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Mano Brown | An Interview

SÃO PAULO — Mano Brown of the rap group Os Racionais — spokesman for a rising generation of young periphery-dwellers — is interviewed for TV Folha, the public broadcasting half hour produced by the Folha de S. Paulo.

The report was uploaded to YouTube on May 10 of this year. The occasion is the filming of a rap video at the Mauá housing complex in downtown S. Paulo, occupied by organized squatters since May of this year.

The track is “Marighella,” an homage to the clandestine revolutionary who engaged in armed resistance  in S. Paulo in the 1960s and was killed by agents of the military dictatorship in 1969.

I am not the hippest hopper there is, I admit, but allow me to observe that a Racionais collaboration with rapper 50 Cent, for example,  has received hundreds of thousands of plays on YouTube. The youth of the periphery are very down with Brown.

I translate a selection, with annotations.

Mano Brown: I had been following the story of the occupation in the news media. I was indirectly involved, and the people from the movement were telling me I should record here, because this was where the ideas of Marighella were being put into practice.

How did you come to record in Mauá?

I had not yet realized what was going on. I had already had the chance to perform, to speak out, as I did at the Carandiru prison. We recorded “Diary of a Prisoner” and sang it inside [Carandiru] prison, before they tore it down. It was more or less like what we are doing here today.

Marighella spoke about this: agrarian reform, the division of land, social justice. This situation is a hangnail for the city of S. Paulo. It’s a problem they [the city government] don’t want to face, they lack the sensitivity to resolve it the way they should.

How do you view recent city government actions in the “Crack City” neighborhood?

This is what you call real estate speculation. They did this once before, in the first years of this century. They did it in Rio de Janeiro, in the Bronx, in various places. This is a radical approach. São Paulo took shape in this way. What were are witnessing now is a leftover from slavery days, they are applying the same formulas. They want to “clean up” the city, make the problem disappear rather than dealing with it.

I think that they [the homeless] have to fight. There is no reason to mark different territories as A, B and C. If they are living there now, they should be able to stay here. Rap can help. I realize that what I say has weight and that I can play a part.

What about the arrest of rapper Emicida in Belo Horizonte?

Emicida is a São Paulo rapper arrested in Belo Horizonte in May while performing his track «Dedo na Ferida» — «Finger in the Wound». He was charged with the vague and archaic crime of «desacato» — failure to show due deference.

Brown on the Emicida case is vague.

Brazil is a country in transition. It doesn’t know whether it is a modern nation or stuck in 1964. The right-wing today … they say they are not right-wingers, but they are. [Mayor] Kassab is right wing, [Governor] Alckmin is right wing, right? They say they are not, but they have the same MO as in the past, using force, using their power and leaving the bill for someone else to pay.

Do you think the Mauá occupation will gain popular support in S. Paulo?

Society first has to be sensitized. The people of São Paulo are very individualistic. They are what you call reactionary, right? Many of them see them [the homeless] as a problem and prefer to leave the system in charge of getting rid of them. This is very São Paulo. If you fall, they will run right over you and keep on going, That’s the São Paulo way.

If you live on the periphery, you miss a lot of this, you occupy a space of your own, but in return you live a long way from the center of things. These people [the Mauá squatters] are close to the center, and this comes with a price. Taking part in progress comes with a price. And so they want to exact this price. You have no right to live near a hospital, a train station, the subway; you have no right to live five minutes from work. You are supposed to remain in the background, reserved for people without rights.

But no one owns S. Paulo. The paulista does not own the city. Brazilian citizens own S. Paulo, as they do Bahia and Minas Gerais …

What do you think of the Truth Commission?

Justice needs to be done. They have to get to the bottom of it and punish those deserving punishment. If they are still alive, that is. Who are they going to punish? Who is still alive to be punished? Just like Pinochet, who was in his 80s when arrested. He lives well, sleeps well, eats well, he lives 90 years. And the worker …

Rap has lost some its high profile in the Virada Cultural festival. Is this because of the Racionais show in 2007?

No doubt, this has to do with Kassab.

The Virada Cultural, a tropical clone of Madrid’s White Nights, was marred that year by a grotesquely disproportionate PM shock troop assault on concertgoers.

Do you think City Hall has not forgetten it, gotten over it?

They haven’t forgotten, but then of course the Racionais are just the tip of the iceberg. The Racionais are just a small group, a grain of sand compared with the problems they face. I don’t care about rap, I don’t care about musical styles. I am fighting for a race, a people. Rap is not the only part of this. They are raiding parties in the neighborhoods, delivering beatings in the streets … Doesn’t Bahia have Carnaval in the streets, with popular participation? Don’t they have street Carnaval in Rio? So why not have it in S. Paulo?