1 - FROM GREEN MUSGO TO POST-PUNK & BACK AGAIN!
'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. Theyre 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 Paulos concrete state-like buildings designed to re-house students who couldnt pay the expensive rents of the market, that Rosália got hold of her first post-punk cassette tapes. She got these tapes through Marião, Sandras 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 Paulos 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. Id linger on with my friend Anay and wed listen to reggae. Id try to play the guitar but I just couldnt 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.
2 - ME PERCO NESSE TEMPO or IM LOST IN THESE TIMES
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 Paulos 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.
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 60s 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 werent the Ipanema Girls-types
that music industry were in search of. Their image and music were simply
miles away from Brazils cliché image of sweetness and laid-backness.
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 Paulos rock groups - in a bar called Rosa Proibida (Prohibited
Rose) in the borough of Ibirapuera, São Paulos 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. Thats where it all got kick started.
first two years as a band had IRA!s accomplished guitarist Edgard
Scandurra on drums. Some time later, theyd 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 didnt 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 Paulos legendary imprint Baratos
Afins - home to most of São Paulos 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.
- PÂNICO! PLAYING AROUND JUST LIKE YESTERDAY!
there was a tendency for men to doubt womens capacity. This was
something weve 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.
the mid 80s, 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. Brazils 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 Rios 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 mens 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 didnt work and the guy took the first flight back to Rio. At that time, most of Rio de Janeiros 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.
- WHERE ARE THE GUNS?
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 undergrounds 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).
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. Rosálias deranged
stage performances combined with her perfectly articulated and shouty
edge-of-hysteria vocal delivery was an extremely organic experience. Sandras
precise chorused bass lines and sacred-like harmonised backing vocals
allied to Anas intelligent riffs and Lous furious drumming
were also some of their strongest marks.
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 Paulos 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 Paulos 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.
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 didnt 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.
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 & RatnX.
This pretty much sums up As Mercenárias local saga around Brazil.
Verner & Eliete Mejorado, London, Jun 2005 (Tetine/Slum Dunk Radio