Black Mothers and Black Boats: Queer, Indigenous, and Afro-Brazilian Intersections in Ney Matogrosso's "Mãe preta (Barco negro)"

Daniel da Silva


As part of his 1975 solo debut album, Água do céu-pássaro, Ney Matogrosso recorded a cover of "Barco negro," a Portuguese fado made famous by Amália Rodrigues and based on an earlier Brazilian song, "Mãe-preta," written by Caco Velho and Piratini and recorded by Os Tocantins in 1943. Matogrosso conflates the two versions, titling the track, "Mãe preta (Barco negro)." This article marks Matogrosso’s recording as an iteration of transgender voice and locates—in his performance and album artwork—queer, indigenous, and Afro-Brazilian intersections that rework the mãe preta figure central to Brazil’s foundational narrative. Making use of Hortense Spiller’s theorization of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as "body-theft," I argue that Matogrosso’s referents and trans voice reembody the Luso-Afro-Brazilian black mother in ways that unsettle Lusotropicalism and haunt Portuguese nationalist tropes.


Transgender; voice; fado; Hortense Spillers; Lusotropicalism

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