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Linn da Quebrada leads trans-black resistance in Brazil

Sivanesan Sumugan
January 29, 2019

Dubbed the "Crazy Black Queen of the favelas," Brazilian trans-black singer and performer Linn da Quebrada is back in Berlin for a series of shows and talks at a time when her community has come under increasing attack.

Linn da Quebrada
Image: Camille Blake/CTM Festival

One month after a biopic on Linn da Quebrada's young life, Bixa Travesty, won the Teddy Award for best documentary at the 2018 Berlinale film festival, another queer black woman, the councilwoman Marielle Franco, was assassinated in Rio in March.

A few months later, queer activist Quebrada was back in Berlin to perform a sold-out concert that became a rallying point for activists campaigning about the killing.

Now only weeks after far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro gave an inauguration speech in which he promised to "combat the ideology of gender" and strip LGBT+ people of rights, Quebrada is performing in Berlin to show that people of non-conforming gender are "pushing firmly against political violences" — indeed, Jean Wyllys, Brazil's second openly gay member of congress, recently announced his decision to leave the country despite his re-election due to constant death threats to himself and his family.

Thousands protest in Rio

'My black skin is my cloak of courage'

Performing on Sunday at the annual CTM Festival at Berlin's HAU Hebbel am Ufer theater, Quebrada appeared on stage in a skintight red bodysuit, flaunting her cut body as weapon. Now with close-cropped hair, her face was fringed by a string of fake diamonds, obscuring the razor-wire crown of thorns tattooed on her forehead.

Among the nine performers and musicians, ever-present collaborator Jup do Barrio ("Black Queen Vocal") joined Quebrada on stage. The two, who started out as favela rappers fusing funk carioca and hip hop, together sing lyrics like "my black skin is my cloak of courage" as they fight back against transphobia in a nation that murders more trans people than any other, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project.

The name Quebrada is itself a play on words: Translating from Portuguese as "broken," it is São Paulo slang for the peripheral outlying suburbs of the Brazilian megacity, notorious for its poverty and crime. Said aloud, Linn da Quebrada is "Beautiful Broken," which is how Quebrada represents the lives of the queer, black, broken and broke people of São Paulo's slums.

Linn da Quebrada
Quebrada and Jup do Barrio performing in Berlin: Their bold stage show is a push back against political violence in BrazilImage: Camille Blake/CTM Festival

Favela beginnings

Working across performance, theater and film, Quebrada gained recognition for her music with her debut music video "Enviadescer" (2016), in which she urges her discreet male lovers to "go fag," coining a new word to describe becoming queer, effeminate and camp.

Riding on a funk carioca rhythm, the video features a pink haired and corseted Quebrada miming straight to camera, interspersed with scenes of a colorful menagerie of urban youth twerking in the streets.

In a later recording, "Bixa Preta" (2017), a riposte to the machismo of MC João's 2015 Funk hit "Baile de Favela," Quebrada speaks the mind of a "crazy Black Queen of the favelas." The song, produced by São Paulo collaborator DJ BadSista, is notable for its gunshot hook proclaiming "Black Fag," and which simultaneously invokes sensations of assault and revenge.

A highlight of her live shows, the song helped establish Quebrada as a voice of São Paulo's marginalized youth, leading to television appearances on Brazil's powerful Globo network. Quebrada crowdfunded the production of her debut album Pajubá, which was released in October 2017.

Read moreBolsonaro's policies divide Afro-Brazilians in Rio favelas

Linn da Quebrada
Linn da Quebrada is the transgressive voice of São Paulo's marginalized youthImage: HugoDourado

Gender terrorism

Backstage after her performance on Sunday, Quebrada told DW that the album's title refers to a coded language developed over generations by Brazilian trans and LGTB+ people that incorporates words from West African Yoruba. It is clear that language as much as image shapes Quebrada's brand of "Gender Terrorism."

Before the end of her first song, the aisles of HAU1's seated theater were filling with eager fans who needed little encouragement when Quebrada suggested they all stand up and dance. The seamlessly produced concert, with English translations of her lyrics appearing on the video backdrop, is a production primed for a growing international audience.

When Quebrada sings "Come together trans and dykes" she unites her fans as a femme-front, a forceful counter-attack to machismo, male privilege and patriarchy. Given the radical open misogyny of far-right bedfellows Bolsonaro (who said he would be "incapable of loving a gay son") and US president Donald Trump, who has banned transgender people from serving in the military, Brazil's long persecuted black LGBT+ communities are rising up in a fierce resistance to the populist right.

Quebrada's breakthrough novelty hit "Enviadescer" is reprised on Pajubá with a more sinister production by BadSista. The song closed her concert in Berlin and is poised to become an anthem as a growing resistance builds global momentum: "And now macho alpha, there is nowhere to run …I've already broken my closet, now I'm going to destroy you!"

Linn Da Quebrada will give an artist talk on Friday February 1 at CTM, followed by a screening of Bixa Travesty. She will also play a DJ set at the CTM closing party on Saturday, February 3.