Opera North Blog

Brazilian Freedom Songs: A message to the regime


In anticipation for Brazilian Freedom Songs, we caught up with Brazilian singer-songwriter Mônica Vasconcelos, to discover more about her work and this life-affirming programme of masterpieces.


Monica, we are really looking forward to welcoming you to the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds. Your concert is titled Brazilian Freedom Songs, can you tell us a bit about the music you'll be performing?

These songs were an answer, by some of Brazil's best composers and lyricists, to the military coup that happened in Brazil in 1964. The coup installed a dictatorship which lasted 21 years. There were killings, disappearances, torture, there was heavy censorship, so musicians had to be really skilled to get the message across. They wrote in code. They made beautiful art of it all, and this music provided so much comfort to so many. By the way, some of Brazil's giant composers - Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Taiguara - were forced into exile and came to live in London.

What made you want to perform these songs?

The coup happened precisely 50 years ago. In fact, I invite you all to listen to the documentary Brazil: Confronting the Past on the BBC World Service where I revisit that time in Brazilian history and interview people who are trying to deal with the legacy of that period today. Why perform these songs? Because they are so unbelievably current. Musically, they are masterpieces. Gorgeous melodies and harmonies... wonderful grooves. And then, when it comes to the lyrics, you think you are listening to a love song. But it is also a message to the regime. Pure beauty.

Why do you think music and creativity were so important during this time?

Music provided refuge to a nation under oppression. You weren't allowed to voice your dissent publicly, you could be killed for that. But you could sing it - even if in code, under disguise. And you sang with so much passion. 

Do these songs have a message which is still relevant around the world today?

The songs are relevant today because they address the universal themes of love, justice and freedom. Whatever your political inclinations, your race, your nationality, your religion... anyone can relate to these songs. They speak and I am so proud to be able, this time, to offer David Treece's beautiful English translations. We will give the audience a verse, or a chorus - little excerpts - in English so everyone can travel with us. I so look forward to it.

Who's music do you enjoy listening to unwind?

Coltrane, Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder. The Brazilians: Djavan, Maria Rita, Joao Bosco, Elis Regina... so many.


Mônica Vasconcelos performs Freedom Songs at the Howard Assembly Room on 16 October. Find out more and book tickets here

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