Demon music

Brazil is abuzz over "Face Slap," a song in which a woman asks her lover to hit her.

By Jack Boulware
Published March 14, 2001 1:37AM (UTC)
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Music has always had its sexual elements. Elvis gyrated his hips to the squeals of hormone-crazed high school girls. The music video for Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" featured female rumps jiggling into the camera lens.

Sexual prudes who find solace in the censorship of suggestive popular music can now get outraged all over again. All they have to do is turn on the radio in Salvador, Brazil, where a new samba hit called "Face Slap" describes a woman who asks her lover to hit her in the face. The song has already spawned a face-slapping dance craze, heated protest and government censorship.

Performed by vocalist Alex Xela and the samba group Pagod'art, the song has infected radio stations, dance clubs and ultraloud party sound trucks. "When we make love, what does she ask for? S-S-Slap in the face," urge the lyrics. "Come on, I'll let you have it, Mama."

In nightclubs, men dance back and forth in unison, pretending to slap their female partners. The women sway left and right, reacting as if struck in the face. And in the background, the band grooves: "I'll let you have it, Mama, I'll let you have it." In essence, the song begs for controversy.

"Slaps turn into punches, and things get really ugly," Salvador mayoral spokesman Jose Barreto told the Associated Press. "A lot of women were furious with the song." Hoping to quell the storm of protest, Mayor Antonion Imbassahy approached performers, radio stations and organizers of last month's Carnival, asking them not to play or perform "Face Slap." Some stations removed the song from playlists, and Brazilian singers have refused to perform it in their concerts.

A theme of physical violence, especially toward women, runs through Brazil's pop music scene, originating in shantytowns and spreading up through the dance halls of the country's middle class. There have been reports of kids at boxing and martial arts academies using "Face Slap" as an excuse to get into fights. This week, Brazil's National Council of Women's Rights publicly repudiated songs that promote violence against women.

"If a slap is normal, what's next: rape?" congresswoman Iara Bernardi told Consultor Juridico magazine.

Some experts believe the face-slapping craze is a comment on Latin America's traditional macho society, and isn't anything to get worried about.

"It's all make-believe -- pretend sex and pretend pain," said sociologist Anna Veronica Mautner. "It's not insidious, because the woman joins the dance as an equal, provoking the man but ducking away from him. It has the same spirit as the apache dance."

All of the discussion, of course, has helped make "Face Slap" even more of a national trend. And those interested in its origins could conceivably blame the mother of singer Alex Xela. When Xela was interviewed on television, he claimed he based the song on an incident in his own life. A girlfriend asked him to hit her when they had sex. Xela felt reluctant and, like a good Brazilian music megastar, asked his mother for advice.

"She said: 'Hit her, she'll like it,'" explained Xela. "But it was affectionate, not violent."

Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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Brazil Latin America Love And Sex Music Sex