Brazil is a country tangled in paradox. Renowned for some of the most socially progressive policies in the world, it is simultaneously ranked the deadliest nation for people in the LGBT community, with homophobic violence having reached crisis levels. For people of colour, that's a threat further compounded by race, with murders of black citizens having increased dramatically over the past decade.
On his upcoming third album Divina Graça (due Oct. 11 via Brazil label Joia Moderna), now Toronto-based, Bahia, Brazil ex-pat Bruno Capinan confronts that surreal reality by hijacking his native country's regional colour and flying in the face of its domineering Christian fundamentalism. Sung almost entirely in his native Portuguese, it's a sleepy, brightly lit dream collage of celebration and longing for acceptance that drifts through samba, bossa nova, and Tropicália influences while chronicling the lives of five young black gay men. With a video for lead single "Vicente" premiering here, our first glimpse at Capinan's provocative vision takes us deep into the wilderness, where two lovers fawn over each other and references to the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion—which, more than just a faith, is a practice towards reclaiming post-colonial identity—abound.
Meeting over coffee in the lush patio section of a café in Toronto's Little Portugal neighbourhood, we spoke with Capinan about the video, the new record, bringing these songs to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, and how he hopes his music can help empower the black LGBT community back home.
The press release calls this album a chronicle of "the lives of five young black gay men in a country which is paradoxically as progressive as it is socially, and too often violently, repressive" – can you unpack that a little bit?
Growing up I was always feeling very unsafe in Brazil. I had been bullied all my life. After I was over here in Canada, I started to pay attention to what happens to gay people, especially people of colour—LGBT people of colour—in Brazil. In 2013 I was recording my second album at the time, and during the recordings I learned about a young university student who was brutally killed – not just killed, but they took his clothes off and stuck a piece of wood up his anus. And then at the beginning of the year, I came across Gaycation, where Ellen Page goes to Brazil and interviews this guy that gets paid to kill gay people.
I'm doing something that maybe some people in Brazil won't be happy about, maybe some people in maybe a lot of the places in the world won't be happy about. But I feel like it's the right time for me to be putting this out, especially in Brazil, because it's gonna provoke some people and hopefully it's gonna open a discussion about who we want to be and who we are.
What can you tell me about "Vicente"?
I started to write this song right after I met this guy in Rio named Vicente. We met in a coffee shop smaller than this and he was working at the time at the place. I saw him walking in and I was just mesmerized and I started looking at him, trying to get him to look at me, and then, when I went to pay, we started having a conversation and I asked his name, I told him I was at the place because I'm coeliac and can't eat gluten; he gave me a free gluten-free brownie. Right after I left the place, I had to walk from the top of the mountain where the neighbourhood is, called Santa Teresa, all the way to the metro. And then on the way down the hill, that's when the song came to me and I started singing.
What about the video?
The video plays more into the Candomblé faith and with references to the Yoruba gods. It's part of the history of the place I was born, Bahia, Brazil, and a history that traces back to slavery time, when it traditionally began. The slaves brought it to Brazil from Africa and their contributions form what Brazil is today culturally and socially, still very much preserved in Bahia. The crucial thing for me with the video—as with the album cover—is to empower blackness, empower LGBT people of colour. We didn't really think of a story line. It's more aesthetically built to be provocative and beautiful. The guy's very pretty. I'm not sure about myself.
You performed songs from this album at the Rio 2016 summer games – what was the response like then?
The response was quite divided. I could see some people getting a little bit upset and leaving because of how I was dressed and because of the songs. It felt important to be there, to do the show in spite of all the controversy around the Olympics and the backlash here and in Brazil as well—a lot of my friends [from Brazil] didn't go to the show because they didn't want anything to do with the Olympics, but it was important to me to be there. It was important to me to represent the LGBT, people of colour community.
What do you hope people take away from Divina Graça?
The worst thing about discrimination is when it gets into peoples' minds and it becomes the [internalized] truth for whoever has been discriminated against. So what I really want people to see and take away from listening to the album and seeing it in stores in Brazil is that you can be yourself. It doesn't matter if you are different from someone else. It doesn't matter if you are different from the evangelicals that are killing people in Brazil.
Tom Beedham is a freelance arts and culture journalist living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.