One voice against oppression

Loving and fearless songwriter, Gonzaguinha was one of the most critical artists in MPB, talking very clearly about politics, existence, the women’s role and marital relationships

Rodrigo Faour
While listening to Gonzaguinha’s albums or to his countless hits recorded by artists like Maria Bethânia, Simone, Elis Regina, Gal Costa, Marlene, Ângela Maria, As Frenéticas, Agnaldo Timóteo, Joanna, Fafá de Belém, Cauby Peixoto, MPB-4, Quarteto em Cy, Zizi Possi and so many others, it is possible to get a true Brazilian history lesson. Gonzaguinha was one of our main voices in politics-driven music, besides being one of the artists that sang the most about existential pain, dwelling on marital relationships and the woman’s role in the society.

The contents of Gonzaguinha’s music are highly confessional, totally connected to his personal trajectory - from Luiz Gonzaga’s rejection (who only admitted to being his father years after the child was born) to his childhood in a favela in Rio de Janeiro and political involvement with MAU (Movimento Artístico Universitário, or College Artistic Movement), with Ivan Lins, Aldir Blanc another MPB artists that would eventually rise to stardom.

Back in the ‘70s, Gonzaguinha was harassed by military censorship. He would have to make two albums so as to put out one - he once had 15 songs from a single album censored. In his songs, he would give an answer to those who thought they could jeopardize him.

For a fair country
Gonzaguinha fought to make Brazil a more fair country: he was one of the founders of Sombrás, an entity that took care of copyright issues. He also started his own label, Moleque, to edit his songs. In order to become more accessible and bring his message to a larger number of Brazilians, he dismissed his agent, which, he claimed, "made the artist more expensive". Radical postures in a time when everybody feared everything and very few people had enough guts to expose themselves.

"A love song is also a song about the sweat we get from working/ the callus in the hand of those who sing about hope (...) with strength and faith", he wrote on Uma Canção de Amor, launched by Joanna in 1981. Gonzaguinha took the verses seriously all along his life. Maybe too seriously. Early in his career, he was dubbed "rancor-singer". Although he had a million reasons to feel and sing songs with names like Desesperadamente (or Desperately), Suor e Serragem (or Sweat and Wood Chops) and Catatonia Integral (or Full Catatonia), his first albums are very heavy, not easy listening at all. Success knocked on his door with equally heavy songs like O Trem, Pobreza por Pobreza and Comportamento Geral ("You should always lower your head/And say thank you/They still let you say those words/Because you are disciplined").

"Life is beautiful, is beautiful, is beautiful"
In 1976, his first romantic hits came up: Espere por Mim, Morena and Começaria Tudo Outra Vez appeared from within a repertoire of social-political songs. His albums turned out lighter, as the political repression faded in Brazil. His most successful LP, De Volta ao Começo (1980), featured a myriad of atmospheres, along which the samba E Vamos À Luta, about the Brazilian soul, fighting for one’s rights and knowing how to enjoy life; the loving Sangrand, the explicit conjugal drama on Grito de Alerta and Ponto de Interrogação, and a chronicle on amnesty on Marcha do Povo Doido.

Two years later, in 1982, Gonzaguinha would record his greatest hit ever as an interpreter, the optimistic O Que É o Que É ("to live and not be ashamed of being happy"), a samba that no one guessed he would be able to write. From that time are the light-hearted Feliz, Mamão com Mel, Lindo Lago do Amor, Maravida, Eu Apenas Queria que Você Soubesse, Caminhos do Coração and other hits about the good things in life and love.

Still, the songwriter would ever let go of the social-political verve, for all of his albums featured songs about the political situation in Brazil. His last hit, É ("We don’t look like assholes"), from 1988, sounds incredibly contemporary: "We want to be citizens/ We want to be a nation."

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