Samba and Fascism
Getulio Vargas was Brazil’s dictator from 1930 to 1945 and reappeared as an elected President in 1951. His influence in the country was immeasurable and is felt until this current day. Besides molding the face of Brazil’s current society and its political establishment, he molded Samba deeply, in a way that very few people suspect.
First of all he appeared in the scene via a coup, and as any dictator of the time and later, he had strong sympathies for Hitler and Mussolini. The far right political “package” included a strong focus on Nationalism and this is where Samba comes in.
Before being “discovered” by politics, Samba was a semi-legal form of music performed in parties/religious sessions in Candomble, the Afro-Brazilian religion, centers. Sambistas were mostly of African/slave descent and poor and their status was close to what rappers were before becoming millionaires, although less aggressive and closer to their roots. Upper classes disdained it and were into classical music or European style romanticism.
When Vargas arrived in Rio de Janeiro he was alien to the “malandragem” and to music in genera, He came from RIo Grande do Sul state, close to Uruguay and Argentina where the Samba and a black community, were almost insistent. With a need to unite the country around him and his development targets, he chose this musical genre as a possible way to bring Brazilians from all classes and all regions of the country together. Samba was to be a catalyst, a nation builder under his regime.
Under his guidance Carnival and Samba were drawn together and the world-famous parades were born. The festival keeps the format until this day: the songs and the themes had to exult Brazil and/or be educational about its history and its geography. They had to be military like parades and, in order to entice the masses and make them participate in big numbers it had to be competition among the several Samba “schools” representing Rio’s several favelas. This was a brilliant idea that worked: the lower classes bought into the illusion of reversing the social order for four days a year when they became the “rulers” of the city, the upper classes became interested in this demonstration of nationalism and it drew national and international attention stimulating tourism. Along with this, it was a clever way to de politicize the Brazilian working class.
The dictatorship also launched artists such as Ary Barroso the author of “Aquarela do Brasil” (known abroad as “Brazil”), a song that sings the marvels of the country and other Samba big names such as Dorival Caymmi, and an entire generation of radio stars. These artist were distant to the Candomble “terreiros”; they dressed smart, looked wealthy, spoke like the rich, praised every aspect of their country and, of course, never spoke about social issues.