Gay Artist Pioneers New Territory in Brazilian Country Music
By Felipe Oliveira, Contributing Writer
When people think about country music outside the US, places like Canada, the UK, and Australia are what usually come to mind. What may come as a surprise is that Brazil is also a hotbed of country. Its own version of country music, called “sertanejo”, is more popular than samba today. Although more recently sertanejo has welcomed a new wave of women, who took the style by storm, since the 60s it’s the men (solo singers or duos) who have achieved more success, singing about heterosexual love and rural life.
Enter gay singer-songwriter Gabeu, carving a new path for himself in the genre by establishing what is now called “queernejo”. With two singles released so far, the artist highlights the fact that there is a queer audience who consumes country music. Son of one the biggest acts in sertanejo’s history, the singer Solimões (who made a name alongside his partner in the duo Rio Negro & Solimões), Gabeu grow up in country music. Shania Twain was his first pop icon, and to this day he is fascinated by the imagery in Marty Robbins’ 1959 album “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs”.
But growing up in the conservativism praised by the country culture wasn’t easy. The virile man fantasy left no place for diversity, making it hard for a young gay man to identify with it. “I steered away from my roots throughout my life, putting up a kind of wall that made it really hard to see myself as part of that. But recently I had this desire to revisit that and try to make peace with my country self,” says Gabeu.
Gabeu always sang, and started writing at the age of 12. His songs were personal, talking about relationships, sexuality, and family matters. But having a singing career in sertanejo wasn’t on his mind until his boyfriend presented him the chorus of “Amor Rural”, which would later become his first single. “I remember that at the time I laughed and thought it was brilliant. That sparked something in me and I can say that at that moment I decided to jump head first into sertanejo, ignoring everything I’ve been told my whole life, like ‘gay people don’t like sertanejo’. Well, apparently they do!”
Gabeu released “Amor Rural” in May 2019. The fun song about two farm boys surrendering to their desire for each other made a splash. The music video has over a million views today, and the positive reception opened doors to big media outlets in Brazil. His father’s support certainly helped: Solimões is known for singing the praises of his son, and often leaves affectionate comments on his Instagram’s posts.
Gabeu’s second single, “Sugar Daddy,” followed the humorous take of his first one, this time rejecting the idea of taking money from a partner. “I think it’s really important to say that I try to bring humor to my music, it has a comic side to it, with wordplays and double meanings in a somewhat loosened up way. But at the end of the day what I want to show is something quite simple: there are queer people in the countryside, big deal!” Gabeu affirms.
The coronavirus pandemic slowed down the process of finishing his debut album, but he plans to release it sometime this year. The 10-track project is almost done and is described as a mixture of themes and rhythms that still stay true to the country and sertanejo aesthetic that first marked his work.