SXSW 2019: How The News Is Affecting Artists From Brazil And Venezuela

Some Latin artists at the SXSW Music Festival come from Brazil, Venezuela and other countries where speaking out can be dangerous.


Two South American countries have been in the news a lot lately. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed in a political crisis. And in Brazil, a new far-right president has made racist comments. And he’s accused of stoking anti-gay violence. For artists in both those countries, the news is affecting their work. At the South by Southwest music festival in Austin this week, NPR’s Felix Contreras and Christina Cala sat down to talk about artists from both countries. Felix is host of NPR Music’s Alt.Latino podcast. Christina is a producer here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. They started with Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.

CHRISTINA CALA, BYLINE: He’s been quoted saying some really threatening things about indigenous and black populations there. Are any of the musicians that are going to be performing from either of those communities?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Almost all of them.

CALA: Wow.

CONTRERAS: And that’s exactly what Luedji Luna told me. She’s an Afro-Brazilian performer. And while sitting in the Austin Convention Center in-between gigs, she told me that she expected this conservative backlash after a period of more liberal policies in her country. And I asked her if she had any reservations about speaking up through her music about what’s going on right now.

LUEDJI LUNA: I know where I come from. And I know my heritage. I know that it’s not my afraid. It’s they are afraid of me, of my power, of our power.


LUNA: (Singing in Spanish).

CALA: She seems pretty outspoken. Is that a dangerous thing for her to be?

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, she and so many other performers who do speak up in Brazil are part of a long legacy of musicians speaking truth to power, during the military dictatorship there in the 1960s, there was an entire genre of music that developed around these musicians. It’s called tropicalia. And many of those musicians are now revered elders of Brazilian music – Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa. Those are just a few names from that movement back then.

CALA: Brazilian music history 101 with Professor Felix right here. How does that history sort of play into her motivation to speak up?

CONTRERAS: That and the attitude that she considers it a responsibility, almost a sacred responsibility, to speak up for those who are being subjected to unfair treatment of all kinds.

LUNA: My existence is really representative in my country, you know, for younger girls, young black girls. So I won’t be afraid. I can’t be, actually.


LUNA: (Singing in Spanish).

CALA: Another country that we have in the news today a lot is Venezuela. That is under the administration of Nicolas Maduro. A lot of people are fleeing that country, millions. Are there any people from Venezuela here performing?

CONTRERAS: As far as I can tell, there’s only one – the vocalist named Lolita De Sola. And here’s a track from her recent album.


LOLITA DE SOLA: (Singing in Spanish).

CALA: What about the other bands that were scheduled maybe to come from Venezuela and haven’t been able to?

CONTRERAS: I spoke with Alicia Zertuche. She is the South by Southwest senior programmer who’s in charge of booking all of the bands from Latin America. And she had what she called a very heartbreaking e-mail exchange with a band in Venezuela who told her they couldn’t make it this year.

ALICIA ZERTUCHE: There’s a band named Desorden Publico. And they’re an iconic ska band from Venezuela with a very, very strong following. He described it, we’re living almost a war situation. You know, I think it’s unfair for us to go and participate at this event. It’s not because we can’t leave the country. We are afraid to leave our families behind.

CALA: Let’s get a taste of what we’re missing from this band.


DESORDEN PUBLICO: (Singing in Spanish).

CALA: Any lessons we can take from the bands that are here and the bands that aren’t who are dealing with these pretty grave situations?

CONTRERAS: You know, I think it’s a reminder to all musicians to appreciate their own circumstance that allows them to freely express themselves in their music because that kind of thing is not always given.

CALA: Thanks, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.


DESORDEN PUBLICO: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s Christina Cala in conversation with Felix Contreras, host of NPR Music’s Alt.Latino podcast. They spoke at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin.


DESORDEN PUBLICO: (Singing in Spanish).

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