By: Gus Navarro
Two weeks ago, Daniel Pellegrine, a 20-year-old funk singer known as MC Daleste, was shot in the stomach in front of more than 4,000 fans while performing at a free concert in Campinas, São Paulo. In a YouTube video that has gone viral, he is seen performing a song entitled “Apologia,” that contains a particularly violent tirade about killing police when suddenly two shots ring out. Almost immediately, his lifeless body crashes to the stage. The camera quickly loses focus as the person filming flees the scene.
As I watched the video, I expected a burst of gunshots to ring out following the first two. However, there is nothing. It is extremely likely that a hired gunman connected to the police carried out this execution (there is much money to be made as an ex-cop in the “private security” business). It is possible that this was gang-related although Daleste’s father has been cited as saying that Daleste wasn’t involved with gangs. Adding to this, Daily Mail reported that, “Police have since retrieved the first bullet from the scene of Daleste’s murder. It allegedly matches the .40mm ammunition issued by the military police.” MC Daleste is not the first artist to be gunned down at a concert in Brasil; there have been six other rappers gunned down since 2010, including MC Primo and MC Duda Marapé.
In June, Brasil hosted the Confederations Cup (a soccer tournament viewed as the dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup). When the Confederations Cup began, mass protests broke out all over the country. The initial unrest began in São Paulo as a response to an increase in the bus fare across the city. However, the protests quickly became a nationwide movement denouncing a range of problems such as government corruption, poor education and health care. Trade unions were also active, demanding a 40-hour work week and better benefits. Over the years, the people of Brasil have suffered due to a lack of infrastructure and corrupt politicians that abuse their positions of power to no end. There are numerous accounts of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes like money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder.
While a few of these politicians have been convicted, a majority of these crimes go unpunished while there are people in Brasil struggling to provide for their families, obtain an equitable education and receive proper medical treatment. The Confederations Cup presented the ideal opportunity for Brasilians to make their voices heard as the world turned its attention to this South American country. Day and night there were people demonstrating all over in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Thousands demonstrated in front of the National Congress in Brasília. There were protests in Recife, Fortaleza and Maceió in the northeast of Brazil, Belém in the Amazon and Florianópolis in the south. The majority of the protests were peaceful.
Brasilians have a legitimate beef with their government that through a corrupt system has denied them the resources needed to live with dignity. Given the nature of these demonstrations it is critical that we examine the social, economic and political context within Brasil that has led to an overwhelming amount of political corruption and social injustice. If this were not a serious issue, the people would not be driven to the streets during a soccer tournament, the country’s passion. With that in mind, we must also take a close look at what has happened to the artists—and in this case hip-hop artists—that have attempted to address some of these problems through their music.
In the case of hip-hop, there are MCs in Brasil that use their music as a way to speak on the corruption they grew up with and see around them. The music of hip-hop, something that began as an outlet for the young people of New York City to take ownership and resist racist policies, has become an international phenomenon. This is because there are communities all over the world facing hardships that are engaged in the struggle for humanity. This is no different in Brasil where there have been multiple MCs slain for the political implication within their music that are a part of the Sao Paulo-centered “Ostentatious Funk” scene, a bling-obsessed and violent brand of rap over looped beats. Also called Sao Paulo funk, the club genre is an offshoot of Rio’s Funk Carioca, rooted in that city’s impoverished favelas and known for its empowering conscious messages and sexy groove.
Music and art are inherently political and will always be a medium with which to defy the repressive forces in societies all over the world. For example, protest songs brought people together and served as a rallying cry for those engaged in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. With the current situation in Brasil, this is no different. MCs in the Funk scene have used their music to get the word out about sub-par living conditions and corruption that is occurring across the country. The terrifying thing is that right now, the situation is so testy that if you step out of line and criticize authority, it is possible that you will be killed for doing so. Is it even possible to imagine going to your favorite artist’s concert only to have them gunned down in front of you and thousands of other fans? In Brasil this has been happening since at least 2010.
It is beyond time that the international hip-hop community comes together around this issue. Activist MC’s such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Blitz the Ambassador, Talib Kweli, Pierce Freelon, Invincible, Yasiin Bey and hip-hop heads from around the world are needed to use their influence to spread awareness about these executions. It is imperative that musicians in the spotlight are willing to use their sound as a way of challenging the status quo and creating consciousness. It has been done in any successful social movement because when it happens it gives the people a catalyst with which to oppose the varying forms of political corruption and domination. Given the circumstances, hip-hop music can be that rallying cry. The government of Brasil is facing a serious problem that is more important than international notoriety that must be addressed immediately. The international hip-hop community has to get the word out and come together in opposition of these senseless deaths.