A Protest Playlist for the World Cup

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Beyond Brazil’s borders, the nation is known best for two things: the calibre of its soccer and its extravagant street parties. In returning the World Cup to Brazil after 64 years, FIFA has achieved a neat confluence of their own corporate strategy and everyone else’s lazy stereotyping. It’s the world’s biggest street party in its most perfect setting, not to do FIFA’s marketing for them. So here’s one last hurrah for color, exuberance, and, well, fun before FIFA goes all in on authoritarianism and ships its money-printing moveable feast to reserved Russia and proscriptive Qatar.

If last summer’s Confederations Cup was a dry run (or, better, simply a proof of concept, considering the stadium construction delays) of Brazil’s World Cup soccer infrastructure, February’s Carnaval was a dry run of the state’s World Cup policing and security infrastructure. So what to make of the participants in Rio de Janeiro waving banners featuring the hashtag “#OcupaCarnaval”? What about people in the streets who were singing, “If you think that the Cup is ours, no, the Cup isn’t ours” to the tune of a classic Carnaval song?

FIFA want vibrant culture and masses in the streets during this World Cup. That seems to have been the case, though they also got both earlier than anticipated. Furthermore, in the lead up to the Cup, the creative production of banners, street art, and music was funneled into the anti-FIFA #NaoVaiTerCopa (“#ThereWon’tBeACup”) social media movement, which fueled protests around the country by providing both a chant that drowns out others at soccer matches and a hashtag that appeared spray painted on everything available in the urban environment. The party was a rager, but it was made up of people fed up with government mismanagement and fealty to FIFA’s demands. The sunny optimism of Brazilian cliché was pushed aside by the darker grumbling of social action. In that spirit, what follows is the beginning of a playlist to accompany a proper World Cup gathering as we near the start of the knockout rounds. It’s equal parts corporate celebration and grassroots protest, a collection of songs as unsure about what comes after this World Cup as the people of Brazil seem to be.

Before moving to protest, we need context. Looking at 1970, when Brazil won its then-unprecedented third World Cup in Mexico, provides one way of understanding the close relationship in Brazil between music and soccer. On the team plane and in their locker room was pop star Wilson Simonal. Riding the wave of his biggest hit, a 1969 version of Jorge Ben Jor’s “País tropical,” Simonal was tasked with getting the Brazilian team to feel at ease as they made their way to history. The connection between Brazilian soccer and Brazilian music was sealed for life in a magazine cover photo of Pelé sporting Simonal’s signature headband while beside him Simonal donned Pelé’s jersey. While his new friends trained for their matches, Simonal recorded an album, Mexico 70, that leads with a cover of Milton Nascimento’s “Aqui é o país do futebol.” The track aptly describes the escape soccer could provide to the masses under the Brazilian dictatorship of the time:

Brazil is only soccer
90 minutes
Of emotion and joy
Forget your house and work
Life stays out there
Everything stays out there

Unfortunately, the escapism of soccer could only protect Simonal for so long. Shortly after the 1970 World Cup, a trial on charges of extorting his accountant marched in concert with accusations of his snitching to DOPS, the police in charge of political repression. Ostracized from the artistic community because of the rumors of stool-pigeonry, Simonal’s career never recovered.


The idea to send Simonal to Mexico had been João Havelange’s, the head of the Brazilian Sports Confederation who was on his way to becoming FIFA’s first non-European president. Funding his campaign for FIFA’s presidency in 1974 via plush deals with Adidas and Coca-Cola, Havelange turned FIFA from an organization that was “not notably corrupt, only racist and Eurocentric” into a multicultural, sponsorship-and-corruption-fueled tank rolling over the Global South.

In June 1998, Havelange stepped aside as president of FIFA for the new face of large amounts of cash in small, brown envelopes, Sepp Blatter. Around the same time, Nike was extracting as much publicity as possible from its £100m technical sponsorship deal with the Brazilian (now) Soccer Confederation, signed in 1996. In the first of Wieden+Kennedy’s numerous Nike commercials featuring members of the Seleção, Ronaldo leads his teammates, all brightly covered in Nike swooshes, in a kickaround at the airport against the backdrop of Tamba Trio’s pumping version of Jorge Ben Jor’s (again!) “Mas que nada.” The last lines of the song, “Você não vai querer que eu chegue no final” (You won’t want me to reach the end), could be read as not wanting the song to end or as not wanting Brazil to reach the World Cup final. Stopping short of the final might have been nice in 1998, since it would have saved Brazil fans and everyone else from having to endure the squad’s capitulation to France, a collapse already predicted in Ronaldo’s missed goal from the ad.


The conventional wisdom among Brazil fans and in the sporting press became, simply put, that “Brazil sold the Cup to Nike,” and that wisdom led all the way to an investigation in the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil over whether the CBF had ceded sovereignty to Nike. The sponsor, after all, enjoyed contract stipulations demanding a certain number of tiring friendlies per year with high profile players on the pitch. In the opinion of communist Deputy Aldo Rebeldo, the pressure over the Nike contract led to Ronaldo’s pre-match convulsions in the final. Nike evaded culpability as the fault fell solely on the CBF, whose president at the time was Havelange’s protégé and son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira.

Considering that the Swiss government determined Havelange and Teixeira were sitting on a $41m kitty built out of World Cup sponsorship rights bribes, it should be no surprise that the selling has only continued as Wieden+Kennedy forged an unbreakable commercial relationship between Brazil, soccer, music, and, of course, Nike. In the flagship commercial for the 2006 World Cup, Eric Cantona explains that making beautiful music needs not just a virtuoso but an entire orchestra, as the commercial cuts to Ronaldinho on pandeiro as his teammates joyfully sing and play instruments on their way to the locker room before kicking the ball to each other while getting ready for a match. This time around, though, Tamba Trio is replaced by Sérgio Mendes and Black Eyed Peas’ aesthetically bankrupt version of “Mas que nada”.


But by 2014’s edition, the humor (Ronaldo’s miss, Robinho’s hazing) is gone from the W+K-Brazil-Nike ads, replaced by tedious CGI trickery and lazy jokes (Felipão thinks his players are kids! Bernard is small!), capped off by cringey Neymar triumphalism. The only fun part of the 2014 spot is seeing a prosperous and happy Ronaldo, watching the next generation from behind a rusty fence, seated like a pensioner hiding from the summer sun. On the other hand, the music selection has certainly improved, as the “Dare to be Brasilian [sic]” squad is running around to an unnecessarily updated version of Antônio Carlos e Jocáfi’s thunderous “Quem vem lá” from 1971.


It’s fitting that Nike chose to arm its conquest of cool with ammunition from the early 1970s, because few contemporary Brazilian artists seem eager to sell out for the swoosh and the World Cup. Despite two leftist presidents elected with promises to the masses and despite an economy largely untouched by the global recession that felled North America and Western Europe, plenty, starting with the police, is still rotten in the state of Brazil. Thiago Côrrea brings together a criticism of the police with the escapist nature of soccer in “A grande preocupação,” his début single from 2010. Where Simonal celebrated the promise of escape from a dictatorship for those 90 minutes of match time, Côrrea critiques the social protest–dulling and neverending escapism provided by the incessant sports news cycle. There may be police corruption and children being killed by stray bullets, but “the main concern was who lifted the Second Division Trophy.”


If Nike can’t get contemporary artists to sell out, Coca-Cola has fared a bit better, hiring Tropicália legend Tom Zé to provide a voice-over for their 2013 “A Copa de Todo Mundo” ad campaign, which changes “Copa do Mundo” (World Cup) into “Everyone’s Cup.” Zé, who had faded from view during the same political repression that made Simonal a pariah, was widely criticized by fans for attaching his voice to Coke’s profits. The ad itself rolls around in syrupy neoliberal glory, hitting every identity demographic when celebrating Brazil as a melting pot. There’s always room for more people in Brazil, the ad explains, omitting the fine print of “as long as they have money.” Zé’s response to his critics (pro and con), the EP Tribunal do Feicebuqui (Trial by Facebook), drips with an acidic irony completely missing from the commercial.

In the eponymous opening track, Zé mimics his purist critics, singing, “He’s sold out! He’s sold out! He’s sold out! And very cheaply! He’s moved past samba and is now studying propaganda,” referring to Zé’s series of albums that “study” different genres of Brazilian music. “Zé a zero,” featuring the complex wordplay characteristic of his lyrics, offers in response the justification that, in punning off Coca-Cola’s name and the Portuguese word for “poop,” Coke is actually doing Zé’s “propaganda” (which also means, simply, “advertising”) for him, not the other way around. Considering that Zé has explained that his voice-over fee will go towards funding future musical projects as well as his hometown musical organization, he may have a point, further underscored in the closing line of the title track, which archly appeals, “What’s the value of dying of hunger just to make music?”


Of course, since Zé’s release of Tribunal do Feicebuqui in mid–2013, Brazil has seen increased unrest over government spending. Ultimately, the protests center around the obscenity of the state’s funding a lavish party for Coca-Cola and FIFA while abandoning its young and poor. The protests last year in São Paulo, ostensibly over a bus-fare hike, spread to 300 cities across the nation, and the price hike has become a synecdoche for the negligence of the state. In this milieu, Ocupa Carnaval recast several Carnaval marchinhas—already a musical genre that satirizes military parading—as salvos against the government. The traditional “Mamãe eu quero,” then, now challenges bus fares as “Tarifa zero,” encouraging everyone to hop the turnstiles.

The Carnaval mainstay “Cachaça,” on the other hand, a marchinha that suggests one can lack everything in life (beans, bread, butter, love…) except the Brazilian national liquor, is tweaked to blast the financial catastrophe of the World Cup and the increase in police presence in preparation for the arrival of the global soccer tourists who won’t want to see angry poor people:

If you think that the Cup is ours,
No, the Cup isn’t ours.
The Cup belongs to the contractors,
And there’s nothing left for the rabble.

You can shoot me with rubber bullets,
Give me tear gas, beatings, and imprisonment.
You can turn the water hoses on us;
The protest won’t subside.
You can call me a vandal.
(Even I think this is funny.)
But I just hope that there’s no end
To the mobilization of the masses.

This new version of “Cachaça” gives voice to the continuing protests that have fallen under the rallying cry “não vai ter copa,” an expression that has become so popular that the government began using its opposite on social media. “#VaiTerCopa,”—We’ll have a (World) Cup—reads a photo of a triumphant man in a Brazilian jersey posted on President Dilma Rousseff’s official Facebook page.

But the protests did not stop as the start of the World Cup drew near. São Paulo hosted 20,000 largely homeless marchers on 22 May, yet only a few hundred indigenous protesters met the FIFA trophy and a barrage of tear gas canisters fired by police with their own bows and arrows in Brasília on 27 May. Unrest, now spurred by the anarchist Black Bloc in Rio and elsewhere, has continued during the group stage of the competition. Despite the government’s threats of military crackdowns, the protests roll forward, reaching who knows how far beyond the soccer party. FIFA and its World Cup serve as both symbols of what ails Brazil as well as the culprits, with workers now demanding “FIFA-quality wages” in line with the “FIFA-quality” stadia. And all this is going on as trash collectors go on strike. As professors go on strike. As subway workers go on strike. As consulate workers go on strike. As even police go on strike.

Figuring out how to protest while also keeping an eye on the soccer informs the final track of the playlist, which is also the newest contribution, Edu Krieger’s “Desculpe, Neymar” (“Sorry, Neymar”). In lieu of the cacophonous official song of the World Cup (from Cuban-American rap-attempter Pitbull, natch), “Desculpe, Neymar” features just Krieger and an acoustic guitar apologizing for the decision not to cheer for Brazil. In contrast to the ironic posturing of Ocupa Carnaval, Krieger’s cut captures the paralyzing sadness of Brazil’s failure to host what should, actually, simply have been a stupendous, month-long street party. Instead, the World Cup became an opportunity for the government to bulldoze favelas, militarize more thoroughly, and invite even more resource-sucking vampires of capital to its shores:

[1994 Coach] Parreira, I saw
How the fourth championship made the people so happy.
But we won’t be real champions
Spending more than 10 billion
To have the Cup in our nation.
We have stadiums that are beautiful and monumental,
While our schools and hospitals
Are on the edge of ruin.
Parreira, I saw
A chasm between Brazils.

Sorry, [current coach and coach in 2002] Felipão,
But when Cafu raised the Cup and showed
His roots during a moment that solemn
He revealed [São Paulo favela] Jardim Irene
A portrait of Brazil.
The promised spring never came,
Life is worth more than a goal,
And where are the improvements?
Sorry, Felipão,
But our country has not bloomed.


Krieger closes his song nodding to the fan who, despite poverty, won’t leave his team behind, indicated in the repeated claim that 60 percent of tickets to World Cup matches have been sold to Brazilians, revealing their excitement over the event. Overpriced tickets have not stopped fans’ love for their team or the sport, and Krieger’s closing surrender, “I know, supporter, that it’s you who’s right,” close out this playlist full of both optimism and sadness. Ultimately there is no other possible way to react to this contradiction-feeding, capitalist catastrophe cascading on Brazil than with the profound sense of being tugged in two directions. Tugged and tugged until everything is torn to pieces.

Thanks to MdC Suingue and Kika Serra from the Caipirinha Appreciation Society for providing through their podcasts enough contemporary musical context to make writing this kind of article possible from almost 11,000 km away.

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