Carlos ‘Mossoró’ Guerra Junior and Renan Inquérito are two Brazilian born academics, activists and rappers, related to the University of Coimbra and in particular to its renowned professor of sociology Boaventura de Sousa Santos. Mossoró is conducting research on how to unite the diverse breeding grounds of political activism (concerning for example the civil rights of migrants) in the Portuguese speaking countries by means of rap. He considers rap culture as an alternative source of historical knowledge and as a platform for unheard voices. Together with Renan and other Coimbra based rappers he organises several rap events, such as RAPensando, combining music with art, sociology and political debate. In the person of Renan the world of academics and that of hip-hop merge: he is both professor of geography and the MC of Inquérito. Referring to the ‘ecology of knowledge’ theory of Boaventura, he is primarily interested in the power mechanisms and values behind varying knowledge systems (like European academics as opposed to the wisdom of local communities in Brazil) and advocating their intrinsic equality.
“My name is Carlos Mossoró and my PhD is about the rap culture as political activism in the Lusosphere, the Portuguese speaking countries and communities. I predominantly investigate the biggest countries of the Lusosphere, without forgetting some of the little ones, such as Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) and São Tomé (Sao Tome and Principe). I focus on artists of the first rap generation who are still activists. I carry out research on the differences in their discourses and their struggles, but I also examine the convergences, for example the proto-narrative about those who were born in the slums and eventually became the spokesmen of their communities. There is also a lot variation depending on the geographical part of the Lusosphere. For example, MC Kappa uses parts of the traditional Angolan music to help the young generation understand what has happened in the past. Facts about the repression in Angola, for example, facts that they don’t learn about in school. But through the rap music they do learn about it.
“Rap music implements all kinds of local musical traditions to sketch a historical picture of the daily reality as it was, to communicate this history with the younger generation and give them an own voice.”
In Mozambique you have Mano Azagaia and in Angola Luaty Beirão, whose music is a whiplash for the Angolan cultural consciousness (‘Angolidade’), it is the Angolan community showing off. In Mozambique, Agaiaza succeeds in telling how the Mozambican independence was fought and reveals the problems of the country once it was independent and the struggle to consolidate the independence during several regime changes. He writes the day-to-day history by means of his traditional music. Rap is no isolated style of music, it implements all kinds of local musical traditions to sketch a historical picture of the daily reality as it was, to communicate this history with the younger generation and give them an own voice. Rap disseminates knowledge and wisdom, it teaches history and the historical struggles in a very outright way.
The most important aspect of the activism in rap is of course the message. Rap is first of all an exchange of messages. In Portugal, we have the rapper Chullage who also participates in our event RAPensando as Ciências Sociais e a Política. He shows how the people in Portugal suffer from xenophobia and racism and gives them a voice. For example, in the song Portugal to the Portuguese, the motto of the extreme right in our country, Chullage transforms the message into the opposite of the original motto. He says that ‘the Portuguese’ are everyone who lives today in Portugal. He calls for the burning of flags, the fighting of borders and calls everyone a citizen of the world. Thus, this rap song uses the xenophobic message of the extreme right and turns its message upside down by singing that there is and should not be any inequality between human beings. This inversion of the original message is sheer resistance and questions ideological hegemony.
In my master dissertation, Hip-hop, a black and peripheral (ghetto) community, I discuss the aversion of rap culture in Brazil for the Globo network, of for example Genival Oliviera Gonçales and MC Marechal. Marechal went to Globo TV to criticise them and succeeded in communicating his message in Big Brother Brazil. Gog was invited six times by Globo but never accepted the invitation and asked Globo on Facebook to never invite him again. Gog is a real leader, he always shows this attitude of resistance, he understands the significance of studying at the University of Coimbra. However, despite his activism and artistic interventions, he has not obtained recognition and his message is not reaching as many people as it would reach if he would talk to the media. But he has taken his attitude of resistance to the University of Coimbra and found out that here his work really makes sense.
I discovered this kind of work even before doing my master’s degree. I was studying Eduardo Tadeo and Facção Central in 1999 when their work became the topic of a polemical discussion. People criticised Tadeo for condoning violence but Tadeo denied this, arguing that he just showed the violence as it exists in the slums, because he is a storyteller of the slums. He wrote the book A guerra não declarado, na visão do favelado (The war that wasn’t declared, in the opinion of the favela inhabitant) to spread this message by he means of literature, because sometimes the young generation is feeling the beat of the music without absorbing what is being told by the music. So he communicates his message also via his writings and lectures. Hip-hop is the conjunction of everything he does.
“My father all of a sudden saw the academic importance of studying rap music and the enrichment of combining different fields of research as rap and the Sarau Poético movement or rap and the ‘ecology of knowledge’ of Boaventura de Sousa Santos.”
I also conducted research on Renan Inquérito, who came to the University of Coimbra as well. This was very interesting for my father too, who initially did not understand why I was studying rap music, because it is not something from his generation. But when Renan arrived, my father all of a sudden saw the academic importance of it and the enrichment of combining different fields of research as rap and the Sarau Poético movement or rap and Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s ‘ecology of knowledge’. So the atmosphere at the university is really open-minded.
I had the opportunity to work with MC Kappa from Angola and with Luaty Beirão, an activist who spent one year in an Angolan prison together with six other activists. And I succeeded in organising a debate with Renan, Rap, Sailing Between The Minds, which refers to the ocean between Angola and Brazil as well as to the convergences and divergences between the two countries. So I was quite satisfied with this work for my PhD research on how to unite different breeding grounds of resistance by means of rap. It also opened doors to more traditional conferences, where I argued that rap music can educate young people. I went for example to a conference about the 27th of May 1977, the day of a big carnage in Angola. The people of the conference said: “What is this rap music? It is a new kind of language, isn’t it? What has it to do with the subject of this conference?” The participants were looking awkward at this young man who wasn’t there the 27th of May 1977, a young man who even never lived in Angola. What was he going to tell about its history? So I showed them that I, a young Brazilian, and other youngsters from Angola had access to information that isn’t even written in the history books. We have access to what really happened that day in Angola because this information is in our music. The activist rap has always important content, as for example this phrase of MC Kapa: “It is not important to rhyme or achieving fame, the importance is to inform.” Information is the core of rap.
“Show Utópico combines rap with art and sociology and so much more. Afterwards there was a debate, I got into contact with the organisation behind the show, I presented my PhD and asked if I could join them with some of my free style rap and… they gave me a place in the show!”
I am not studying in Boaventura’s CES (Centre for Social Studies) at the University of Coimbra. In the University there are varying faculties that follow parallel paths. I do my master’s degree at the Faculty of Literature. In the beginning, it was just me who also went to the CES but after a while others came with me. In 2016, I heard about the ‘Show Utópico‘, rap music combined with art and sociology and so much more. It was a show with a debate afterwards, so I got into contact with the organisation behind the show, I presented my PhD and asked if I could join them with some of my free style rap and… they gave me a place in the show! Before this I thought that my faculty was more close-minded, but the discussion with my parents about my opinion on what literature should be about made that I opened the doors to new sources of knowledge. I received my political education through rap. It ensured that I searched for more in books. I already thought that rap contained important messages and knowledge but I was still thinking that the academic world would never accept this idea and it would be even more difficult to be accepted at a traditional university as the University of Coimbra.
“The children of foreigners living in Portugal didn’t have the right to obtain the Portuguese nationality and were born without legal documents if their parents weren’t living in Portugal for more than five years.”
After that, I had the opportunity to invite Gregorió Duvivier from Porta dos Fundos (a renowned Brazilian satirical show) to speak about the political situation in Brazil, Luaty Beirão and MC Kappa to speak about the political situation in Angola and thereafter I had the opportunity to participate myself, together with Renan Inquérito, in the struggle for the Portuguese nationality law. The children of foreigners living in Portugal didn’t have the right to obtain the Portuguese nationality and were born without legal documents if their parents weren’t living in Portugal for more than five years. So I participated in this campaign and took it to the embassy of Coimbra. We were able to hold a meeting with the Brazilian Researcher Association and subsequently a lot of people linked with the political situation in Brazil came to Coimbra to give lectures. I got also more involved with the art side of the struggle and together with Renan I organised a Brazilian Sarau event in Coimbra, a kind of open microphone, and we participated in open slam poetry events. Last week we organised the event Criolá. We invited a rapper from each country of the Lusosphere living in Coimbra. It was a gathering of voices which were never connected before.
A year ago I didn’t know any Angolan rappers over here. But after I brought Luaty Beirão and MC Kappa to Coimbra, I met rappers from Angola and Mozambique who were already living in the city. And our network will only grow, via academic exchange and the RAPensando event, which is a new name for an event I planned already long ago. I wanted to combine rap music with debates in Lisbon but Boaventura told me we should organise the event in Coimbra so the university would obtain the label ‘Rap in Academia’, as I was already organising it since 2011. We wanted to include the Roma community, because the severest xenophobia in Portugal is against the Roma people. I investigated if there exists a kind of Roma rap, a mix of flamenco and rap, an I was lucky to hear about Toxina. The guy didn’t even have a mobile phone. He is from Villa Nova de Famalicão, in the North of Portugal, and he brought this mix of flamenco and rap to our event. Furthermore, I got into contact with Lady N who lives in the South of Portugal. She coordinated projects linked to Universal Zulu Nation in Portugal, the hip-hop movement from the Bronx (New York) that has been conquering the world since the seventies. There is also A Velha Capital, an association of artists from Coimbra (a.o. Crew and Ruse) who’ve entered the academic world for the first time. We have plans to work together in similar events in the future. We also have Criolo from Cabo Verde and female rappers from the first generation, who had great difficulties to get into the mainly male hip-hop scene. The Brazilian perspective is represented by Renan and the female rapper Samantha Muleca, both in rap an in the debates. So RAPensando offers a lot of opportunities to exchange different knowledge.”
Renan Inquérito is a Brazilian born MC, music composer and professor of geography. He sees art in general and rap and hip-hop in particular as a tool in bringing about social change and as an alternative method for education.
“Capitalism operates on a macro level: it has an advertising business and a lobby network of politicians at its disposal. All our examples of hope are micro: they are successful yet small and we experience great difficulties in connecting them.”
“If you ask me about hopeful perspectives for a new world: I don’t see them in the English speaking countries. I can only talk about my own country, Brazil. There I see hope. Let me give you some examples: the ‘epistemologies of the South’ (a theory and book with the same name of Boaventura), the Quilombolas (communities of former slaves), the Riberinhos (riparian communities in the rain forest), the native-born Caiçara (farming, fishing and hunting communities) and the women’s rights movements. They are all hopeful micro examples. Capitalism on the contrary operates on a macro level: it has an advertising business and a lobby network of politicians at its disposal. All our examples are micro: they are successful yet small and we experience great difficulties in connecting them.
Sometimes language is the difficulty in our attempts to understand each other, sometimes the difficulties are cultural differences or a generation gap. I bring them a tiny bit more together by connecting my academic work with my hip-hop practice. Hip-hop is for me an artistic movement that mixes art with social engagement. What they have in common is the believe in a better world, ‘utopia’ is the word that is being used a lot. I try to put this utopia into practice by means of art and education. When I say ‘art’, I actually refer to hip-hop and all the other things that are under this umbrella, for example literature and experimental poetry form the slums as well as the Sarau movement (gathering to recite poetry), a phenomenon originally from São Paolo but the last ten to fifteen years these gatherings are organised in all big Brazilian cities.
“When global capitalism collapses, we enter a period called ‘the popular period of history’, it’s the period in which the people at the bottom of the social ladder make the difference. Even without all the right conditions fulfilled and the right tools at their disposal, they will use the tools from those higher on the social ladder to reach their goal.”
Thus, I believe a lot in a force that is not economic capital but another kind of capital: solidarity. Milton Santos has spoken about it: when global capitalism collapses, we enter a period called ‘the popular period of history’, it’s the period in which the people at the bottom of the social ladder make the difference. Even without all the right conditions fulfilled and the right tools at their disposal, they will use the tools from those higher on the social ladder to reach their goal. When Santos spoke about this shift, he was not referring to hip-hop but I insert the theory in my story. For example: when a DJ uses vinyl, an audio format that was disappearing, he revalues this format. It is a symbolic example, it is a sort of recycling. He uses vinyl to unite people around a certain topic, that’s why hip-hop and the theory of Milton Santos are very related. Of course, hip-hop functions like this without knowing the work of Milton Santos, because it’s always that way: people do things and discover afterwards that these things already have a name. The practice isn’t emerging from the theory, it is the opposite. The practices arises from a certain necessity and when this practice gives good results it is called a methodology and is implemented in other contexts. The reality is that we are always moving in other directions and finding solutions while we are trying to survive in the daily life. Afterwards, it might become a theory or a methodology but the practice is the result of our survival instinct, the practice comes first.
Paulo Freire said that the reading of he world precedes the reading of the word. That’s essential to all that I do: my books, my poems, the music that I record as Inquérito and the events that I organise such as A Parada Poetica, to take literature out of the ivory tower of academics. Let literature be without shoes, without costume, tie and coat, let literature be standing barefoot on the ground and walk the earth. A Parada Poetica is talking about literature with everyone, even with illiterates, because everyone is a writer – at least a writer of his own history. We have to be the writer of our own history.
“I understood that I wouldn’t advance even a bit by only becoming a professor if I forgot everything that I had experienced before, if I forgot my whole hip-hop training.”
I’ve been working for twenty years with hip-hop music, it was quite a process. First as an adolescent, I was a rebel without a cause and without any support of my family. Then there was the process of becoming mature and understanding that we are all world citizens, by means of the attitude and the perspective of hip-hop. Then I became aware that hip-hop alone wasn’t enough, I needed some schooling. I wanted to reach beyond the stages, because a stage and its spotlights are very enjoyable but superficial as well, so I went to the classroom. I needed to go to the university, I needed to subvert the university’s logic to get a Bachelor’s degree, to become a professor and to get to varying places. Then I understood that I wouldn’t advance even a bit by only being a professor if I forgot everything that I had experienced before, if I forgot my whole hip-hop training.
I have studied five years at the university but I’m in hip-hop for fifteen years. That means three university studies in hip-hop, plus an academic study. At the end of this process of twenty years, I understood that the best way to continue was to unite these two perspectives. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and decided to connect academics with hip-hop and that’s the recipe! No, it took me a lot of time, a lot of psychological conflicts: “No, this isn’t it, this academic world has nothing to do with me, go out!” Like every human being, like every artist or intellectual I was struggling. We are all human beings waking up in the morning with our own problems: shall we persevere or give up everything? Looking for a nine to five job, checking in with a timer, obtaining a work permit. Everyday we live with these problems, but everyday we also savoure meeting new people, seeing examples and living experiences from which we receive some energy.
“The ‘ecology of knowledge’, the intercultural translation as Boaventura calls it, is not merely translating words in other words but translating them while taking into account that my values may differ from yours. It is about finding a balance between these value systems so that my translation is not disrespectful towards your values or vice versa.”
I admire Boaventura for his sensitivity, not only for rap and hip-hop, but also his sensitivity for a variation of artistic and social movements, because he has a consolidated career in the academic world. He published a pile of books and several theories, studied and conducted research for many years and nonetheless he reaches out a helping hand to various movements on an equal basis, which is very praiseworthy. The academic world tends to be so conservative and Eurocentric that I didn’t expect this open attitude from a renowned academic. Rap and hip-hop are not from Boaventura’s generation, there is a generation gap. One has to force oneself to see the the world through the eyes of the other without judging who is superior or inferior. This is what Boaventura calls the ‘ecology of knowledge’, the intercultural translation as he calls it, is not merely translating the words in other words but translating them while taking into account that my values may differ from yours. It is about finding a balance between these value systems so that my translation is not disrespectful towards your values or vice versa. Do you understand now that when you asked me to do this interview in English this would interfere with my desire to talk about Brazil? So this intercultural translation in this case is letting the other use his native language.
Rap is an instrument in mobilising and organising people to change the capitalist world. I think a lot of people discovered rap very late as a tool for education and science. Rappers were already doing their thing in the slums for twenty years before the same things emerged as supposed new things on the internet. Although rap is just music, it is a style that is indispensable from hip-hop culture. Rap is the tangible part of hip-hop culture, it exists physically because of the artists and CD’s. Wherever I go, I meet someone who is doing the same things that I am doing. It can have to do with the environment, society or gender. Maybe hip-hop is just a name for a sentiment that is bigger than all this.
Furthermore, Boaventura connects people by his theory of the ‘ecology of knowledge’ that refuses to hierarchically rank knowledges. The academic wisdom is not more important than the wisdom of the Favelas (the slums), the Quilombolas (communities of former slaves), the Ribeirinhos (the riparian communities in the rain forest) or the native-born Caiçara (farming, fishing and hunting communities). They all have a kind of wisdom and knowledge, they are all different and deserve respect. They all should be listened to. What is not OK is: ‘I am the Eurocentric academic knowledge and I acknowledge that there exist other kinds of knowledge, but merely because of the quota and because you are nice people.” This is a dirty lie, because acknowledging without legitimising is worth nothing. So I when I defended my PhD on a Caiçaran community, there had to be a Caiçaran in the doctorate commission. Why are there four doctors on the bench and no one is Caiçaran? You get it? That is what the ecology of knowledge demands from us and fights for. Get down from your pedestal, and let them participate in your glory.”
Interview and photos by O LIMPO Rio 2016 – SAGIKOLIBRI