‘'I took an acid, put on my pink T-shirt, my green shorts, my green-musgo tights, coloured ballet slippers and off we went. I had never seen a punk in my whole life and when they began to arrive I was fascinated. They’re all dressed in black looking at me as if I was an ET. I was looking like a ‘cosplay’ playing an extra from Moebius. At that night I heard Ariel from Inocentes for the first time. He was incredibly angry. I sang with him through the audience and then I had it decided. I wanted to be in a band at that moment and somehow I convinced Sandra that I could learn how to sing the songs fast’. Rosália Munhoz on her first punk gig at a PUC event.

It was early 1981 at CRUSP, University of São Paulo’s concrete state-like buildings designed to re-house students who couldn’t pay the expensive rents of the market, that Rosália got hold of her first post-punk cassette tapes. She got these tapes through Marião, Sandra’s husband at that time, who had befriended a local black kid from Vila Carolina named Clemente. Marião would hang around downtown São Paulo to look for drugs and ended up making contact with the local punk scene of the time. On the other side of town, Clemente had a great reputation, for he had been the founder of São Paulo’s first punk band ever, Restos do Nada and was running a punk outfit called Inocentes (The Innocents). That was pretty much how Rosália had her first contacts with the likes of German electro-punk diva Nina Hagen, PIL and Dead Kennedys. ‘I’d linger on with my friend Anay and we’d listen to reggae. I’d try to play the guitar but I just couldn’t bother. Nothing that I listened from the MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) of the time spoke to me. So when I heard Nina Hagen for the first time it just clicked instantly. All through home mix tapes from her friends.

A bit earlier, in 1977, Sandra and Ana met each other while playing handball at USP. They were both doing journalism at ECA (The School of Communication & Arts) and had become good friends through the course. At that time Sandra and Ana were married to Marião and Claudio, two local guys who were into punk rock. They were also neighbours in Butantã and used to jam together. Some time later Ana & Sandra broke up with their husbands and Ana found herself living next door to Rosália at CRUSP.


As Mercenárias’ story begins around 1982 when Sandra Coutinho (bass & backing vocals), Rosália Munhoz (lead vocals) & Ana Machado (guitar & backing vocals) put together a female-led post punk band. At that time, São Paulo’s music scene was still very male-dominated with the exception of a few outfits such as Gang 90 & As Absurdettes - who had female backing vocalists (and with whom Sandra even played a few rehearsals as a keyboard player) - and some of our avant gard MPB acts from the Vanguarda Paulista moment, who had front singers as part of their line ups.

Running parallel, on the other side of town, there were also a great number of suburban male punk rock actions going on with bands such as Cólera, Inocentes, Olho Seco, Ratos de Porão, amongst many others acts. Brazil’s punk moment lasted until 1982 and culminated with a big festival organised by playwright and journalist Antonio Bivar and Callegari from Inocentes at SESC Pompéia. The festival was called O Começo Do Fim do Mundo (The Beginning of The End of The World).

In the middle of this scenario, As Mercenárias emerged as a strange nervous post-punk entity that dialogued either with the punk scene or the more experimental-led actions of the time. The fact that they played instruments, wrote their own songs and had a lot of attitude onstage made such big impact on the scene from day zero. The reasons were too many to enumerate although I risk mentioning one in particular here. Just like Rita Lee of Mutantes in the late 60’s or more recently the Funk Carioca girls and ‘bondes’ such as Deise Tigrona (a.k.a Deise Big Tiger), As Tchutchucas or Bonde das Bad Girls, As Mercenárias were definitely the other non-obvious contender that Brazil would take years to understand properly. Sadly they were overlooked for more than 20 years and completely taken for granted by an extremely macho-oriented music industry of the time. Truth was that Rosália, Sandra, Ana & Lou were just too straight to the point and they weren’t the ‘Ipanema Girls-types’ that music industry were in search of. Their image and music were simply miles away from Brazil’s cliché image of sweetness and laid-backness.

At Mercenárias’ first ever rehearsal, they made ‘Trashland’, a piece of luminous groovy punk funk and one of their funkiest tracks to date. Shortly after, they would be the opening act for IRA! - a four-piece local post-punk outfit that later would become one of the most famous São Paulo’s rock groups - in a bar called Rosa Proibida (Prohibited Rose) in the borough of Ibirapuera, São Paulo’s South Zone. However, As Mercenárias’ official debut was at the opening of the underground club Napalm in February of 1983 to a petrified and delighted audience. That’s where it all got kick started.

Their first two years as a band had IRA!’s accomplished guitarist Edgard Scandurra on drums. Some time later, they’d become an all-female act with the arrival of Lou, who used to be one of their biggest fans and more importantly had her own gear since Edgard didn’t have a drum kit. With Lou on drums, As Mercenárias recorded two extraordinarily furious good albums. Their debut LP ‘Cadê As Armas?’ (Where Are The Guns?) included songs written from 1982-1985, but it was only released in 1986 thanks to São Paulo’s legendary imprint Baratos Afins - home to most of São Paulo’s underground acts of the time. (For further listening and detailed info on other bands from this period, we recommend The Sexual Life of The Savages - underground post punk from São Paulo, Brasil on Soul Jazz catalogue). And in 1988, As Mercenárias recorded their last album entitled ‘Trashland’ on major EMI just before they split.
This compilation presents a selection of Mercenárias’ best moments taken from these two albums. It includes three excellent rare unreleased cuts (Honra, Da Dó and the original killer version of Há Dez Anos Passados) which were extracted from old demo-tapes Sandra especially provided us with. Here you listen to 19 unbelievably great tunes that still sound fresh, frankly unpretentious and yet extremely sophisticated to this day. It covers As Mercenárias’ brief 6 years of activities and it might certainly bring other understandings to the whole world post-punk debate.

‘I was extremely impressed. It wasn’t the music per se, it was the attitude, the manifestation of it.’ Sandra Coutinho on the Brazilian punk scene.

Unfortunately, there was a tendency for men to doubt women’s capacity. This was something we’ve always felt in sound checks or recording sessions. Also there was that thing that people thought the mentor was always a boy, in our case Edgard cause he was our drummer in the early days’. Sandra Coutinho

By the mid 80’s, As Mercenárias were already one of the tightest post punk outfits in town with a solid and growing fan-base including a great deal of angry girls. They sounded exquisitely raw, precisely shouty & gorgeously climatic. They made music with very few resources and practically no financial support. At that time, if you were in an independent band in Brazil, it necessarily meant no funding at all. Therefore, there were no cash advances for recordings, very rare gigs or venues that offered proper fees, no money from our government for artists, no social security and no easy access to information. In other words, there was little growing perspective for bands like them. The way Brazilian artists worked was truly hardcore-like in every sense. Brazil’s economy was just not prepared. Such unbalance affected the entire country financially and psychologically. We had terrible inflation problems - sometimes running over 100% - and millions of unemployed youngsters from all walks of life, not to mention a declining productivity and a mounting foreign debt. In 1982, for example, unemployment in São Paulo surpassed 1.5 million. Moreover, Brazil was still under a military regime with our last military president João Figueiredo, meaning that the whole transition to re-democratisation and opening of the regime would only come into force later on. It was pretty much through this atmosphere that bands were formed and the scene developed.

Meanwhile, As Mercenárias also met along the way types from Rio’s music industry who would go down to São Paulo in search of undiscovered talent. However, what happened was more like the girls would leave big question marks on these men’s minds, so full of personality they were. A classic tale dates back from 84 when a Rio A&R came to São Paulo to check out the girls sound but ended up getting really disappointed. He was shown a demo version of a track called Honra in which As Mercenárias sang ‘the honour of a man is in his ass’. Needless to say it didn’t work and the guy took the first flight back to Rio. At that time, most of Rio de Janeiro’s new wave bands were signed to major record labels and were pretty much up to play the commercial game of the time. As Mercenárias kept being told the market would only be ready for a band like them in 10 years time or so.

‘I saw Rosália for the first time on the street totally by chance. She had huge curly ‘afro’ hairdo and she was carrying a big baby. Her skinniness made a quite an impression on me’. Ana Machado

In 1986, Cadê as Armas? was finally released on Baratos Afins. The LP featured 10 amazing micro tracks of about 2 minutes and lasted exactly 24 minutes. The girls had self-financed its recording and played the tracks live throughout 4 single sessions, pretty much from December 85 up to March of 86. Cadê as Armas? was produced by the girls with Edgard Scandurra, their old drummer and with the help of British expat percussionist Peter Price who later played with Arnaldo Antunes. It also featured mythical São Paulo underground’s guests such as Marcinha of experimental electro-noir outfit Chance plus João Gordo from the seminal punk band Ratos de Porão, not to mention Vange Leonel from Nau. They all sang backing vocals on the great micro hit Santa Igreja (Holy Church).

As Mercenárias live shows were also a chapter apart. Live, their music was aggressively celebratory, they had an incredibly punky delivery and were ultra-feminine without being pompous. Rosália’s deranged stage performances combined with her perfectly articulated and shouty edge-of-hysteria vocal delivery was an extremely organic experience. Sandra’s precise chorused bass lines and sacred-like harmonised backing vocals allied to Ana’s intelligent riffs and Lou’s furious drumming were also some of their strongest marks.
Back in 86, I saw them playing in Rio de Janeiro in a dark basement club in Copacabana named Crepúsculo de Cubatão, for a very smart crowd that included other bands and artists from Rio. Amongst these people were even Tim Maia’s soul boy/nephew Ed Motta from Conexão Japeri, who was there to check out the girls live set. I remember the whole club being fascinated and confused, so cathartic, ritualistic, highly rhythmic and precise they sounded. Their live set had a great exquisite melodic and harmonic sense that was all their own. Mostly, As Mercenárias operated around São Paulo’s venues and played only a few times outside the city. Later on, I learned from Sandra that they played only once in Rio (and curiously enough this was the Crepúsculo de Cubatão gig). Likewise, they did gigs in Porto Alegre, Ribeirão Preto and in Belém, up north in the country. At that time, it was really complicated for an independent band to go on tour around Brazil since travelling was too expensive. However, these problems didn’t stop artists from producing and trying to organise crazy plans for tours.

As Mercenárias’ lyrics circled around themes of collective and individual resistance and in many ways discussed the whole feeling of panic, urgency and lack of expectations Brazilian youngsters experienced. They sang São Paulo’s cruel, wild, aggressive and multi faceted experience of the time with such a feminine sensibility and unpretentiousness that was hard to find in our iconoclastic underground scene of the time. They made some of São Paulo’s best post-punk anthems such as Polícia (Police), Santa Igreja (Holy Church), Inimigo (Enemy), Pânico (Panic), Loucos Sentimentos (Mad Feelings), Há Dez Anos Passados (From Ten Years Ago) just to name a few of the great cuts.
Strangers in their own country but truly visionaries, the girls didn’t reach any mainstream recognition, however, they did anticipate the success of a very famous male act from São Paulo around the 80’s. This is only to tell you a curious story about As Mercenárias’ influence on the underground and consequently on the mainstream scene of the time. It has to do with their two micro hits Polícia and Santa Igreja from their first LP Cadê As Armas? In 1986, Titãs - a nine-piece post punk act signed to EMI - put together one of the greatest punk-driven albums of their carrier entitled Cabeça Dinossauro (Dinosaur Head). Strangely enough the album - which some claim to be very much influenced by As Mercenárias’ Cadê As Armas? punky delivery, attitude and lyrics - became ‘number 1’ around the whole country with more than 8 singles played exhaustively on the radio. It was the first time a Paulista band became so big in Brazil. Two of their stand out tracks was called Polícia (Police) and Igreja (Church) just like As Mercenárias’s tracks titles. Not to mention that they sound similar in content and delivery although the girls had recorded theirs shortly before. Coincidentally or not, Titãs and As Mercenárias were drinking from the same bottle. The thing is: Mercenárias certainly could have shared some of Titãs success around Brazil if they had better distribution and marketing at the time. Just like The Slits in the late 70’s in the UK in relation to their peers of the time (Clash, Sex Pistols and co.), the girls weren’t really recognised as pioneers in Brazil. This was pretty much history repeating itself in other plagues.

Sadly As Mercenárias were silenced shortly after they released their great second album Trashland with a major record company. They were booked three months in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro where they recorded the album for EMI. The band was also given an advance for the first time in their career and had the choice to make exactly what they wanted, in other words, total creative control. However, after finishing the recordings, As Mercenárias made a few appearances and that was all. Again, they left more question marks on the industry. The record company didn’t know what to do with their music. So, by the end of 1988, when Sandra had just been nominated best-bass player & Trashland chosen as the best album of the year by the critics of Bizz - the São Paulo based music-mag with the largest readership amongst the youngsters of Brazil - the girls received a letter from EMI dispensing their services. This certainly motivated them to end the band.

Tired of insisting on the same mistakes, Rosália, Ana and Lou abandoned their musical careers while Sandra went to Berlin to spend the next 14 years. Over there Sandra kept making music as a one-woman band and collaborated with German avant-gard acts such as The Blech & Rat’n’X. This pretty much sums up As Mercenárias local saga around Brazil.
It is a pleasure to see their music back again after almost 20 years of interruption echoing around and influencing a great deal of the new generation bands. Have a listen to these tracks and try not to be in love with them. And let’s celebrate cause As Mercenárias are definitely back with Sandra & Rosália from the original line up and the great new blood of Georgia Branco on guitar and Pitchu Ferraz on drums. And they are well and still rocking!

Bruno Verner & Eliete Mejorado, London, Jun 2005 (Tetine/Slum Dunk Radio Crew)

Thanks to:
Rodrigo Araújo, Carla e Mauricio Souza, Rosália Munhoz, Sandra Coutinho, Ana Machado, Georginha and all at Resonance FM.