Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Preacherman

MV Bill - or Alexandre Barreto - is something of a KRS One of the Brazilian hip-hop, a self-made preacherman who started out as an MC and has since widened his scope to span pretty much every possible medium of expression and informing. Despite the consious hip-hop usually being more of a paulista cup of tea, MV Bill hails from the infamous Cidade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro.

The young Alexandre initially got into hip-hop when Miami Bass arrived to Rio, the very same sound that gave the birth to today´s funk carioca. "MV" humbly stands for Mensageiro de Verdade, "Messenger of Truth", a nickname given to the young rapper by his fellow residents of CDD after noticing Bill's penchant for preaching the message of the favelas. In 1998 he released his first album, CDD Mandando Fechado, a collection of true stories from his favela that was later re-released as Traficando Informação. Declaração de Guerra (2002) followed some years later and the most recent album, Falcão - O Bagulho é Doido (2006), is actually a sound track for Bill's documentary film.

Bill has published a pile of books - Cabeça do Porco (with Celso Athayde and the former security secretary Luiz Eduardo Soares), Falcão - Meninos do trafico (with Celso Athayde) and Falcão - Mulheres e o trafico (with Celso Athayde). His documentary film Falcão - Meninos do trafico, based on the book of the same name, made headlines and shocked the Brazil. Bill is also a community activist and one of the founders of Central Uníca das Favelas (CUFA). CUFA has spread all over the country from Rio Grande do Sul to Pernambuco and the community centers of the organization have seen guest lectures by people like Ronaldo and Ceatano Veloso.

The strength of Bill's journalistic work is in his position in favelas. As a highly respected resident he can go to places that are beyond the reach of normal reporters. "When I go to the shantytowns to speak to the kids, I'm one of them, so they are completely honest with me. What struck me most was the hope that they all had. I had barely got back to Rio when I started receiving calls from the mothers of the teenagers to tell me that their children had been killed. My next project was to film all of the funerals. How can I be just another rapper going 'yo yo yo' after that?", he told to The Guardian ( 'Only hip-hop can save us', 13.1.2006). The newspaper was interviewing him about the book Cabeça do Porco that collected the stories of 16 teenagers from favela, all of them already dead.

This friday MV Bill had invited a couple of friends from Sao Paulo - DJ King and MC Mister Bomba of SP Funk - on stage of Circo Voador to celebrate the first 365 days of A Voz das Periferias, his radio show on Roquette Pinto (94,1 FM for those around Rio, also available on-line for streaming). Rainy weather slowed down the party a bit and the paulista guests didn´t quite seem to set the carioca audience on fire. But the time MV Bill got on stage - backed up by a horn section, a few violins, a DJ and two drummers - the party finally got started. Bill gave his best performances when rapping together with the female MC Kmila and the chemistry between the two was a delight to watch.

The video for the song Só Deus pode me julgar (Only God can judge me) from MV Bill's second album is largely shot in the capital city Brasilia, with Niemayer's architecture providing impressive ready-to-film sets, and includes some very slimy scenes of giving a birth.

Soldado do Morro (Soldier of the hill) features an impressive arsenal of weapons in the hands of young men hardly on their twenties. Unfortunately, these are not gangster fantasies of main-stream rap. Instead, Soldado do Morro is actually a controversial documentary clip about kids working for drug-dealers. Clip was accused of being "a glorification of crime", despite it rather just depicts the sad reality. Trafficantes toting huge assault rifles are an everyday sight in many favelas: I walk past a number of them each time I go down the hill to the grocery store.

And to conclude, here´s a selection of tracks from the most recent album:

MV Bill: Falcão (zShare)
MV Bill: Nao Acredito (zShare)
MV Bill: Aqui Tem Voz (zShare)

MV Bill in Internet
Home page (in Portuguese and English)
MySpace (in Portuguese and English)
blog (in Portuguese)

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