Enneagram & Music: Fagner

Fagner live, 2018 (photograph by Natanael Feitosa)

There are very few singers from Brazil who have been able to sustain such a successful career for so many years as Raimundo Fagner — better known simply as Fagner –, while at the same time enjoying at least some amount of respect from music critics.

Such success, however, hasn’t been an easy ride at all. Partly, because he’s never shied away from expressing his views not only on art, but also on politics (and everything in between); partly, because it may be argued that he’s made some very questionable artistic choices along the way to get where he wanted to.

Some of those choices will be discussed in the next paragraphs. But, before I do that, I want to make it clear that my intention here is not to throw stones at him (whom I actually admire quite a lot). It’s simply because I see those decisions as related to some treacherous tendencies of his type in the Enneagram.

it is by others that I know who you are

In all likelihood, Fagner is a type Three. Known as “the Achiever”, or “the Performer”, these are considered the most result-oriented people in this system, with a level of ambition and competitiveness that helps them to get a lot done without fussing too much about the details.

By doing that, however, they tend to lose track of themselves. They’re so skilled at perceiving other people’s expectations, and adapting themselves to those, that a very common (and often unacknowledged) trap for this type is that of fitting too well into a certain image or role they feel required to fulfill.

This particular process of self-identification — forgetting oneself as the very creator of one’s image, to the point of not even knowing which is which — is what is behind type Three’s characteristic passion, usually called vanity (although some authors prefer to use the term deceit).

In Fagner’s case, in a broader sense, probably the biggest evidence of this passion is that he’s not only never felt uncomfortable under the spotlight (on the contrary), but also went out of his way to more than meet the demands of what it means to be a successful artist of our time (at least in his eyes).

a part of me is everyone

All of this could be summarized by his statement, which he held for years, that he would be a bigger record-seller than his idol (and also friend) Roberto Carlos. (If you know anything about Roberto’s popularity in Brazil, you’ll easily understand why this was such an ambitious goal from Fagner.)

This would result in some very interesting recordings with legendary musicians not only from Brazil, but also from some other Latin American countries, as well as Spain. (Perhaps the best example here is his 1981 album Traduzir-se, in which he collaborated with the likes of Mercedes Sosa and Camarón.)

But this would also lead (not surprisingly) to an overemphasis on slick-produced romantic songs, which would dominate most of his albums from the eighties. Consequently, during that decade he lost a lot of the respect and prestige he had once gathered from both music fans and critics alike.

The cover of his hugely popular 1987 album, Romance no Deserto

But even before all of that, from the very beginning his career was marked with controversy, although of a different (and even more delicate) kind: songwriting credits.

More than once, he would adapt other people’s work and simply wouldn’t care to credit the original author. Such was the case for one of his first big hits, “Canteiros” (based on a poem by Cecília Meireles), and, years later, for a lesser-known track called “Sina” (based on a poem by Patativa do Assaré).

As it can be imagined, in both situations he had to deal with lots of attacks. But, as a typical Three, he’s always displayed a great level of confidence, as it was pointed out by the (former) TV host Marília Gabriela, who once observed how he loved to say “I’m not humble”.

This was one of the first remarks she made in an interview with him from 19 years ago. But, really, the most revealing moment of that interview was when she asked him if he had ever suffered from depression. I don’t know if I could think of a more Threeish answer than the one he gave:

I haven’t, because I don’t have time for it. I’m the busiest person of the world.

a love song would be the last lie

And what about his main instinct, you might ask? Well, one of the reasons that typing him as a Three is a relatively safe bet for me is because he’s probably of the Social subtype, which is the one that most fits the classical descriptions of Threes in Enneagram books.

But there are some other evidences of the dominance of the Social instinct. For one, he’s always relied on the collective nature of his work, as it shows when we notice that he’s recorded with most of the big names of Brazilian popular music, with the remarkable exception of his nemesis Caetano Veloso.

Actually, his feud with Caetano also serves to reinforce my point about Fagner’s most dominant instinct. For that, I feel the need to take a moment to bring some more information to our discussion, contextualizing things a little bit for those who don’t know about the geography of Brazil.

Both Fagner and Caetano come from very poor cities from the Northeast, a region which, traditionally, has been one of the least-developed of our country. Fagner comes from Orós (in the state of Ceará), while Caetano comes from Santo Amaro (in the state of Bahia).

Considering this, Fagner was very clever when he compared Santo Amaro to a “ghost town”. By doing that, he was not only attacking Caetano on a personal level, but also bringing (even) more awareness to everything he’s done for Orós. (I won’t be surprised if they raise a statue of him there after his death.)

oh, winged heart

Finally, the biggest evidence of a very strong Social instinct might be that, even with the current state of the music business (especially the recorded music business), he’s never relinquished his vocation for being a popular singer in the widest sense of the word.

As he said when releasing his 2009 studio album, Uma Canção no Rádio (in Portuguese: A Song on the Radio): “Singing only for a ‘brainy audience’ gets tiresome”. He’d rather choose to reach larger crowds, even if that means to “decrease the quality a little bit”, because “too much intelligence is not necessary”.

Of course there’s more than a subtle hint here that “too much intelligence” would be not only unnecessary, but even detrimental to his ambitions of popularity. But it’s here that I think he might be making a mistake (even in regards to all those ambitions).

In a way, what most music lovers would ask of him when it comes to releasing a new album (and I certainly include myself in that group) is precisely that he’d listen to his own heart at least a little bit more. After all, as long as he keeps doing shows, he’ll always be able to give people what they want in a very effective way.

And, who knows, following his heart more often when it comes to releasing new music might not only bring some older fans back, but even attract new ones. (His 2003 album in collaboration with singer-songwriter Zeca Baleiro may be seen as a good example of this.)

I might be wrong, of course. But I would bet that any Social Three is more than smart enough to see that there are many possible benefits to such a trade-off.