Rhythm Politics in a Changing Brazil: A Study of the Musical Mobilization of Voters by Bolsonaro and Haddad in the 2018 Election





Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Popular Music Studies, Politics of Music, Brazil, Bolsonaro, Populism


This article investigates the role of music in presidential election campaigns and political movements inspired by theoretical arguments in Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis, John Dewey ́s pragmatist rethinking of aesthetics and existing scholarship on the politics of music. Specifically, it explores how musical rhythms and melodies enable new forms of political awareness, participation, and critique in an increasingly polarized Brazil through an ethnomusicological exploration of how left-wing and right-wing movements used music to disseminate politics during the 2018 election that culminated in the presidency of Jair Messias Bolsonaro. Three lessons can be learned. First, in Brazil, music breathes life, energy, and affective engagement into politics—sung arguments and joyful rhythms enrich public events and street demonstrations in complex and dynamic ways. Second, music is used by right-wing and left-wing movements in unique ways. For Bolsonaro supporters and right-wing movements, jingles, produced as part of larger election campaigns, were disseminated through massive sound cars in the heart of São Paulo while demonstrators sang the national anthem and waved Brazilian flags. In contrast, leftist musical politics appears to be more spontaneous and bohemian. Third, music has the ability to both humanize and popularize bolsonarismo movements that threaten human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, among others, in contemporary Brazil. To contest bolsonarismo, Trumpism, and other forms of extreme right-wing populism, we cannot close our ears and listen only to grooves of resistance and songs of freedom performed by leftists. We must also listen to the music of the right.

Author Biography

Kjetil Klette Bøhler

Dr. Kjetil Klette Bøhler is a senior researcher at the Institute of Norwegian Social Research (NOVA), at OsloMet University. He has published various articles and book-chapters on music and politics in international peer-reviewed journals. Currently he is finishing up a book on Groove Politics: Pleasure and Participation in Cuban Dance Music, that will be submitted for full review at OUP by 2021. In addition to Cuba, he has published extensively on the politics of music in Brazil, as well as the broader political change that characterize Brazil after the impeachment against Dilma Rouseff. Bøhler has also published in political sociology related to one larger EU project (financed by the EU ́s FP7 program) entitled Making Persons with Disabilities Full Citizens (DISCIT), withing the field of disability studies, and within one project funded by the Horizon 2020 called Negotiate: Overcoming early job-insecurity in Europe. Bøhler has received a number of grants including a Fulbright grant and two larger grants from the Norwegian Research Council within the category “Free Projects for the Humanities and the Social Sciences”.


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How to Cite

Bøhler, K. K. (2021). Rhythm Politics in a Changing Brazil: A Study of the Musical Mobilization of Voters by Bolsonaro and Haddad in the 2018 Election. Qualitative Studies, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.7146/qs.v6i2.127312



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