by Indira Nascimento
Translation Damien-Adia Marassa
The sadness, loneliness and almost subhuman conditions that plague the failed national prison system are no longer his residence. At least physically, the bitter daily life of Brazilian prisoners no longer belongs to him. The limitations on exit, entrance, eating, watching the sun, of family and friends, have also been left behind, locked up within the walls of concrete and steel that surround Hortolândia penitentiary, a metropolitan region of Campinas, his former address.
At 37, Marcos Fernandes de Omena, aka Dexter, "the eighth angel," as decreed last April 20th by Sao Paulo state law, paid his debt to Brazilian society and is a free man.
After 13 years in prison (a period in which he formed, and subsequently left the rap group 509-5, born in within Carandiru penitentiary, and in which he wrote songs that became anthems of the black poor youth in Brazil), the rapper now enjoys the simple things of life, full and concrete liberty and a busy schedule of concerts, lectures, interviews and other professional commitments.
Shortly before being released into the new reality that surrounds him, on April 16, still in “semi-open” confinement, Dexter gave us an interview. His last as a man in exile [incarceration], to reference his excellent album Exilado Sim, Preso Não (2005).
While awaiting his participation in an event near Paissundú in downtown Sao Paulo, Dexter – accompanied by his wife (of 10 years) Patricia Omena – talked about dreams, music, education, the revolution from the peripheries and the prison system: "The attractions inside the prison are totally degenerative. The system doesn’t rehabilitate anyone, one has to create an inner strength, on which everything depends. But I have with me the certitude that tomorrow can be a much better day!" he says.
Little did the rapper know that four days after the statement he and his freedom would finally cross paths. The better day arrived.
THE MENELICK ACT 2 - Who was the Dexter of 13 years ago and who is Dexter today?
DEXTER - I would say the same person. The same character, the same passion. Only with much more desire to succeed today. I want to live! I want to be able to raise my children, I want to be a good husband. Of course I am a human being and make a lot of mistakes, but I want to be a good friend to my friends, I want to be an ordinary guy, I always ask God to never let me be proud, and preserve things that are not mine, know what I’m sayin?!
Of course, as the years go by we gain in experience, disappointments, frustrations, and learn to deal with it all. And the sum of all this helps people mature. And what remains the same is the life lesson of each one, and you can look in the mirror and take a bit of experience from each one. Appreciate the simple things in life, we’ve got to be able to perceive these things, nameen?! Perhaps a drop of water doesn’t make a difference here, but it in the desert it will.
TM ACT 2 – Have you ever thought about quitting rap?
DEXTER – I have, I have. It is very difficult, you know ... when you're inside and not doing what you really love to do, which is rapping, being with the public, it’s very difficult. I missed it. And often for many reasons I thought about quitting. I thought it was over! But I’ve always had an amazing God that guides me, and minutes after these thoughts he strengthened me still further. Thinking is natural because we’re human, but give it a rest, there’s another message, you know?
TM ACT 2 - You often speak of revolution. About the bid from the periphery to occupy spaces in society and such. Will the revolution be televised?
DEXTER - Rap contributes greatly to this, as does the Black Movement, but I think we need to study. To me, rap is the escape valve for many problems that we have within the periphery, but studying is strategy. So I’m seeing other countries where people are educated in a different way. For example, at the stadium, they go to enjoy themselves, but they themselves keep the stadium clean (I saw this in Beijing during the Olympics). In Brazil it's kind of a mess in regard to all this. But I speak of revolution in a general sense, no use wanting to revolutionize the homes of others when our own house is all a mess. So that's it, I think we have to center our thoughts, have purpose in our lives, the future is here waiting for us. Everyone dreams of getting married, having children, owning a home ... The revolution has to begin first within you. If you're black you have to be valued as such, if you're white you have to understand that you also have some responsibility to see that the future is more agreeable. The world is very crazy, people are using lots of drugs, crime is rising, people are cold, no one greets one another, but I said all this in the song “Salve se quem puder” ("Save yourself whoever can') I would like the world to be different.
TM ACT 2 – Do you have any bitterness toward rap?
DEXTER - No, rap has only been good for my life. Rap is a great friend to me. Rap saved my life, saved many people of my generation. It helped the people of my generation to learn, to study, learn to speak well, or at least sufficiently. How could I be bitter? No, all that’s negative in rap has been inserted by people. But the essence of rap is wonderful, rap is part of a culture that preserves the most valuable asset a person has, their life. From the moment you stop and pay attention to real rap music, you become transformed. They have songs that put you on the scene, it's like a movie, just like: “Um Homem na Estrada” by Racionais [Racionais MC’s]; "Brasilia Peripheria" by Gog; “Gente Visita" by Realidade Cruel; "Soldado do Morro" by [MV] Bill; "Senhor Tempo Bom" by the Thaide, songs that put you into the situation, and take you to the local, this is true rap. First you have to have rhyme and then develop a very particular story you want to tell. I learned this from Brown, not that he told me, but listening to his music I figured it out. And I realized that I managed to reach this stage when after eight years I heard "Oitavo Anjo" and "Saudades Mil" on the radio. The lyrics are tight, right?
OM2 º ATO - What do you think of this "new rap," with these "new rappers" who’ve come to television, the mainstream media?
DEXTER – It’s a fact that rap is a revolutionary music. And this won’t change, nor does it have to. But now they’re saying that rap has become pop (laughs). I think rap is pop in the sense of its being popular, you know, being of the people. But in another sense I think it’s not, and doesn’t have to be. Whenever I think about it, I think about Banda Calypso, I don’t know why. Or could I be that I do?... It was a phenomenon, but where’s Joelma, where's Chimbinha today? Look, I'm not saying I'm against those on TV. I think we should select between things. I've been to Rede Globo, or better, Globo has come to me. I’ve heard little of the new stuff because I’ve been doing a lot and haven’t had time to scrutinize people’s work. But I’ve met Flora (Matos), an educated woman. I’ve heard little of O Emicida, but I remember once he said that he heard 509-E and it was an influence for him. But that's it, it’s no use my wanting to represent the playboy set that isn’t gonna make it. I think each is who they are. And I'm a guy from the streets and I maintain the same essence, this isn’t a theme I’ve set for the album, I’m not trying to invent meter, or flow, nor am I about that.
TMACT2 - Send a message to those who will remain incarcerated for some time to come
DEXTER - Be persistent, believe in the word of God because it never fails. Have faith. This is difficult from within the prison, because in prison you have nothing aside from the will to win. The attractions within the prison are totally degenerative. The system does not rehabilitate anyone, one has to create an inner strength upon which everything depends. So stay strong. And believe that anything is possible that tomorrow can be a better day! The song "Como Vai Seu Mundo" conveys this perspective well. But I just want everyone to have peace. I believe that God has power to change that, but I believe that we do too. And a better world depends only on us.
TMACT2 - How is for you to be called by Mano Brown the fifth element of the Racionais Mc’s?
DEXTER - Wow, it’s extremely significant! Brown has a very significant place in my story, in my career, we write lyrics together. I’ve rolled with Brown since ‘90 when I had a group called "Snake Boys," I opened a show for Rationais back then. And my friendship with Brown was taking off, he’s a guy who thinks the same things I do. We even commented recently that we look like brothers, he was a guy raised by his mother, without a father, like me. We identify very strongly with each other. I learned from Brown how to make revolution, see, the first song I heard and felt like doing was like "Panic in the south" this song woke me up, it was like a light bulb in a dark room. That's when I said wow, there it is, that’s what I want to do. I think every cat on the periphery, every sister on the periphery has the desire to shout out to the world. Express everything he suffers inside, all psychological pressures even if unconscious, we are sort of guinea pigs of the system, we don’t have proper education, proper employment ... Finally, if even the middle class feel like crying out, imagine the people who live in violence ... Anyway, to be considered the fifth element by Brown is one of the landmarks of my career, especially with the praise coming from an idol. I want to thank the Rationais, they’re on the map, right, Brazil’s major rap group. I’ve got to give thanks to Brown, Eddie Rock, Kl and the Blue Jay as well.
TMACT2 - You recently did a show dressed in an Obama T-shirt. If you met him, what would you say?
DEXTER - First I would congratulate him. I wore the Obama shirt because I thought we’d had a major f***ing victory of having a black president. The day he won I felt like the happiest guy in the world, I felt justice!! It was too crazy to see the vote count, it was crazy we could feel that things were changing at least over there. This reverberated throughout the world and I felt very proud of who I am, having lived this moment. I'd give him a hug for all that, he created the slogan "Yes We Can" And for the shot in the arm he gave the blacks worldwide, and people in general. Just like with Lula, it was a historic moment that we lived through here. After that the first thing I would say to him is to close Guantanamo prison, for real, to abolish Guantanamo prison. Then we’d talk about various issues.
TMACT2 - In the last twenty years, what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in today's rap of 2011?
DEXTER - There’ve been many changes, such that now we're living in a new generation. The brothers are rapping about other things, other issues. I think this is valid although not as substantial as, I’m not even going to say our rap, but as much as the more conscious rap. There are a lot of things we could discuss regarding these new tracks, this new trend. As the Rationais have said rap is a large tree with many branches. And some people identify more with ideological rap. Now talking about me, I believe that the problems continue, I see the same problems but in a different form, maybe a little more developed now.
TMACT2 - In the old days without the Internet Radio 105FM was the only way for people to know that Dexter existed, is that right?
DEXTER - Yes, to hear new music. ... It was a craze… Before 105FM we had the Metropolitana also with Aramando Martins, which was a dope program ... And today we don’t have this anymore, I felt the absence of it yesterday, of Espaço Rap ... It was the greatest "hype." Rationais would be releasing a song everybody was waiting for, Aramando Martins’s program every day at seven o’clock, everybody would be waiting ... It was a really crazy time for rap. People today no longer feel the excitement to hear a new track on the radio. These days I saw someone say on the internet that soon, many things going down in the rap game today would pass and that only the truth would remain. And Brown also once said that life is hard and only the hard would continue on. So today I put it like this, "The only people who really changed history were those who managed to make people change their thoughts about themselves" this is a [para]phrase of Malcolm X, and this is what rap is to me.
Between light and shadow
Directed by Luciana Burlamaqui
With Afro-X, Dexter and Sophia Bisilliat.
- Exiled Yes, Imprisoned No (2005)
- Dexter & Guests (2009)
- Proverbs 13 (2000)
- MMII BC (2002 After Christ) (2002)