Let’s talk to one of Brazil’s traffic-light street-performers.
I was curious how much these fellas make after seeing them perform their routines for drivers waiting at busy intersections, so I struck up a conversation with Pablo, a streetlight performer originally from Buenos Aires. He used to be in a circus in Bolivia where he was a stilt-walker but he’s lived in Brazil for the past four years.
On an average day Pablo said he makes 50 reais (about $20, or £13), but on a good day he can make 160-170 reais (about $60, £45). He only works in the afternoons and only for three-four hours. He said he always works alone but he knows all of the other guys in the trade.
Whilst I was there he didn’t make any money. The first traffic-light he didn’t have time to collect anything, the second and third time he was too tired to do it again (he spins and jumps around quite a lot during his routine) and he was talking to me, and the fourth time (that I recorded) he dropped the juggling balls and gave up, even though just out of shot was a taxi full of tourists ooh-ing and aah-ing.
Bumper stickers and window-decals are a great way to show off your religious affiliation in Brazil, and no driver needs God’s protection more than in a country which had 42,000 road deaths in 2010, and which has a culture of drinking and driving that would boggle Don Draper.
It was God who made me.
Present from God.
God is faithful.
I love Jesus.
The righteous walk and live by faith.
There are things only Jesus can do.
You want ultimate happiness? Put Jesus first.
God cares for me.
The blood of Jesus has power.
Brazil was founded by Roman Catholic Jesuits, and about ninety percent of Brazilians still declare some sort of religious affiliation according to a 2010 census.
22 per cent now align themselves as Evangelical Protestants, with Candomblers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims making up five per cent. The rest declared no official affiliation.
An Apple iPhone 5 in Brazil costs R$2,800 new. That’s US$1,250 or £743. It’s also three times the average monthly salary of a low-skilled worker in Brazil.
A sales associate in a retail store in Brazil working from 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, makes R$1000 a month (US$445, or £265). This is a common wage in Brazil for all low-skilled jobs and services. High-skilled jobs fare little better; the average wage for a primary school-teacher in Sao Paulo – one of the most expensive cities on earth – was recorded as R$1900 a month in 2013.
The salary for Brazilian sales-associate works out as approximately R$4 an hour, or less than two dollars an hour.
When a rich kid’s toy phone costs three times what a full-time salesperson (or bus-conductor, restaurant-worker, or garbage-man) makes in a month, the disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil is clear.
An unlocked iPhone in the UK costs £530. By the same logic the average wage of a shopworker in the UK would be £175 a month, working full-time. The income disparity in Brazil is obscene.
The iPhone is a slight outlier given its aspirational value and its scarcity in Brazil, but it’s the same situation for cars, washing-machines, TVs, clothes and pretty much any consumer goods. Prices are hugely inflated and wages are tragically low for the vast majority of Brazilians.
Money, luxury and showing off. “Funk” music coming out of São Paulo is all about being ostentatious (“Ostentação”) with your wealth, and that means designer clothes, imported cars, nightclubs and women.
Watching Funk Ostentação on Youtube is like watching 90’s American rap videos; singers throw champagne around in fake nightclubs, walk in front of expensive (hired) cars and hover-hand strippers that dance as if they’re not sure if the director yelled “Cut!” or not.
With lyrics that highlight an ambition to leave the favela and live the good life of women, nightclubs, cars and jewels, Funk Ostentação singers are self-fulfilling dream-makers. Videos on Youtube showing them counting fake US dollar bills and standing in front of expensive imported cars now make them tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue, and the biggest Funk Ostentação stars charge R$10,000 (US$4,000, £2,700) a show.
Four other Funk Ostentação MCs have also been shot dead, supposedly by ex-police “grupos de exterminio”(death-squads) targeting rappers with anti-police lyrics, although my sources tell me MC Daleste was killed for stealing a woman from a dangerous drug-trafficker. These rappers have gained a form of respect from even the middle classes, who normally scoff and talk about the hyper-sexualised lyrics of Funk Carioca music.
When an 18-year-old kid that used to wash cars is pulling in 10x more than a middle-aged doctor makes in a year, and goes on stage every night despite the threat of getting shot dead, how can you not stop and admire their bravado just a little?
News articles, videos and images looking at life and living in modern Brazil.