In May 2014, a smiling Sérgio Reis, wearing the hat that is his trademark, posed for photos next to then-president Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party, at an event against child sexual exploitation, at Palácio do Planalto. He also praised Petrobras’ “citizen commitment”, sponsor of a project on this topic, which had him as a poster boy.
Only nine months later, in February 2015, already elected federal deputy by the then PRB, the current Republicans, was one of the first to ask for Dilma’s impeachment. And he came back to remember the state-owned company, this time in an unflattering way. “Nobody in the world has stolen as much as these guys from Petrobras,” he told the website Congresso em Foco.
Sudden changes in positions of “Serjão”, 81, are well known by his closest friends, but even they were surprised by the radical turn that the country singer has taken in recent years towards pocketbookism.
The culmination of this movement came ten days ago, with the leak of an audio in which Reis made threats against Supreme Court justices and summoned the president’s defenders to a demonstration in Brasília. “If in 30 days they don’t take those guys out [ministros do STF], we’re going to invade, break everything and take the guys out,” he says, in conversation with a friend.
The statements generated rejection from former partners, such as Renato Teixeira, Guarabyra and Zé Ramalho —the defections in the singer’s new album were so many that he even gave up on the release— and made Reis the target of a search and seizure operation by the Federal Police.
In pocket networks, however, Sérgio Reis has been idolized in recent days, which could fuel the project he cherished to resume his term as federal deputy for São Paulo, which he held between 2015 and 2018.
Before becoming a radical ally of President Bolsonaro, the singer was already known for his conservative positions, but which he expressed in a much more moderate way. Bonachão, always showed courtesy to opponents in Congress.
“He always had a very respectful and, I can say, affectionate attitude towards me,” says former deputy Jean Wyllys, now at the PT, who held terms for the PSOL in Rio de Janeiro and lived with Sérgio Reis in the Social Security Committee of the Chamber. “When I made the threat he made, I was surprised to see a rudeness and violence that in personal dealings, at least with me, he never showed.”
Elected with 45,330 votes, Reis was a lackluster deputy. It presented only five bills, none of which were approved. One was to give Tatuí, in the interior of São Paulo, the title of national capital of music. Another would create a market reserve for self-employed truck drivers, one of their main constituencies.
Reis was also dedicated to the health agenda, defending resources for the Santas Casas and, in particular for the Cancer Hospital of Barretos, the current Hospital do Amor, run by his friend Henrique Prata, another Bolsonaro supporter, who was even quoted for Health Minister. When he was contacted, Prata declined to be interviewed.
During his term in office, the countryman defended the reduction of the age of criminal responsibility not to 16, as many conservatives ask, but to 14. However, he never took a concrete attitude in this regard. “Today those who are 14 are smarter than us. We have to complicate the life of the bandits”, he said in 2015 to this newspaper.
As a deputy, he also criticized Bolsa Família, which he called “terrible vagrancy” and defended “capturing” rapists, presumably in reference to a project authored by Bolsonaro himself when in parliament, to subject sex offenders to chemical castration.
In the current government, Reis gladly embraced the agenda of economic exploitation of indigenous lands. Days before the controversial audio surfaced, he helped promote a meeting of representatives of tribes sympathetic to Bolsonaro with the president in Brasília.
According to these Pocket Indians, the singer is seen as a defender. “Our leadership mission here on Earth, Mr. Sérgio, is not easy, and God has given a burden to each one according to his capacity. You are an honorable, honest, upright man, and that is why you have this great burden”, said Ronaldo Pareci, leader of a soy planting tribe in Mato Grosso, in an audio sent to the singer, which was obtained by the report.
One of Reis’ closest friends today is the logger and businessman João Gessi, who is very active in defending the exploitation of indigenous lands. Gessi and the singer supported the creation of an economic cooperative of Kayapó Indians, in southern Pará, in 2018. When contacted, Gessi asked the reporter to send questions about his relationship with Reis, but he did not answer.
Another close friend, journalist Fernando Richeti, says that the country artist often ends up giving opinions without weighing the consequences. “He’s always been the big-hearted ‘seen’ of a boy. But we always went around, cut those things he said. Alone, he ended up saying what he shouldn’t”, says Richeti, host of “Brasil Caminhoneiro”, a program broadcast by TV Record and over 150 radio stations in the country
On the air for 40 years with minor variations in name, the attraction has Sérgio Reis as part of its cast. “We know that there is an urgent need for change, due to the price of diesel oil, an outdated freight table, it is a fair agenda for truck drivers. I told Serjão that it’s even valid for us to want to mobilize, but getting to the point of wanting to hand over a paper to the Senate and say that everyone can be slapped, it’s not possible”, he says.
The friend, says Richeti, agrees that he has gone overboard. In the days following the controversy, Sérgio Reis apologized. “I made a mistake, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t do something stupid one day?”, he said, in an interview with TV Record last weekend.
Although today identified with the rural environment, Sérgio Reis is from São Paulo from the Santana neighborhood, and began singing rock at Jovem Guarda – a son of the city, therefore. It migrated to the sertanejo in the 1970s, when the genre began to conquer more urban audiences.
According to Marco Prado, professor of popular music history at the São Paulo State School of Music, Emesp, Reis bridged the gap between the “root” sertanejo, represented, for example, by Tonico and Tinoco, and the sertanejo generation from pasta, from Chitãozinho and Xororó and the like.
“He is very important, he helped to popularize the sertanejo. He was one of those who took the genre to auditorium shows, such as Hebe and Chacrinha, as well as making films”, he says.
According to the professor, the sertanejo genre never had politicization as a brand, but the criticism that it is an alienated style is unfair. There is great exaltation of the work ethic and personal effort, for example, values on the rise among conservatives.
“There is an appreciation of hard work. The rustic tradition is that when the rooster crowed, it is already awake”, says the professor. Prado says that another mark of Sérgio Reis was having invested in the production of his shows and even his look. This, however, attracts criticism from those who defend the “hillbilly” culture.
“Sergio Reis fits into American country music. Even the look he wears is not ours. When he started recording country music labeled Sertaneja, he started earning money, became famous, he became a character”, says Rolando Boldrin, who has been hosting Brazilian music programs on TV for 40 years and is currently in charge of “Mr. Brazil”, on TV Cultura.
According to Boldrin, there is a manipulation of sertanejos by Bolsonaro. “They [artistas] they are naive, they are used by a populist government to promote”, he says. “There are some who make a record cover with a revolver on their belt, just like a Western.”
Sérgio Reis was contacted, but declined to be interviewed. By telephone, he apologized and stated that the controversy had affected his health. “I hope you understand,” he declared.