By Vicente Lou (translated by Jana Pietroluongo and Vicente
This interview is in the current issue of Leros Magazine (June
Bill shocked the media when he performed at the Main
Stage of Free Jazz in Sao Paulo carrying a gun and has
been prosecuted for publicly condoning crime in his
clip “Soldados do Morro” (Soldiers from
the Hill). Having visited 20 favelas in order to find
out why youngsters turn to crime, he is coming to London
to release the book Cabeça de Porco (Pig Head).
He is known to be aggressive, confrontational and controversial.
Vicente Lou, editor of Leros Magazine, found him intelligent,
sensitive and in good spirits.
Lou: You went around 20 Brazilian capital cities researching
the existing contrasts between favelas and poor communities
and the dangers in these places. As Rio de Janeiro is considered
one of the most violent places, were you shocked by the reality
of these other cities?
Bill: What shocked me most were not the differences but quite
the opposite, the similarities, to know about things that
I thought were restricted to Rio and Sao Paulo. I ended up
finding out that the two places get more publicity because
the media is more present in everything, but the violence
is the same I see here and is spread around several other
cities in a less intense way but in the same format; it is
like a bomb ready to explode at any moment and we have the
power to stop it.
Is it possible to avoid it exploding?
Bill: In reality I am not the one holding this bomb; I think
that there is not a way of holding it; the only thing that
can stop it is the national mobilization. I think this book
is not attached to the ordinary denouncing barrier but also,
I think that it is not a book that will bring the solution
to this problem. I think that it will help people to reflect
the way we think about Brazil, it will help us to think about
our country and try to balance it a bit more because today
the social differences in Brazil…it seems we are on
the verge not of an armed revolution but of an armed rebellion
because we see a few people with a lot and many people without
anything; and this is what ends up being one of the causes
of all this violence; it is not the only cause but it is one
of the great causing factors.
Would you say that violence has increased or the situation
has been the same for a while but today there is greater visibility?
Bill: The tendency is to become more and more difficult; today
we are in face of a society that is not sensitive to the problem
but scared of it, because violence now is not only in the
ghettos anymore. It is what I call “ghettoed violence”;
violence has come down to the man in the middle class streets
and started to be everybody’s problem because it reaches
the man on the pavement, the middle class people. But people
ought to know that before a bullet from a riffle reaches a
window in the city, it has already hit three huts on the Hill
and one life cannot be less important than the other. And
the most astonishing thing is to go to other states and to
find out that other deaths are not even
reported. And if they are not publicized, they don’t
even become part of statistics because they are not important.
During my field trip, one day I am in Praia Mole in Florianópolis
and then I leave and go to Bom Jesus in Porto Alegre; it is
as if I had travelled between two different countries. The
book helps to introduce one Brazil to the other.
How did you start your career, until what age did you study?
Bill: I had very few opportunities to study. I stopped
studying early to work, in order to help, I don’t
remember the exact age but I remember I started working
when I was 12, trying to juggle work and study is a
common practice in the favelas. Later on, I only managed
to finish the elementary school. My greatest dream was
to go to University, graduate in something and I ended
up studying in the school of life, didn’t I?
one where there are no teachers’ strikes or holidays;
I had to have a different type of learning that which was
not less useful. However, I never thought about living from
music; I never looked at hip-hop as a way of making money,
especially because when I started making rap it was far from
being the phenomenon that it became in Brazil. It was
just a way of expressing myself, of becoming visible. In the
book I tell a private story [Bill says in the book that when
he was 13, he used to work in a supermarket delivering the
shopping and a customer accused him of trying to grab her
daughter, who was blond. After that, every time he saw a blond
girl, his same age, he automatically lowered his head], the
title of the episode is “the worst feeling someone can
have”. I was working as “marrequinho” (boys
who deliver the shopping at a local supermarket), would take
the shopping to the posh ladies’ houses. And there I
was part of another moment, an invisibility moment. Today
I live the opposite of all those things; I became visible
through music; to be able to talk through the music is also
a way of touching people, perhaps in a more profound way and
I am enjoying a lot this result.
Besides being able to share my ideas, dreams, this opportunity
of having a different Brazil, we are also developing the habit
of reading in some places. Yesterday I went to buy an açaí
(a Brazilian fruit) in a place here in Cidade de Deus, in
a bar, when I saw a girl who was brought up with me, same
age, with two children, her children’s father was
murdered; when I went to buy the açaí, she started
telling me the whole story of the merla (paste of cocaine)
in the Planalto (region in the centre of Brazil) and blah,
blah, blah…she took the book from under the counter
and said “hey, sign it for me”…I had never
seen her with a book in her hand, man! To see her with the
book, talking about it, and also sharing ideas…to know
that I am developing her desire for reading…well, for
me it is being very rewarding; how good it would be if I could
give everyone a book.
The same way your friend’s husband was murdered, many
of your friends have lost their lives or were arrested. What
has made it possible for you to have a different fate?
Bill: Hip-hop. I had this encounter of awareness that was
hip-hop and for me and for many other hip-hoppers is a different
thing that it is for the Americans, at least for the majority
of them. In Brazil, hip-hop is not any longer a type of music,
a culture, but it has become an instrument of transformation,
of changing people’s lives. And this encounter was for
me a moment of starting over. I managed to overcome my childhood
traumas. The same traumas that many young people like me are
subjected to and cannot overcome through hip-hop; hip-hop
itself has taught me that it is not the way out to everything
and everybody; that through hip-hop it is possible to search
for several other paths. Hip-hop is just one of the several
paths and there are many youngsters who need
to have an encounter with this moment of lucidity and they
don’t have it. This is what we try to promote with CUFA
(Central Association of Favelas), we try to promote this meeting
with people; each one judging by themselves what is good or
bad; we try to take this opportunity to people. I believe
in the theory that when we give someone an opportunity we
have a chance of bringing him or her to this side. On the
other hand, to deny them this chance is to prove that they
are not human beings because they are not going to have opportunities
in life and to be, in a way, contributing for their and their
And how did you discover hip-hop?
I had this awareness moment of rap in 1988 when I watched
the film “Colors – the colors of violence”.
In Brazil they released several songs from this film soundtrack
that were translated in the former magazine Bizz, which later
on became Show Bizz.
But before that, didn’t you have the temptation of working
for the drug dealers?
Well, Vicente… Here in the favelas, I’m not talking
about the exceptions, but the rule is that we have humble
jobs like street cleaner, housemaid, car mechanic, and stonemasons.
These are the professions available and they are all dignified.
But young people, they don’t want these jobs. So, the
role models are not only the criminals but also the criminals
and these professions. Along these jobs the drug dealing appears
and not only does it give them the same money – sometimes
a bit more – but it also comes with their hopes of self-esteem,
taking them away from invisibility; many criminals became
famous nationally and some even in other parts of the world;
they have only achieved this through crime; if crime hadn’t
happened in their lives they would be invisible until now
and they wouldn’t even be part of any statistics. The
chattering classes don’t expect the good guy to come
from the favelas. In Brazil there is this culture of only
expecting the negative side of the favelas; they only expect
the criminality. I, myself, was misinterpreted in lots of
things I have done, in several works; so, my role is to represent
the bad side, be their spokesperson, my role is to be part
the criminal side; so inside the favelas, everybody, to a
certain degree, has an involvement with the drug traffic.
The people who live in the ghetto cannot differentiate, like
the police or the people from the paved city do, and say “you
are a drug-dealer”, “you are not”.
they unfairly say that those who aren’t, are,
and those who live in the community do not see the same
difference because they play football together, they
are brought up together, they go to school together
and the whole community see that same guy that everybody
else says is a dealer. Do you know where he launders
the money he earns with the traffic in drugs?
He launders his money in the bakery, buying bread
to have breakfast with his family; he launders the money in
the butcher buyin g beef for lunch. The biggest problem I’ve
seen in all of this – with no bullshit or hypocrisy
– is that the same drug that is a disgrace for some
families is the salvation of others; it is the favela GNP,
do you know what I mean?
So, we find it difficult to see these guys as “drug-dealers”.
In many places, which I visited, it seemed that this term
couldn’t be applied to these guys. When they died, people
had to make a collection to help in their funeral; these are
guys who cannot even speak Portuguese correctly and they have
guns, rifles, including Israeli rifles even though they cannot
speak English to buy them; they never travel even inside the
country but the same drugs arrive at their doors, you know?
don’t have any opportunity of becoming something else;
each one is their own judge and can say what is right or wrong
but crime nowadays in Brazil has become just another choice;
it breaks my heart to say this but crime nowadays has tragically
become a great choice for those who are born with no prospects.
I am not going to be hypocritical and say the opposite because
this is what I’ve seen, this is the truth and even I
have difficulties in saying to someone “Get out of the
drug traffic” because I don’t have anything better
to offer. And it is not enough to offer charity assistance,
kind of small thing, because television shows the good things
in life and this is what everybody is
When exactly do you think people misinterpreted you?
In the beginning of our research for instance. The first material
we showed from this research was the videoclip Soldado do
Morro (Soldier from the Hill), released in 2000. I was prosecuted
for publicly condoning crime the process is still going. But,
what I most resent is the fact that if the same videoclip
had been released by someone else, from a different background,
with a different skin colour, a scholar of no-matter-what,
well, this would’ve become something different. There
is a book in Brazil called Comando Vermelho (Red Command –
a gang of drug dealers) telling the story of the gang written
by Carlos Amorim, which is considered literature. But, if
I was the author of this book it could have become something
else. I don’t know what the criterion is to define what
is crime and what is art and in several moments we are framed
as criminals. And this is why I cannot consider myself an
artist and I develop this criminal side that people expect.
Ironically, the same clip that took me to court received 11
awards, even some international ones [laughs]; see the contradiction.
Why did you go to Free Jazz Festival with a gun in the waist?
In that moment they were talking about disarmament and
only the victims of kidnappings – or those who
could be kidnapped – were giving their opinions.
As I always had my image associated with the favelas,
with the so-called outcasts, I knew I was going to the
Free Jazz Festival with a different mission; I was the
first Brazilian to play in the main stage; I was the
first rapper, the first black, the first guy from a
favela, so I could not simply go there to sing two songs
in a very emblematic song like Soldado do Morro (Soldier from
the Hill) I wanted to make a protest and show that people
from the favela were also in favour of disarmament although
they were never consulted. So we made a protest in the song
“Soldado do Morro”. I sang with the gun in my
waist, and then I took it off and put it on a towel and the
band with 15 musicians made the gesture of peace. Before that
I made a speech talking about some statistics about the young
people who die in the communities because of weapons, because
of the drug traffic; I said that 90% of these people were
black – an extremely important data – and these
were the youngsters who suffer more and reproduce violence
and even after all this I was misunderstood.
VL: And what was the reaction of the audience?
Man, the audience applauded shouting “encore, encore,
encore”. I left the stage feeling happy. I said, “I
think people understood what we wanted to say” then
I open the papers the following morning and see “MV
Bill threatens the audience with a gun”; none of this
happened. I just made my protest in my own way, I gave my
opinion, and I showed my way of protesting. If I reproduce
everything I see on TV it is going to be just like the others.
I showed my personal way and either people didn’t get
it or they misinterpreted me deliberately. Since then I cannot
do a show without including song; there is even an English
DJ, a guy from London called Spider who sent me a remix version
of “Soldado do Morro” made by himself, and also
some photos of what happens in the dance floor when he plays
the song for the Brazilians; so, in spite of the difficulties,
of seeing my mother crying, worried about that moment is still
worthwhile for the discussion it provoked; people started
discussing something that everybody knows that exists but
nobody wants to talk about, and also to re-evaluate the opportunities
that the youngsters who live in the community have and this
Last year you refused to participate in the Skol (a brand
of beer) hip hop festival. Why?
I disagree with many things. The people who were in charge
are people who have always looked down on Brazilian hip-hop.
Later on, when they saw the opportunity of making money, they
embraced the cause and wanted to take over the culture; it
was through hip-hop that I managed to include myself in the
world; to include Cidade de Deus in the cultural map of the
press – although I couldn’t take it from the police
pages, at least it started to be part of the culture supplements.
Hip hop has another meaning; it is natural that gets corrupted
by its growth, that some people capable of anything for money
appear but I, like many others, see it as a bigger movement
and the money becomes a consequence; but there is a tendency
in Brazil to look for a Brazilian Eminem, to find a rap that
speaks in a language more middle class, softer, quieter, less
aggressive, less argumentative; why they had to “whiten”
the samba to make it more acceptable? They needed to “whiten”
the funk-carioc a [funk movement from Rio de Janeiro] and
they tried to do the same with the hip-hop. But there were
people from the other side that didn’t accept that and
fought for this legimaticy that hip-hop gives us and I see
in hip-hop, perhaps, our last opportunity, man, the last voice
that the black is going to have; the last voice that the working
class will have to express themselves; it is the only medium
between our brothers; there are other rhythms that are considered
more Brazilian but today what communicates from one favela
to another, from one people to another, from the poor to the
rich, from the hill to the pavement, from one state to another
is the hip-hop. To change hip-hop is to silence the voice
of thousands of people who depend on this culture.
Your manager had a project of recording a gay rap band and
you were initially against it. What made you change your mind?
I think I was against it for mere prejudice. One thing I don’t
hide is my contradictions as a human being and I am not hypocritical
to speak about things that I don’t think. When Celso
told me about it I didn’t see it favourably, there’s
no explanation. But later on, observing the disappointing
attitudes of many rappers who were considered
heterosexual, for instance, in this event that happened here
in Brazil and wanted to take over the hip-hop culture and
transformed us in lab rats and in playboys’ servants…
well, to find out that I was fighting against this and a bunch
of hip-hop macho MCs asking for God’s sake to sing there…this
caused me a certain disappointment against my mates, against
people I thought were in the same train I was…perhaps
they were in the same train but going to a different station
than mine, fuck! In regards to the gay group, on the black
awareness day, 20th November, we were going to play in São
Paulo, at Praça da República, when an apparent
ly hetero guy tapped on the van window and asked: “Bill,
do you have anything against homosexuals in the hip-hop?”
I looked at him and said, “Man, I don’t think
so”. As he didn’t seem to be gay I asked “Why?”
he answered: “No, just because I am homosexual and I
have a group of friends who like the movement and is not only
a rhythmic thing, to show our moves but it is something that
we really like; we see in hip-hop one more possibility of
acting in favour of our sexual freedom”. It got me thinking
“Fuck, I don’t accept that the black, the guy
from the slum can even be homosexual; does this mean that
only the white guys can be gay?
(the black) has the right to be homosexual, prejudiced,
and racist against whites, the right to be whatever
he wants to be! If hip-hop is meant to raise awareness,
spread information, education, fuck, I could not reproduce
that [prejudiced] thought; I don’t know if it
would demoralize hip-hop but I think it would be coherent
with what hip-hop p
reaches, I am sure about this.
VL: You don’t seem to have liked the film Cidade de
Deus (City of God).
Man, there was misinterpretation coming from lots of people,
they thought my criticism were directed to the film, to the
photography, direction, I am not a film critic, don’t
even understand about it, quite the opposite. I thought the
film was very beautiful, well-made, the acting of the people
from the theatre group “Nós do Morro”,
from the favela do Vidigal, it was really beautiful, the performance
of Leandro Firmino, who is the only one who still lives in
Cidade de Deus, was also very good. My criticism was against
the lack of a counterpart coming from the community. Because
if the film had been called “Cidade dos Homens”,
for instance, I couldn’t make any criticisms. But the
film had the name of the community I live, and the name of
an existing community.
And this already suffering people started being even more
stigmatised, many lost their jobs, many young people couldn’t
get jobs, many lost their girlfriends, the police force felt
they had the right to enter [in the community] more violently,
people were scared of just passing by near Cidade de Deus,
creating a feeling of low self-esteem in the community. I
hesitated in speaking because Katia Lund, the co-director,
is a private friend of many years and I expected her to do
something about this; I kept quiet. But there was a moment
in which I felt the pressure of the community that respect
me. They even started calling me Messenger of Omission, that
is an allusion to my name Messenger of truth (in Portuguese
Mensageiro da Verdade – MV), then I had to position
myself not as MVBill but as Alexandre, a resident from the
community Cidade de Deus; I spoke about the political and
social side of the film that I think it didn’t work
and then I saw lots of critics praising highly the film, making
some criticisms about the fictional part as if that were the
reality and they didn’t know the harm they were causing.
The film wasn’t even exhibited inside Cidade de Deus.
This caused a separat ion but it was nothing personal. In
that moment I had to choose my side. And today we have re-connected,
Katia and I, with no resentment; the absence of the political
part of the film also generated a great movement inside the
community, many NGOs started working and amplifying their
VL: You are now 30. Has entering on a new decade made
you re-evaluate your life?
I always try to be perfectionist in everything I do. If I
had the opportunity to go back I would retouch a lot of things
but as it is not possible I don’t regret what I have
done. If I had to start over, at 30, I don’t know if
I would do. At that age [the age I started] I had the physical
vigour, the vitality, the explosiveness, fuck, I don’t
know. Today, I’m still here but I am like Ronaldo. I
don’t go to the midfield to fight for the ball. I work
only in the front, in the attack and I still continue to dedicate
my life to the things I believe in, I try to lead my life
according my musical life that is my hobby, my cachaça
[Brazilian spirit extracted from the sugarcane] and the social
part that is an important contribution not only to Cidade
de Deus but to everybody else. Nowadays we even expanded the
works of CUFA to Cuiaba; there’s a base in Ceara, Brasilia
and in Sao Paulo. And to be able to expand this work, to give
support to people from other states; to amplify the movement
takes a bit of guilt from our shoulders as we also feel guilty
showing these contradictions and it help us from not being
guilty of omission of help.
Guilty, you? What do you mean?
Fuck, I don’t know man…but to see the tragedy
that great part of the population is subjected to causes me
some discomfort, a certain feeling of guilty, of impotence
for not being able to do anything about it. I feel guilty
as a nation, not as citizen, but as a nation; of knowing that
at the same time the problems seem to be difficult it would
be much easier if there were a great movement. Brazil is a
rich country, dude. There is a lot of land, there is money;
to see this income badly distributed this causes a bad feeling.
On the other hand there is the side of fantasy of arriving
in a place where theoretically there is only misery and to
know that people still manage to extract love and show this.
I have had several examples of this, very moving moments,
which I will never forget in my life; of not being aware of
what I am, of what I represent to these people and arrive
in a place and meet many people who relate to me, in places
where they don’t have internet, development or much
sense of citizenship, my voice is already there, rap is there;
then my voice is not mine any more and starts belonging to
a bunch of people; then there is hope but I think hope should
And this tattoo with the name of Jesus Christ on your shoulder?
Are you religious?
No. I was brought up in a family that practices umbanda e
candomblé [Afro-Brazilian religions] and I’m
the son, medium of Ogan [Afro-Brazilian god] but I never followed
this, I never developed this and I don’t have a fixed
religion. One of my sisters belongs to the Christian Church;
there is another one who is catholic but when my mother goes
there she prays a bit; she follows the espiritism…I
don’t follow any doctrine and to my mind Jesus is the
same in all the religions and some see him in different ways.
Some people see him blond with blue eyes, some see him black
as an African, some see him as an Asian but I think that deep
inside we are praying to the same force.
VL: Alex Pereira Barbosa, is it your real name or
No. This is where people misunderstand; my real name is Alexandre
And where does this Alex Pereira come from?
I haven’t got the faintest…they invented
it; it depends on the situation. Sometimes I deny. If
they want to arrest me I am Bill. If nobody wants to
arrest me I am Alex, but if you look in my ID card I
am Alexandre, and there you go… (laughs).
And the name MV Bill. How did it appear?
MVBill: Bill is a nickname from childhood. During the football
world cup in 1982 they were selling some sticker albums that
came with a chewing gum. And they released another album copying
the official album with an ordinary gum. Instead of the footballers,
there were some ugly animals and one of these was a rat named
Bill. It was hideous and they said the rat looked like me.
At the time, I used to fight with the kids and the kid who
gave me this nickname, Bodil, is still in jail. Many of my
childhood friends are in jail, some have died, some are lost
around and some are in the drug traffic. The nickname remained
and the majority of the guys who are into rap they put an
MC in their name “I’ll become an MC”. Then
generally they add an American name. I wanted to leave Bill
like this, a nickname from childhood times despite being written
with double “l”, but that’s the way it was
written. The MV is an allusion to the MC (Master of Ceremony)
that presents and entertains the parties and when I used to
get on stage I was more likely to end the party with my speech.
MV Bill launches his book Cabeça de Porco in London
on 28th June at 6:30pm at Canning House – 2 Belgrave
Square, SW1, Tube Station: Hyde Park Corner.
£5 and £3 (concessions)
Tel 020 7234 2303 extension 225 or email email@example.com
event includes exhibitions of clips “Soldado do Morro”,
“Traficando Informações” (Trafficking
Information), “So Deus pode me Julgar” (Only God
can judge me) and others.
29th June MV Bill autographs his book Cabeça de Porco
in the party of the programme Brazilian Beats by DJ Vivi in
Radio A-Brazil 107.7 FM. At the party DJ Vivi will play Brazilian
beats, DJ Spyder e wTisso Brazilian soulfoul d’n’b,
at Guanabara (Parker St, corner with Drury Lane, WC2 from
5:30pm to 2:30). Free entrance until 9pm and £5 after.
and bookings 020 7242 8600.
events above were organized with the support of the site www.BrazilianArtists.net
that also holds other details of MV Bill’s schedule
in London. CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER INFO