist in the 1990s, in 2010, the former illiterate became a politician, being elected federal deputy with the second highest total of votes ever recorded for a federal deputy in Brazil’s history.
* – Bom-bril is a type of aluminum scouring pad used for scrubbing pots and pans