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Capoeira: gringotastic!

This is my summary of “Tourism Black and Blues” by Ana Paula da Silva, a PhD in anthropology who currently teaches at the University of São Paulo as a post-doctoral fellow. She is also a gringo watcher and wife of commenter Thaddeus Blanchette:

English-speaking media is so strong in the world that how Black American tourists see Brazil affects how Black Brazil sees itself. Black Brazil sees itself partly through black gringo eyes.

Tour operators in America use two things to draw blacks to see Brazil: the beautiful and supposedly easy women of Rio and the African roots of the black city of Salvador in the north-east.

The women: Black American men tend to see Brazilian women as more natural, easy-going, sexy and less overweight than their own women back home. Which is strange: Brazilian women, in fact, use more cosmetic surgery and are more uptight about sex – and many are overweight. Brazilian men would also be surprised to learn that Brazilian women do not stand up to them.

African roots: Surely the heritage tourists who come to see Brazil’s black culture first-hand are more serious. Well, no:

  1. Few bother to learn its history or read its great writers.
  2. They tend to see Black Brazil as somehow part of their own history even though it never was – it is a completely separate branch of the African Diaspora.
  3. They apply their own ideas of what is truly “African” to Brazil. That determines what they see and know, like capoeira, but not, say, black symbolist poets like Cruz e Souza.

All this gives them a rather odd picture of Brazil.

If Black America were viewed the same way there would be no Richard Wright or Malcolm X – because who needs to know the history and the literature? Jazz would be dismissed because it has no “African” beat. Black Baptist churches would be seen as sell-outs for not worshipping African gods. The Gullah of the Carolina Sea Islands would be the “true” Black America because its culture is more purely African.

Black Americans, by overvaluing what is “African” in Brazilian culture, undervalue what is Brazilian, what is special, what is new and now. As if Brazil was stuck in 1600.

You could argue that tourists do this all over the world: what tourist ever sees the “true” Japan or the “true” Greece? Well, yes. But the trouble comes when Black Americans go back home and help to shape America’s idea of what Brazil is like, particularly of Black Brazil. That in turn gets pumped out to the whole world and so comes all the way back to Brazil itself and its blacks.

Blacks may not be particularly powerful within America itself, but because they live in the land of the world’s biggest media machine, their ideas about blackness get carried all over the world, shaping how blacks everywhere see themselves.

For the blacks of Brazil this means that the richness of their history and culture has to fight against whatever Black Americans see as more “truly black”.

Three icons of the Black Brazil tourists know little about: Cruz e Souza, Abdias do Nascimento and Milton Santos.

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Afro-Latinos are those in the New World who are black by race, or at least mixed with black, and Latin by culture. Females are called Afro-Latinas. They mostly come from one of two places:

  • the Caribbean region, which has as many black and mixed people as America, about 40 million. Most live in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
  • Brazil, which has half of all the black and mixed people in the New World.

There are other blacks here and there in Latin America, like in Uruguay.

A few well-known Afro-Latinos or those with Afro-Latino roots:

The blackest countries in Latin America which have at least a million black and mixed people:

  1. 98% Haiti: 9.8m
  2. 64% Dominican Republic: 8.5m
  3. 62% Cuba: 7.1m
  4. 49% Brazil: 91.2m
  5. 21% Colombia: 9.0m
  6. 10% Venezuela: 2.7m

Puerto Rico has almost a million. The western shore of the Caribbean has another million spread between different countries.

America – in very round numbers – has about 3 million (not counting Puerto Rico):

  • 0.5m Haitians
  • 0.6m black Hispanics, mainly from the Caribbean
  • 2.0m Creoles, whose roots go back to French New Orleans but now are pretty much Americanized

There are three times more Afro-Latinos than Afro-Americans – because sugar in the Caribbean and Brazil brought in way more slave labour from Africa than did cotton or tobacco in North America.

Some main points to keep in mind:

  • There is no One Drop Rule in Latin countries. So those who are mixed do not see themselves as black and look down on pure blacks. That means colourism runs deeper and yet there is more race mixing.
  • Like America, Latin countries kept black slaves and so have racist beliefs about blacks too. On the other hand, the law in Latin countries comes from Roman law where slaves had certain rights, like buying their freedom or taking their master to court. They were not mere property as in Anglo law.
  • They freed their slaves but never went through a civil rights movement. Note, though, that Haiti had a revolution.

Racism: just as in America, black and mixed people have lower reading scores, die younger and are twice as likely to live in poverty.

Languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole.

Religion: most are Roman Catholics, though often practised with African elements. Voodoo, Candomble and Santeria come from African beliefs. Most of the African Diaspora is Catholic – something you would never guess from living in North America or the West Indies.

Music: Afro-Latinos have given the world new kinds of music, like jazz, merengue, salsa, mambo and samba.

– Abagond, 2009.

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I love these pictures! Although some have appeared on this blog before, it is good to put them together in one place. I got most of them from a beautiful, beautiful post at Gorgeous Black Women (link to follow):

LaurynHill

Lauryn Hill, American singer

Dakore Egbuson

Dakore Egbuson, Nigerian actress

OluchiOnCoverOfI-D

Oluchi Onweagba, Nigerian fashion model

Vanessa A. Williams

Vanessa A. Williams, American actress

ErykahBaduBW

Erykah Badu, American singer

India Arie

India Arie, American singer

Loews Lincoln Center

YaYa Da Costa, American model

Clara Aker Benjamin

Clara Aker Benjamin, South Sudanese fashion model

Amber Efé

Amber Efé, American stage actress

rojane08

Rojane Fradique, Brazilian fashion model

Abang Othow

Abang Othow, South Sudanese model

goapele

Goapele, American singer

lisa_bonetLisa Bonet, American actress

Naty Soul

Naty Soul, Congolese model

Atong Arjok

Atong Arjok, South Sudanese model (Nubian)

DWF15-817346

Genevieve Nnaji, Nigerian actress

Algebra Blessett

Algebra Blessett, American singer

gloriareubenGloria Reuben, Canadian actress

aissa02Aissa Maiga, Senegalese-French actress

jill-scottJill Scott, American singer

Why I love these pictures: First, because the women are beautiful. Second, because their hair is natural (or looks it – some of the models might be wearing wigs. I am easily fooled about that kind of thing). Just the idea of it being natural makes them even more beautiful. At least to me.

Natural hair tells me that they are not ashamed of being black, that they are not ashamed of being themselves. And so that alone makes them more beautiful. Like when Lisa Bonet played Denise Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”  she dressed in her own style and said just what she felt, not being afraid of other people thinking she was messed up or something.

It is like the difference between Beyonce and Lauryn Hill – or Erykah Badu. It is no accident that Erykah and Lauryn mostly wear their hair in  a natural style while Beyonce rarely does. It speaks to how they see themselves in the world.

I am one of those people who do not like Beyonce. Part of it, certainly, is that she is trying to be what other people want her to be – and not just her plain old self, her true self. Her younger sister Solange wears her hair black, at least, and just that alone makes me like her way more. She says she not trying to be like “picture-perfect Beyonce”. That is the trouble with Beyonce: she can sing pitch perfect and look picture perfect, but her true self gets lost in her attempt to be perfect. She is shell not soul.

Lauryn Hill, on the other hand, is singing from somewhere inside herself. And as to Erykah Badu, half the reason I like her so much is that she is completely unashamed of being herself.

I know women have straight hair for all kinds of reasons, like wanting to look professional for work or to be in fashion or to get a man. But sometimes I do have to wonder whether it is not always as innocent as all that, that maybe deep down something else is going on, in at least in some cases.

For those living in America, a country that is mainly white and which spends billions pushing white beauty, and a particular kind of white beauty at that, it would be surprising if there were not some amount of internalized racism at work.

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Remarks:

Just hearing this song I loved it. But then once I found out what the words were it became more beautiful still: it tells the true story of Aqualtune, a black princess who stood in an ox cart in Brazil with her subjects being sold as slaves, but one day her son, Zumbi, would lead a successful slave uprising. Mariana Baltar sings it better than Jorge Ben Jor himself, who wrote it.

This is the song where I first heard about Quiloa – the place pictured at the top of this blog.

The places listed in the chorus – “Angola Congo Benguela/Monjolo Cabinda Mina/Quiloa Rebolo” – were slave forts in Africa.

Lyrics:

Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Aqui onde estão os homens
Há um grande leilão
Dizem que nele há
Um princesa à venda
Que veio junto com seus súditos
Acorrentados num carro de boi
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Aqui onde estão os homens
Dum lado cana de açúcar
Do outro lado o cafezal
Ao centro senhores sentados
Vendo a colheita do algodão tão branco
Sendo colhidos por mãos negras
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Quando Zumbi chegar
O que vai acontecer
Zumbi é senhor das guerras
È senhor das demandas
Quando Zumbi chega e Zumbi
É quem manda
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver

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blackorpheus“Black Orpheus” (1959), also known as “Orfeu Negro”, is a French-made, Portuguese-language film that tells the old Greek love story of Orpheus and Eurydice but set in black Rio at the time of the Carnival. While it does present blacks as childlike, you do get to see Carnival and hear music by bossa nova great Tom Jobim.

The film won a Golden Palm at Cannes, an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Like “Carmen Jones” (1954) it uses an all-black cast and music to tell an old story.

The story (spoiler alert) appears in Ovid, Plato, Rubens, Titian, Monteverdi, Cocteau and even Neil Gaiman. In both the Greek story and the film, Orpheus plays amazing songs on his stringed instrument (lyre, guitar). He falls in love with Eurydice but then she is killed (by a snake, the electric current of a tram line). Orpheus goes to get her back from the dead (Hades, voodoo woman) but he is told that if he looks back at her before he leaves he will lose her forever. He looks back. Orpheus carries her body and is killed by some women who have gone mad.

Eurydice was played by Marpessa Dawn, who is not from Brazil at all but Pittsburgh! Although she is a light-skinned black American woman, in some of the posters she is pictured as a white woman. Not sure how they got away with that. She died in 2008 just 42 days after Breno Mello, who played Orpheus (and is from Brazil).

The film comes up in Barack Obama’s book “Dreams from My Father”. When he was going to Columbia University his mother and sister came to visit. One night “Black Orpheus” was showing. It was an old film that his mother loved, so they went.

His sister thought it was “kind of corny. Just Mom’s style”. Barack could not stand the way it pictured blacks and wanted to leave. He was about to get up and go but then he saw his mother:

But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.

“Black Orpheus” had come out just before she met his father at the University of Hawaii.

Obama concludes:

The emotion between the races could never be pure, even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart.

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Brazilian models

Not only does Brazil have its own fashion industry, some Brazilian models are among the top supermodels of the world. Of the five top paid models in the world in 2007, three were Brazilian:

The best paid:

1. Gisele Bundchen (1980- ): $33 million (2.6 million crowns), the top paid and richest model in the world. She is worth about $150 million (12 million crowns) and has appeared on over 500 magazine covers. She left Victoria’s Secret in 2007. From Rio Grande do Sul. She is German on both sides of her family. 1.80 m. WHR 0.67.

adriana44.jpg

4. Adriana Lima (1981- ): $6 million (a half million crowns). Spike TV in America says she is the hottest girl on the planet. More on her below. She is from Salvador, Bahia. She is part Swiss, black and native Indian. 1.78 m. WHR 0.69.

5. Alessandra Ambrosio (1981- ): $6 million. People magazine says she is one of the 100 most beautiful people in the world. From Rio Grande do Sul. She is part Italian, part Polish. She has wanted to be a model since she was eight. 1.78 m. WHR 0.67.

Kate Moss of Britain is #2 and Heidi Klum of Germany is #3.

Here is who I think are the most beautiful Brazilian models, of the ones I know of. Some no longer model, but they have all modelled at some point:

The most beautiful:

tais02.jpg

1. Taís Araújo (1978- ), from Rio, became the first black actress to appear as a main character in a telenovela on Brazilian television. She is a presenter on the television show “Superbonita”, about how to be beautiful! More.

2. Adriana Bombom (1974- ) is a Carnival queen from Rio. She she was once one of Xuxa’s helpers. What a body! More.

3. Ildi Silva (1982- ) is a television actress from Bahia. She was discovered on the streets of Salvador and became a model. More.

rojane.jpg

4. Rojane Fradique (1986- ) is a fashion model from Bahia in the north where most people are black. She is tall (1.82 metres), extremely thin but looks like a work of art. In 2003 she placed second in Brazil in the Elite Model Look contest and 15th worldwide. More.

5. Raica Oliveira (1984- ) is a model from Niteroi, near Rio. She now lives in New York with her mother. She has been on the runway in Paris and Milan and in many fashion magazines and makeup ads. She is friends with fellow Brazilian models Adriana Lima and Ana Beatriz Barros.

adriana44.jpg

6. Adriana Lima (1981- ) She has modelled for Victoria’s Secret and Maybelline. She is friends with Raica Oliveira. More.

7. Fernanda Tavares (1980- ) is a supermodel from Natal.

8. Camila Pitanga (1977- ) is a Brazilian model and television actress from Rio. Best known in Brazil as Bebel on the telenovela “Paraíso Tropical”. Ildi Silva, listed above, plays a secretary on the same show. Her father is black, her mother is white.

lucy.jpg

9. Lucy Ramos (1982- ) is a model and television actress. She is best known for her role in the show “Sinhá Moça”. She was born in Recife in Pernambuco. More.

montini.jpg

10. Marina Montini (1948-2006) was a beauty from Rio in the 1960s and 1970s. She was so beautiful that men painted pictures of her, especially Di Cavalcanti. Her heavy drinking brought her to an early end at age 58.

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Here are the top ten songs in Brazil according to airplay on FM radio throughout the country. If you see a picture with the song, you can click on it to hear it on YouTube.

For the week ending December 28th 2007:


1. Danni Carlos: Coisas Que Eu Sei


2. Backstreet Boys: Inconsolable


3. Bruno & Marrone: Ficar por Ficar (acústico)


4. Tihuana: Tropa de Elite


5. NX Zero: Pela Última Vez


6. Avril Lavigne: When You’re Gone


7. Colbie Caillat: Bubbly


8. Vanessa da Mata featuring Ben Harper: Boa Sorte / Good Luck


9. Edson & Hudson: Fala (ao vivo)

10. Kanye West: Stronger

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