The Battle of Languages on Brazilian Radio

From Roger M. Allen in the essay Cultural Imperialism At Its Most Fashionable:

Go back home, flip on the radio, and chances are good that what you'll hear will not be samba or bossa nova, but Lionel Ritchie.  (I just switched on the radio at random and got what sounds very much like the Pretenders doing the old Air Supply song "I'm Not In Love."  What the hell is that doing on the air?)  For some reason, the cheesiest 1970's English-language schlock is all over the airwaves.  Maybe just because it's cheap.  Show up at a party, and odds are the dance will be -- get this -- disco from the Paleolithic era.  Gloria Gaynor announcing "I Will Survive" is very big.  (Now the radio is pumping out some generic cover of "Stop In The Name Of Love."  I may have to take an ax to it.)  Just a note from later on in the process of writing this article: the same radio station just played at least six English-language songs in a row, most of them, god-awful.  Having had enough of listening in the interests of reporting, I have now shut the radio off with a distinct sense of relief.

The Brazilians, of all people, don't need to do this.  If there is one country on earth that doesn't need to import popular music from the damned Yanquis, it is this one.

But the author is perhaps ignoring the obvious fact: commercial radio is a business, and there must be a business reason for English-language music to permeate the Brazilian airwaves.  After all, the radio stations could have been playing Cantonese operas or Indian sitar music, but they don't.  So our question becomes: Just which listeners are keeping these English-language songs on the air?

We will now look at some survey data from the 2004 TGI Brasil study.  This is a survey of 13,312 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old conducted during 2004 in Brazil.  During the survey, the respondents are asked if they frequently listen to different types of music on radio.

Here are the top-line summary:

We observe that there is a disjuncture between contemporary music and rock music, with a gap of 12% for the former but only 2% for the latter between the two languages.  

In the next two charts, we show the incidences by socio-economic level and comprehension ability of the English language.  Since we know that English-language skills is correlated with socio-economic level, we would have expected that the trends ought to be same in the two charts, and indeed they are similiar.  Our first observation is that listening to English-language music, whether contemporary or rock, increases with socio-economic level or comprehension of English.  Our second observation is that rock music, regardless of English or Portuguese, increases with socio-economic level.  Rock music is therefore more of a cultural habit and transcends language.  Our third observation is that only contemporary music in Portuguese transcends class boundaries.

(Source: 2004 TGI Brasil)

(Source: 2004 TGI Brasil)

(posted by Roland Soong, 12/27/2004)

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