Brazil: Drug barons ban music in their areas of Rio de Janeiro

1 November 2007
Universal rights of freedom of expression, and freedom of movement, are seriously violated in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Hip-hop artists face bans, personal intimidation, harassment and in the worst case death if they don’t obey to the rules, restrictions and ‘code of conduct’ of the gang which controls the area.By Martin Buch Larsen, Freemuse

Bandits and drug barons control and manipulate the already challenged inhabitants of the poorest suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, the socalled ‘favelas‘.

The report ‘Brazilians still living under dictatorship’ which was recently released by the journal O’ Globo in Rio de Janeiro reveals that various aggressive gangs are imposing strict ‘codes of conduct’ in certain neighbourhoods in order to demarcate areas of control with and to rivaling gangs and criminal factions.

25-year-old hip-hop artist MC Joana recently faced death threats and persecution if she continued to perform with her hip-hop group, she told the Brazilian journal O’ Globo when she was interviewed for the report. According to MC Joana, the reason was that her music group consisted of different artists who resided in three different ‘morros’ (neighbourhoods), each of which were dominated by rivaling gangs – which in Rio’s slum areas means immediate trouble.

“So I began to have problems even for practicing my hip-hop”, MC Joana said, referring to the ‘restricted’ reality of thousands of Brazilians involving limited movement within Rio’s different morros. This tough reality recently culminated when one of MC Joana’s band-members was killed – most probably for violating the unspoken ‘code of conduct’.

Cultural ‘code of conduct’
Another unnamed interviewee included in the report underlined the gravity of control in the favelas by stating: “It is common when there is a shift of gang or faction in a certain neighbourhood, after a war between drug barons, that people have to readjust to the new gangs’ particular culture, which often includes strict rules and its own way of governance.”

The citizens of the slum areas are well aware that the cultural ‘code of conduct’ violates basically every basic human right, but have no ways of stopping it. The O’ Globo journal recounts that the ‘control’ ranges from banning songs and lyrics played on air to dictating the colors of dresses and shirts worn in the areas to even banning people from interacting with friends or family in neighboring morros, as these inevitably are associated with rivaling gangs and factions.

Violating the drug barons’ ‘code of conducts’, which probably was the case of MC Joanas’ hip-hop friend, often leads to personal intimidation, harassment and in the worst case – death, recounts O’ Globo.

The O’ Globo journal emphasises the irony and expresses its concern over the fact that the hip-hop movement initially emerged with a mission to express the culture of the streets in the ghettos. However, in Rio de Janeiro’s suburbs it seems that these streets can be silenced too.

New form of ‘dictatorship’
The report from O’ Globo is only one of several reports digging deep in the present Brazilian society with a focus on relics of the dictatorship that cursed Brazil from 1964 to 1986. During this period the ruling elite banned hundreds of artists from performing throughout the country, due to political and social fear.

At the time when the dictatorship period ended it was believed that Brazilians would once again be able to enjoy whichever tunes and lyrics they preferred, but as it appears now, the role as intimidator and monitor has to a large extent been overtaken by powerful and scrupulous drug barons with their strict ‘codes of conduct’ and with personal and inhumane agendas.




Favela in Rio



Agence France-Presse, AFP – 25 August 2007 (in Spanish)

O’ Globo – 24 August 2007 (in Portuguese):
‘Bandidos vetam m

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