Sertanejo Universitário: A Product From The Dark Side Of Agribusiness

Since the mid 2000s, Sertanejo Universitário (College Country), has come to be dominant in Brazilian popular music, as the industry shifted focus away from other established traditional and contemporary genres. This has had not just a cultural, but a political and environmental impact, argues geographer Tiago Cardoso.

Recently Sertanejo singer Gusttavo Lima became the centre of a massive controversy, over his open declaration of support for incumbent far-right president Bolsonaro. Controversy became scandal when journalists revealed enormous fees Lima and other Sertanejo artists receive from Bolsonaro-allied local governments. In defence, Bolsonaro supporters have attempted to create false equivalence with grants that artists may receive from business under the Lei Rouanet.

Lima specifically has been receiving up to R$1.2 million per show – from public funds – sometimes equal to the small prefectures’ entire health or education budgets. There will now be an official investigation into the funding of Sertanejo.

By Tiago Cardoso. Originally published at Piauí Hoje.

The hegemony of university sertanejo in the current Brazilian music scene is not a product of talent of the singers from the aforementioned musical genre, but of an economic structure behind these singers.

Sertanejo emerged in Brazil in the mid-twentieth century, when its artists sang of hardships and lamentations of the countryside and rural life. With the process of urbanization as a result of industrial development, traditional country music underwent a gradual transformation and already by the 1990s, urban romanticism supplanted the beauty and purity of the authentic sertanejo of the countryside.

However, what boosted university sertanejo was millions in investment by agribusiness, which wanted to create the image of the good man in the countryside that sustains the city, when, in fact, 75% of the food that arrives on the tables of Brazilians comes from family farming on small plots of land. It is well known that agribusiness is focused on exports.

The film “The Sons of Francisco”, which portrays the heroic saga of the country duo Zezé di Camargo, wanted to convey a meritocracy of life in the countryside, making people believe that the phone calls of a father who cared for his children to the radio triggered their success. Millions of people have seen this movie on movie screens. It does not match reality.

What happens in the music industry is the infamous “jabá” (Payola), which is a sum of money that producers pay to broadcast their music. The manager of controversial singer Anitta declared in a viral interview, that, while she is trying to pay such a “jabá” to get her artists playlist spots on radio, agribusiness has already bought them.

The result is that, in 2021, of the ten most played songs on the spotify music app, nine were university sertanejo, with their songs sung in the same timbre, and with the same lyrics: ballads, drunkenness and betrayal.

Furthermore, there is an extremely strong agribusiness lobby in national politics. To give you an idea, in 2014, meat processing giant JBS sponsored the campaigns of 11 political parties and the ruralist caucus made up 24 of the 27 elected senators.

This is what you read. There are no rockers, funkeiras, pagodas, etc., but there is a ruralist group, whose soundtrack is university sertanejo. They created a cultural industry, a “fad”. It is not an organic or natural hit, it is manufactured.

How do you think that any country duo nowadays already has buses, jets and thousands of followers on their social networks right at the beginning of their careers? Fruit of their talents? No. The fruit of heavy investment by agribusiness, which sees in university sertanejo a way to alienate people with sugary and depoliticized lyrics, while violating environmental legislation, expanding the agricultural frontier, invading indigenous lands, promoting mining and murdering native peoples. Do you think country singers are Bolsonaristas by chance?

And what we see today is the end of the authentic sertanejo, of the music that portrayed country life, giving way to urban music, increasingly pop and with riffs more reminiscent of mediocre pop rock.

In addition, agribusiness buys space in the media (agro is pop, remember?), they promote livestock fairs, where they promote country duos of “good guys”, and agroshows, where they give visibility to country singers. More than that, they buy TV stations and put their music in soap operas. When could an artist of another genre have this privilege? A samba singer from the favela, a rocker from a garage band? As much as they have superior talent, they will not be able to break the surface of the music industry.

Although they are overwhelmingly reactionary, they are the singers who receive the most public funds, because, as it turns out, they receive money from small municipalities that is equivalent to the annual health and education budgets.

For all the reasons explained above, it is an unequal struggle with the other genres, not for talent, which few have, but for the extraordinary investment of agribusiness.

More than that, agribusiness/university sertanejo is promoting a slaughter of culture, since the traditional festivals of the Northeastern São João are taken over by these duos, while forró loses space, just to cite an example. It is no different in other traditional festivals that have nothing to do with the genre, such as Carnival.

I hope that with what has come to light, this assault on culture and taxpayer money, the mask of these false moralists and pseudo-singers will be removed so that we can expose the dirt behind this success.

I don’t listen to them, especially, because I know that each click represents cultural slaughter and devastation of the environment.