Election 2008 The World is Watching

Video Report

Brazil: The Obama Samba

Brazilian politicians find inspiration a continent away

BY Andrés CedielOctober 27, 2008

Related Links
More on Brazil's own elections and the country's racial diversity.


Andrés Cediel is the broadcast associate producer at FRONTLINE/World. Prior to this, he co-produced "The Judge and the General," a feature-length documentary chronicling the human rights cases against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Cediel has also produced pieces on refugees of violence in Colombia, environmental justice in Ecuador, and Native American burial desecration in California. Additional Reporting by Daniela Broitman. Photos by André Cypriano.

Brazilians love to mix things up -- never afraid to grab hold of an idea and incorporate it seamlessly into their constantly evolving culture. Take their national drink, the caipirinha, add fruit juice, and you have a caipifruta (try guava, passionfruit, or kiwi). And samba, the most Brazilian of dances, is itself a mix of African rhythms and European melodies. In Rio, they put a hip-hop beat to it, and call it "funky."

So it should be no surprise that the country's politicians exhibit the same flare when running for office. Brazilian law allows candidates to register under any name they choose -- as long as it's not offensive. In the past, "Lula," the nickname of the popular president, was taken by scores of politicians. This year, inspiration is coming from a politician a continent away: Barack Obama.

At least eight candidates across the country have chosen to identify themselves with the U.S. presidential hopeful. Using names that sound like welterweight champions, there is the "Brazilian Obama," and the "Obama of the Savannah." Outside of Rio, in the region known as the Baixada, or "Lowlands," there is Claudio Henrique, also known as the "Obama of the Baixada."

Hoping to become the first black mayor of his hometown of Belford Roxo, Henrique sees the senator from Illinois as an inspiration, who has been able to break boundaries and overcome obstacles -- many of which stand in Henrique's way.

When Henrique began campaigning, asking residents to join him in a dream of a better city, his supporters started calling him their Barack Obama. The name stuck.

Poverty, violence and corruption are the norm in Belford Roxo. It's beloved mayor and two city councilmen were assassinated in recent years. Streets are unpaved, and sanitation, health care and education are all lacking.

When Henrique began campaigning, asking residents to join him in a dream of a better city, his supporters started calling him their Barack Obama. The name stuck, and a campaign jingle followed -- set to the funky Rio beat. His popularity soared.

Crisscrossing town in a caravan of family and friends, Henrique meets and greets everyone in town. On the streets he is a crowd favorite, but as we see in the piece, when election day arrives in Brazil, Henrique finds even more obstacles to overcome in trying to make history in the Baixada.

-- Andrés Cediel

Additional reporting: Daniela Broitman. Photographer: André Cypriano

Related Links

Wide Angle: Brazil in Black and White
The PBS program Wide Angle examines the complex issue of affirmative action in Brazil, where many colleges and universities are just starting to reserve 20 percent of places for Afro-Brazilians. But with national surveys identifying over 130 different categories of skin color, who qualifies?

BBC: Obama buoys black LatAm politics
The BBC reports on how Barack Obama's presidential candidacy is being seen as historic not only in the U.S. but by some black leaders in Latin America. They hope his run for the White House will encourage change in their own countries.

Racial representation and Brazilian politics: Black members of the National Congress, 1983-1999
In this study published in the Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Ollie A. Johnson III investigates the racial composition of the Brazilian Congress and analyzes black under-representation and the behavior of black politicians.

New American Media: African 'Americans' in Brazil
Melvin Kadiri Barrolle reports on a panel discussion at Howard University in which four Brazilian exchange students explored the issues of race in Brazil, the country with the most people of African descent outside the African continent.

share your reactions

Tampa, Florida
Great story. This really turned out nicely. Well done, Andres!

Frank Col�n - Rio de Janeiro, RJ
Andrés, I congratulate you on producing a fine article!
I've been living here full-time for close to 3 years now and I'm surprised at how I never heard of this nor saw anything about it in the local or national media! I'm sure that, like myself, most local citizens are acutely more aware of the American Obama than of their own local "Obamas"!www.frankcolon.com

Mush Emmons - Salvador, Brazil
Indeed, here in Brazil politics can be very entertaining. Whatever handle that captures the public's imagination goes a long way. Locally, in Salvador, I just finished a three month job as DP and Lighting & Grip vender for the commercial unit of a young congressman returning as a mayoral candidate, and a passel of runners for seats on the city council. Generally, a coalition of up to a half dozen and more political parties is formed to support the principle candidate for mayor. On the coattails of his popularity and theirs within the neighborhoods, an impressive block of voters is formed. These days, if you can woo the popular evangelical religious leaders, the electoral mass behind them is gigantic. Unfortunately, after leading most of the race, our candidate ACM Neto, didn't make the runoff in a tight three way battle. Amongst others, one of the coalition candidates for city council that did win, the transvestite club dancer Leo Kret, was the most voted for throughout the city. So when she takes office, defying dress code norms she insists that her wardrobe will be strictly feminine and will be using the women's restroom.

kahlil jacobs-fantauzzi - berkeley, ca
Great work. Very informative. I have seen several articles and news stories about this issue but this is way more in depth and informative.. Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi
berkeley mayoral candidate
down with banging 4 obama