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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Benedita’ by Elza Soares

Brazilian music icon Elza Soares introduces her new album by acknowledging racism, domestic violence, drug addiction, global warming, and sex are the “real issues facing Brazil in its Olympic year.” And on “A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo,” or “A Woman At the End Of the World,” the septuagenarian artist confronts these very issues, which Brazilians face on a daily basis.

Her entire album could be considered a protest album, but “Benedita” is one of the more straightforward protest songs Soares sings. It tells the story of a transgender person, who is addicted to crack. Benedita was shot and has a slug in her flesh. She also has a silver bullet for any “careless” police officer and will kill the officer if he crosses her path.

The guitar evokes the darkness of the subject matter. The intensity escalates into controlled chaos, as Benedita finds herself facing down a militia that has come prepared to attack her while she is at a “customers party.” The lyrics celebrate her for being armed and willing to confront the militia, even though she is careening toward death.

This is “dirty samba” music, as opposed to samba music for dancing in paradise.

Soares sings music like this to remind the world that these human beings exist. They may be disposable to those in power, but they are real people. Black Brazilians exist. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Brazilians deserve a voice. They are as much a part of Brazil as others, who are not seen as living on the margins of society.

As Pitchfork summarizes, Soares is a black, working class, and self-taught musician. She “endured exile, scandal, and racist opprobrium. She watched the love of her life, the legendary Brazilian soccer star Garrincha, spiral into alcoholism; he was drunk at the wheel in the accident that killed her mother. They split after he beat her, knocking out her teeth shortly before she was scheduled to appear for a television interview. Not long after he died of cirrhosis of the liver, penniless and forgotten, her son from that union died in another car wreck. All in all, she has lost five of her sons and daughters.”

She was born in 1937 in one of Rio’s favelas. Her father forced her to marry a teen, who her father believed was raping her. She had her first son when she was 13 years-old.

Soares is seen as a kind of trailblazer for the oppressed in Brazil. Women, Blacks, LGBTQ, and poor and working class Brazilians all celebrate her for her work. She has experimented with samba, jazz, soul, hip hop, and even electronic music throughout her career.

“The color of my skin does not mean less character or lesser value. I sing what I think, because the carne negra (black or dark meat) is still the cheapest on the market (referencing a lyric in her song “A Carne” (The Meat) that she recorded),” Soares previously shared. “Brazil owes me a lot. I became a professional very young and inexperienced. I was humiliated, offended, and I remained silent. The need to eat and to raise my children was so great that if I stopped to argue in court, I would have lost my livelihood, my satisfaction.”

Her most recent music is for “the women at the end of the world,” the people who fight, who are not afraid, who rise above everything. It is for the women who fight against prejudice. It is for the women, as she says in a trailer for her album, who challenge the worst traits of the human race.

Listen to “Benedita”:

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

The former US embassy in Tehran. Photo by Örlygur Hnefill on Flickr.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."