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

  • Daniel da Silva Columbia University
Keywords: Transgender, voice, fado, Hortense Spillers, Lusotropicalism


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.

Author Biography

Daniel da Silva, Columbia University

Daniel da Silva is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. He is the author of "Unbearable Fadistas: António Variações and Fado as Queer Praxis," (JLS, Spring 2018). As of Fall 2019, he is an Assistant Professor of Portuguese at Rutgers-New Brunswick.