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Inspiring women: Elza Soares

Eighty years of a history marked by poverty, racism and violence, but also by the undeniable talent and strength of a woman who, despite everything, survived. Our inspiring woman today is Elza Soares, elected the “Brazilian singer of the millennium” by BBC London in 1999.

trajectory of Elza Soares

Elza da Conceição Soares was born in the favela of Moça Bonita, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1937. Daughter of a washerwoman and a worker, her father forced her to marry when she was just 12 years old. The following year, she gave birth to her first child. It was precisely to be able to buy medicine for the newborn that Elza decided to secretly participate in Ary Barroso’s program on Rádio Tupi – even though her family was against it.

At the time, the girl of only 38 kilos who wore clothes mended by pins and who had a very humble way of speaking caused astonishment to the presenter. Sarcastically, Barroso asked which planet she had come from, drawing laughter from the audience. “From Planet Hunger”, Elza replied, showing that she was not born to silently accept what life seemed to want to impose on her.

The voice and talent of the little singer impressed the presenter, making him declare that “a star had just been born at that moment”. Despite having earned some money with the participation, Elza Soares’ son could not resist.

The tragedies, unfortunately, did not stop there: when she was just 15 years old, Elza lost her second child. In all, the couple had seven children – and that’s how the singer found herself alone with five children when she became a widow at age 21. At that time, she began to work as a cleaning lady and domestic servant, as her husband had previously forbidden her to work outside the home.

In addition to the death of her two children, Elza went through the trauma of having her daughter Dilma kidnapped. The girl stayed with a couple, who received a certain amount to take care of her while Elza worked, until one day they disappeared into the world with the child. Mother and daughter only met again many years later, when Dilma was already an adult.

The voice that survived the violence

Despite all the difficulties, Elza Soares had never given up singing. With her unmistakable husky voice, she was able to make small appearances on radio and television. When she was starting to be recognized in the samba scene, Elza met the famous football player Garrincha, considered a national hero, who at the time was still married.

With the player’s divorce, Elza was massacred by the media and became the target of the whole country, who blamed her for the fact that Garrincha had abandoned his wife and daughters – although he had already had three wives and was not so close to his children from the previous marriages. Elza received death threats, had her house shot at with eggs and tomatoes and was called a “bitch” and a “witch”.

The name-calling even came from Garrincha’s own friends, who were annoyed because the singer didn’t want him to drink – on several occasions, after they were married, Elza went around the city’s bars asking that no one give her husband alcohol.

Although Elza tried to protect Garrincha from alcoholism, her struggle was not enough to prevent the drunken player from crashing into a truck. The accident left the singer and her daughter Sara not very seriously injured, but her mother, Dona Josefa, died when she was thrown out of the vehicle.

The nightmare that Elza lived with Garrincha did not end there. Even married and with a son, the player was extremely jealous and violent, and beat her several versions, including breaking her teeth on one occasion.

In 1982, Elza and Garrincha divorced after 16 years of marriage. The following year, the former player died of cirrhosis, leaving her very shaken. As if all the suffering hadn’t been enough, Elza and Garrincha’s son died in a car accident in 1986, aged just 9.

“Let me sing. Let me sing until the end”

Even depressed and having attempted suicide, the singer, with her talent that had already traveled the world, saw her career continue. Thus, in 1999, she was chosen by the BBC in London as “the Brazilian singer of the millennium” – a more than deserved recognition by those who ask that “let her sing until the end” in the song “A Mulher do Fim do Mundo”, by 2015 self-titled album, the first with unreleased songs.

It was also on this album that Elza Soares seems to have managed to voice her revolt against the violence she suffered, through the song “Maria da Vila Matilda” and her emblematic verse “You will regret raising your hand to me”. No wonder the album, which also criticizes racism, became a reference for the feminist struggle in the country.

With the repercussion, “A Mulher do Fim do Mundo” won the Latin Grammy for best MPB album, the APCA Trophy from the São Paulo Association of Art Critics and the Brazilian Music Award, among several other nominations and achievements.

And when Elza Soares said she wanted to sing to the end, she wasn’t just paying lip service: “Deus É Mulher”, the singer’s next album, which will be full of messages of female empowerment and tributes to African origins, is about to be released. scheduled for May this year.

What can we learn from Elza Soares

Elza Soares’ survival story is a sequence of inspiring lessons. These are some that we chose to highlight with International Women’s Day in mind:

1. Strong women are also subject to abusive relationships

It is not uncommon to see criticism of avowedly feminist women who find themselves involved in an abusive relationship. As the story of Elza Soares shows us, we are all subject to this, no matter how strong we are. To this day, the singer says that Garrincha was a great love, perhaps the biggest in her life. So, instead of questioning the strength or empowerment of victims, our role is to support them and fight the perpetrators.

2. Our voice cannot be silenced

Elza Soares couldn’t scream while she was attacked by the media, society and her husband, but that didn’t silence her voice forever. Today, close to turning 81, the singer remains firm in her purpose of singing the appreciation of women, sexual freedom and respect for ethnicities, even if her health almost doesn’t allow it anymore.

For years, the singer has suffered from a very serious spinal problem caused by a fall from the stage and surgery, which prevents her from wearing the 15-inch heel that she loved so much. Even if she has to perform seated and the breath is no longer the same, Elza continues to convey her message.

3. We must prioritize the union between women

Nobody would say that Elza Soares is not a legitimate feminist, right? However, she herself had doubts about being a representative of this movement. In an interview with the Huffington Post in 2015, when asked about considering herself a feminist, the singer stated: “I don’t know what I consider myself. I am a woman. Feminist or not, I am a woman. A woman who screams, who fights, who seeks to make the best happen. Ever.”

Unfortunately, the word “feminist” still causes fear in many people – including women who had a trajectory of struggle and are examples for all of us. In these cases, instead of creating even more disunity, how about we think that not all women have had the opportunity to understand what feminism means?

Just as Elza Soares was harshly criticized and threatened, many of us continue to experience similar situations. The women who came before us paved the way, but we still need to conquer much more. United, this task will be less painful.

With Knowledge Comes Wisdom

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