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MV BILL - THE INTERVIEW

By Vicente Lou (translated by Jana Pietroluongo and Vicente Lou)
This interview is in the current issue of Leros Magazine (June 2005) www.leros.co.uk

MV 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.

Vicente 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?

MV 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.

VL: Is it possible to avoid it exploding?

MV 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.

VL: Would you say that violence has increased or the situation has been the same for a while but today there is greater visibility?

MV 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.

VL: How did you start your career, until what age did you study?

MV 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?
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The 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.

VL: 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?

MV 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 victims’ murders.

VL: And how did you discover hip-hop?

MVBill: 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.

VL: But before that, didn’t you have the temptation of working for the drug dealers?

MVBill: 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 of
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”.

Sometimes 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?
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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?

They 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
after.

VL: When exactly do you think people misinterpreted you?

MVBill: 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.

VL: Why did you go to Free Jazz Festival with a gun in the waist?

MVBill: 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 and leave.
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Then 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?

MVBill: 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 was good.

VL: Last year you refused to participate in the Skol (a brand of beer) hip hop festival. Why?

MVBill: 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.

VL: Your manager had a project of recording a gay rap band and you were initially against it. What made you change your mind?

MVBill: 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?

He (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.
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VL: You don’t seem to have liked the film Cidade de Deus (City of God).

MVBill: 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 activities.

VL: You are now 30. Has entering on a new decade made you re-evaluate your life?

MVBill: 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.

VL: Guilty, you? What do you mean?

MVBill: 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 be immediate.

VL: And this tattoo with the name of Jesus Christ on your shoulder? Are you religious?

MVBill: 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 a pseudonym?

MVBill: No. This is where people misunderstand; my real name is Alexandre Barreto.

VL: And where does this Alex Pereira come from?

MVBill: 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).

 

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VL: 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.

Tickets £5 and £3 (concessions)

Bookings: Tel 020 7234 2303 extension 225 or email culture@canninghouse.com

The event includes exhibitions of clips “Soldado do Morro”, “Traficando Informações” (Trafficking Information), “So Deus pode me Julgar” (Only God can judge me) and others.

On 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.

Information and bookings 020 7242 8600.

The 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

 

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