The Brazilian trans MC on her journey to finding her voice and her message
MC Xuxù claimed her place in the Brazilian musical universe with a kiss. “Um Beijo,” her 2013 single, took Rio’s baile funk underground by storm with its vicious, club-ready beat and its stylish video. In the song, Xuxù sends smooches of solidarity to all kinds of people, but the bulk of her kisses go to the trans women of Brazil, a demographic long-oppressed within the tight strictures of the country’s multi-denominational Christian heteronormativity.
A trans woman herself, Xuxù knew that “Um Beijo” would prove controversial, but she also knew that she had a catchy hit that could become an undeniable call for inclusivity in Brazilian music and society. Other similarly danceable tracks, provocative lyrics, and edgy videos followed in the wake of “Um Beijo,” showing Xuxù’s activist vision. This June she released “Quero Ficar,” which borrows the beat to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” to buttress Xuxù’s assertions of sexual desire and personal freedom with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s timeless bassline.
The video for “Quero Ficar” depicts Xuxù as a bride in a lesbian wedding. It’s a marriage equality anthem, and a timely one at that, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage occurred just two weeks after Xuxù’s video was released on YouTube. Whether one takes this as prophetic or not, MC Xuxù clearly has her finger on the pulse of the LGBT movements, both in Brazil and internationally. In our interview we delved into Xuxù’s thoughts on the power of music as a force for personal and social change, the tensions within the Brazilian LGBT community, and on the role of religious faith in her life and art.
WINSTON GROMAN: It will soon be the second anniversary of the release of your song “ Um Beijo” [“A Kiss”] Can you reflect on what has changed for you in these two years?
MC XUXÚ: I had tried to be a singer for a while. When I recorded “Um Beijo”, I told my producer that if the song wasn’t a hit, if it didn’t change anything in my career, I would quit: I wouldn’t sing anymore. So, what “Um Beijo” gave me most of all, during these two years, is the willpower to be here now. I already knew that after the success of “Um Beijo” the next song I would make, no matter how catchy or shocking it was, would not be as big. That’s how it is with everything. But my willpower to continue and to make new records, to discover and learn more is what really keeps me up. And, of course, the affection and support of the people.
In that song, you famously give “um beijo pras travesti” [“A kiss to all the travesti”) What has your song’s impact been on the trans community in Brazil? Do you feel that as travesti have gained a bit more acceptance mainstream Brazilian society?
Definitely, it gave us more visibility; and in a good way. Because nowadays, what is in the news is travesti being murdered or being arrested: only bad articles. Then, my song shows up and I’m doing everything that everybody thought a travesti wouldn’t do. I recorded a song about nice things, a song that embraces everyone, a song that highlights travestis. This was an important thing. So I think that it must have had an impact. The main kiss was for us!
What about in the funk carioca community? What has the reaction to “Um Beijo” and your other hits been inside the world of funk carioca [a dance music influenced by Miami bass and freestyle popular in Rio de Janeiro and in other cities in Brazil; often called “baile funk” in the US]?
Maybe because I use to be a rap singer or because I´m a favela baby…this may have influenced my being accepted. Because I sing what we live, I sing our daily life.
When I was 17 I came out to my family. My stepfather did not take it well and I ended up leaving home. That was when I moved out to Rio de Janeiro with a couple of friends and met some MCs and DJs and got to know some of what Funk Carioca was about. As a rap singer, I liked it a lot, mostly because of its familiar language and feeling. I learned a lot and, after two years, came back to my hometown with two songs I wrote in Rio: “Desabafo” and “Eu fiz a Chuca.” I decided to have them produced by the same hometown DJ who had worked with me before, because he knew me and knew the way I like to work. He had some connections with Rio producers, so he was able to get what I meant when I said I wanted to make pop-funk. This was it: I learned in Rio, brought it back to my hometown and tried to leave my mark on Carioca´s style.
What does the genre of funk represent to you, and why did you choose it as your medium?
I think many people have always been very critical of funk. They say: funk is a black people thing, funk is a favela thing. I was born already oppressed, I was born already used to this thing, so I thought funk was all about me and I wanted to be part of it. People will always talk because I am trans, will always talk because I am a black woman, will always talk because I am a feminist, will always talk because I am poor. Now they will have to talk because I am a funk singer! I love funk, so that will be just another fight that I have to fight.
Your new video for the song “Quero Ficar” is quite the statement for marriage equality in Brazil. Where does the issue of marriage equality stand right now in Brazil?
In Brazil, there is no law allowing gay people to marry. However, there is a common interpretation of the law that has allowed some gay people to get married. When I say that we want all the same rights that straights have I really mean it. I was baptized by the Catholic Church and I´ve learned some things about it. If I wear a white dress and get married in a church, will they accept me like they told us to accept and love everyone? No, obviously not. That´s the commotion that I wanted to cause with the video. Because I want to have my wedding the way I´ve always wanted–in my way, not just in front of a judge. Having a bouquet and a white dress or getting married in a church can mean nothing or everything for someone. And everyone is important. Brazil is still a prejudiced country.
“I was born already oppressed, I was born already used to this thing, so I thought funk was all about me and I wanted to be part of it.”
You recently did a show in the women’s penitentiary of your home city of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais. Can you talk about why you chose to perform there? How did the prisoners react to you?
I have a friend, the penitentiary’s psychologist, who invited me to do that and I loved it. I do not have the experience of being deprived of liberty but I do have many friends who have. And I know that it’s no good. Everyone knows it. When they invited me, on March 8 which is International Women´s Day, I immediately said yes! Just before the show I got very nervous, I confess. I wanted to bring them some good energy, and they gave me it back double and with so much love and joy. I think the show was important for me and for them. Usually nothing but some evangelical worship happens there, and I was a trans black woman, doing my thing for women, on Women´s Day, in a penitentiary. That´s great! They danced with me, they sang with me, they hugged me…I felt every kind of emotion from them. That was a wonderful experience for me and for my career. I would love to go back and I think that should happen more often because it was incredible.
How do cisgender gays and lesbians react to your music and public persona? In the United States, there is often a tense relationship between cis, white, often middle –class (or richer) lesbians and gays and less privileged members of the LGBT community – racial minorities, trans, or poor.
In the beginning, I didn´t sing in support of just lesbians, travestis, transsexuals or gays. I sang supporting all oppressed people and the end of prejudice. I sang for more love. Yes, I got criticized. Around the release of the song “Desabafo” [“Relief”], in the beginning of the video we can hear a man saying “the attacks on gays increase every day.” Then, some travestis started saying that I shouldn’t talk about gays because I am a trans woman. Than, when I recorded “Bonde das Travestis,” the same people started saying that I couldn´t sing that because I don’t count as travesti, because I don´t have any industrial silicone or any plastic surgery. They say I don’t count because I only use hormones. I still don´t get what they mean. When I support the gay community I am trans, when I support the trans community I am not. There will always be that controversy and it is not just a LGBT community thing. I am used to those critics. But, thank God, the compliments come double.
Do you believe that music can help to defeat prejudice? Do you have any examples of your music changing someone’s mind from prejudice to acceptance?
I do believe it. First because my songs are about nice things, are about overcoming obstacles, about my story since I was 18 years old. With my songs, I tell what I have lived, what I have learned and what I have suffered. All of Brazil, people send me messages saying how my music inspires them and helps them everyday. Ultimately, I do believe that music can soften prejudice and pain.
In your song “ Desabafo” you say “ Eu sou travesti, mas sou filha de Deus?” [“I am travesti, but I am God’s daughter] Can you talk about how your faith helps you to fight the fight against prejudice?
I was baptized by the Catholic Church and I believe in and like to talk to God. But, I grew up seeing so many people selling God´s word, taking advantage of it, making money off of it and justifying prejudice. Because of all this filth, I ended up diverging from religion and keeping God only inside my heart. I do believe He´s with me all the time, always watching me and my work. So, when I say “I am travesti, but I´m God´s daughter,” I should have said “I am travesti AND I´m God´s daughter.” I´m not sure yet, but I sing it corrected today.
People think that if you are homosexual, you are living against the Bible´s rules, against God´s commandments. So, you’re not His daughter or son. So, you’re not going up to heaven when you´re dead. So you’re wrong. So you are a sinner. So you are a bad human being. As if anyone is free of mistakes. As if being who you are is the end of the universe. I grew up reading the Bible and I know that my freedom permits me to be who I am and do what I want to do. The same people that ask for love in churches are not giving it at all. They are not making it a rule in their lives. It´s like, “he does not deserve love because he is wearing skirt,” or “she doesn´t deserve love because she has blue hair.” I´ve been seeing it: religion pulling people apart. If the Umbanda guy was friends with the Evangelical guy that was friends with a Catholic guy that was friends with a Buddhist guy it would be nice. But it´s not how it is. So, for me, 27 years old, religion is not a good thing.
We love your music and what you stand for. Can we expect a tour of the United States anytime soon?
First, I want to make clear how much happy am I to talk with you guys. It is my first international interview. It´s overwhelming to know that my songs are being played and heard and welcomed outside Brazil. This is so rewarding. I´d like to say that I´m happy to be here talking to you. There is an anthem in Brazil that said that “we can´t let the samba die.” So I promise to keep doing my thing, writing, recording, dancing, making some noise and I hope to make this noise all over the world. If it takes me sending a kiss to the travesti people in Spanish, English, French… I will. However people will listen. Thank you very very very much.
Thank you very much. Muito obrigado. Um beijo para você [“A kiss for you”]
Um beijão para o meu bonde dos Estados Unidos!! [“A kiss for my U.S. supporters!”]