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World

This Holiday Season, Brazilians Turn To Satire In Troubled Times

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Brazil right now, things are tough. The president is in the process of being impeached, the economy is in a deep recession, jobs are scarce. There's plenty to cry about, but, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Rio de Janeiro, there's also plenty of this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICARDO BOECHAT: (Laughter).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Yes, laughter. This is a famous morning radio host, Ricardo Boechat, on the Bandeirantes network, speaking with Jose Simao, a satirist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOECHAT: (Foreign language spoken).

JOSE SIMAO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The subject of the chat is a letter that the Vice President Michel Temer wrote to Brazil's leader, Dilma Rousseff. It was leaked to the press, and in it was a list of grievances which boil down to, you just used me, you never really trusted me. Needless to say, the wags here had a field day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FICAR COMIGO")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: During the morning exchange, Simao plays the song "Ficar Comigo," a 1961 classic, pretending that Temer was singing it at the presidential palace to woo Rousseff back. The lyrics translate to, stay with me tonight, you won't regret it. Outside it's cold, but here you'll have heat and my love kisses.

It goes on rather steamily. The joke, of course, is that Temer's letter read like that of a spurned lover. And it's not just humor on the radio. Take this song. It's gone viral on the Internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARCHINHA DO JAPANES DA FEDERAL")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an ode to a federal cop who is of Japanese descent. In fact, that's what the song's called. He's become kind of famous here because he's been on TV so much as the arresting officer of politicians and businessmen in the huge graft scandal at the state oil company.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARCHINHA DO JAPANES DA FEDERAL")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the song, a man is erroneously arrested by the famous policeman, and he pleads with him, with my heart in my hand, I said, sir, you are mistaken. I am a humble worker, not a lobbyist, a senator or a congressman.

Brazil has a long tradition with political humor, and this song is a marchinha, a satirical song usually composed during Carnival.

Thiago Souza is a lawyer who moonlights as a composer of ditties like this one, which he wrote. We reached him by phone.

THIAGO SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I think Brazilians joke about everything," he told me. "Even our tragedies. We tend to find the fun in even the bleakest things," he says.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Social commentary will also be part of one of the biggest parties of the year here in Brazil. At a huge warehouse in Rio, the samba schools are getting ready for the samba parade in February, where they will compete for the top prize.

Rio de Janeiro's Carnival is famous all over the world, and one of the Carnival floats that's going to make its debut this year is right in front of me. It is bright yellow. It's supposed to be a Swiss cheese, and you see these huge rats jumping out of the side with coins decorating the top.

RODRIGO COUTINHO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rodrigo Coutinho is with the samba school Mocidade de Padre Miguel. He says the float is supposed to be like a bank vault and the rats are running out with all the money. He says it's symbolic of the corruption in the country. The designers at Mocidade told us they actually think their float is no laughing matter, but rather something that reveals a truth hidden underneath all the lies. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.