Marking Time

    Marking
Time

    Yes, there are prosperous and even rich Brazilian blacks. And they
    are not just the successful soccer players and musicians. There are actually millions of
    them, working as lawyers, doctors, executives and businessmen, making up one third of the
    Brazilian middle class.
    By Brazzil Magazine

    Fueling what Carlinhos Brown has called "an elegant revolution", music
    artists like Neguinho do Samba are institutionalizing programs which transform the lives
    of marginalized Afro Brazilians in Salvador, Bahia. The leaders and sponsors of this
    movement include many notables in Brazilian music. Carlinhos Brown himself organized an
    effort which resulted in construction of the Pracatum school for disadvantaged children in
    Candeal ghetto. This followed his earlier work to establish in Candeal a world class
    performing facility for Timbalada, and to provide financial assistance for residents to
    revitalize their community through exterior home improvements.

    Neguinho’s work, which includes collaborations with Paul Simon and Michael Jackson as mestre
    of Olodum, culminated in release of Banda Feminina’s first CD, A Mulher Gera o Mundo
    little more than a year ago (See "Stirring up Heat" by Kirsten Weinoldt, Brazzil,
    April 1998). Since that time Neguinho (Antônio Luiz Alves de Souza), Cultural
    Director Vivian Carline de Jesus Queirós and mestrina Adriana Portela have continued
    unabated in their efforts to nurture the growth of a full fledged program to serve the
    needs of girls at their facility in Pelourinho. Following an informal
    "reunion" of sorts with our old friend Neguinho, Danielle Valim (a resident of
    Salvador) and I conducted an exhaustive interview with Vivian.

    Brazzil—How many girls are currently involved in the project?

    Vivian—Eighty to ninety at this time; but it varies as girls come and
    go. Eighteen perform in the banda feminina.

    Brazzil—What, specifically, is your job with Projeto Didá?

    Vivian—Neguinho calls me the Cultural Director. I coordinate
    instruction according to the philosophy of the school. This evolved from the fact
    that at first Neguinho was formulating ideas (for the project) only in his head. I
    began to document them in an amateur way; but it was the only way to progress. Over time I
    began to assume more responsibility for documenting and helping to implement Neguinho’s
    ideas.

    Brazzil—Have you ever received an education preparing you for this kind
    of work?

    Vivian—No. I began with Neguinho at age sixteen. I didn’t know
    anything about this kind of work and only learned through experience. I was
    continually asking Neguinho about his ideas, to give them form. I was always asking him,
    "What are you trying to do? What materials do we need?" We learned
    together by trial and error. We’d make a mistake one day and correct it the next.
    Finally, we began to develop a methodology for working with the girls. We started
    to involve them in things other than music that Neguinho realized were so important for
    them. We began to conduct group-counseling sessions. We invited doctors to counsel
    and direct them, to address health and sex issues. People began to come from foreign
    countries to introduce the girls to the lives of women in other places.

    Brazzil—But the original focus was the music?

    Vivian—Yes. The girls were first attracted by the tambor, the
    percussion. But once they were here we worked to transform their lives. We’re constantly
    struggling to educate with the limited knowledge and resources available to us. For
    example, I myself discovered in a magazine article that March 8 is the International Day
    of Women—a very important date for us. We’re always seeking to profit from
    such chance discoveries to teach and extend the minds of these girls. I stumbled
    into working with culture because I had an innate interest in it. I never planned
    to do this. Like all the girls here I came only to learn how to play.

    Brazzil—So you met Neguinho through Didá?

    Vivian—No. I knew him when Didá only existed in his mind. One
    day he mentioned the idea casually. It didn’t take form until 1993, although it had been
    growing in Neguinho’s mind for ten years. Before 1993 Neguinho didn’t have any significant
    financial support or support within the community. Following his participation as
    Mestre for Olodum with Paul Simon (Rhythm of the Saints) he acquired this (the
    Didá) building in Pelourinho, which provided a place for music rehearsals. So he
    started to talk to people. He spoke with Adriana, who was very interested, and with
    my mother.

    But I was very skeptical. I thought to myself "this man is crazy, I won’t
    participate because I’ll only embarrass myself". I thought for a long time before
    deciding to go. Even then I only intended to participate as a musician, and I still play
    today. I didn’t have any clear sense of what Neguinho was planning. If I’d known that it
    was not only to be a banda, that there was something bigger behind it, maybe I
    wouldn’t have hesitated. So I came with Adriana and a few other girls, some of whom are
    still here today, just to learn how to play.

    But Neguinho’s ideas were much more extensive. He wasn’t only thinking about the music.
    "Don’t be with those people!" he would admonish us when we thought to
    surround ourselves with friends involved in questionable activities. "Where are you
    going?" he would ask sometimes, adding "It’s too late for you to be out!".
    Neguinho was like a father. We began to become interested in what he really
    wanted of us.

    Then one night he described his ideas for the project to Adriana and me. He
    talked about Didá being many things, a school to study flamenco dance, music chords and
    battery percussion. We began to realize that he didn’t want only a banda, he
    wanted a school and he wanted to instill responsibility. Once a girl was here they were
    required to be on time, attend regularly, pay attention at rehearsals, etc.

    Brazzil—But there must have been some rough moments at first.

    Vivian—Neguinho had started the process to have Didá recognized as a
    legal entity. When he talked about wanting to make Didá a place where women can truly
    learn and grow, people used to tell him things like "Give it up Neguinho!",
    "The girls will become pregnant because men only see them as good for sex.,
    "This will become a terrible problem for you", and "I can’ help you because
    it won’t work".

    Brazzil—How did Neguinho identify candidates for the program?

    Vivian—The first girls were those he already knew from earlier attempts
    to form a banda. They’d had some rehearsals, but nothing that lasted for
    very long. But from these experiences he knew that some of them would have the
    courage to persevere, so he contacted them again. And he contacted other girls who only
    knew how to dance because being able to play instruments is not a requirement for
    participation. Every girl coming to Didá has a place here. The image of the banda
    and the girls in the program are only a reflection of those already here; so only girls
    from similar backgrounds are attracted.

    An upper-class girl who has the best of everything wouldn’t be attracted to Didá. We
    reflect the simplicity of our roots; and it isn’t appealing to girls who prefer shopping
    malls and rock music. I’m not saying this can’t be changed, because we accept
    everybody. Some girls come with more abilities, or skills, than the others. Some
    have been with us from the beginning, and some have only recently arrived and are just
    beginning to learn. But everybody is equally important to us.

    Brazzil—Are you talking more about the project now than the band?

    Vivian—Yes. Many women from wealthy districts want to participate with blocos
    at Carnaval time, but they’re fearful of having to be with such a group everyday. They’re
    only looking to have fun. But when Didá performs in poorer districts, like
    Liberdade, we have 500 girls whose hearts are beating very fast looking at us because
    we’re a reflection of their own image. They identify with us. Pelourinho isn’t a
    residential district anymore, so most of the girls come from distant poor districts like
    Liberdade, Plataforma, Mata Escura, Sussuarana and Cabula. It often takes the girls more
    than an hour to get here. But they’re the target population for our program.

    Brazzil—Didá is also working with children now. How did that
    come about?

    Vivian—When Neguinho started this thing of forming a "banda
    feminina" he focused on working with older girls; but he always wanted to work with
    the children. To Neguinho it’s fundamental because children are the foundation for our
    future. It’s a very long and beautiful story because when he started gathering
    children they were only thieves and drug users, or the sons and daughters of thieves and
    drug users and prostitutes. They’d all have had a tragic destiny if nobody had done
    anything. Once they heard the rhythms of Samba Reggae, they wanted to play. But
    in order to participate the children had to commit to not be using needles and drugs, to
    not be stealing and to not allow anyone else to steal. Neguinho also required the fathers
    and mothers to be their guardians. The children could only participate if a father
    or mother would be there to take care of them.

    Brazzil—So when did the children’s program begin?

    Vivian—In June of 1998 (a couple of months after the CD was released).
    He named the program Sodomo, a Yoruba word meaning "to raise a child as if that
    child were our own". It’s been wonderful, but we’ve only been able to initiate 70% to
    80% of what we visualized. The girls and boys receive classes in theatre, song, capoeira,
    dance and flamenco dance. We meet monthly with the parents to assess the children’s
    progress. These children aren’t always from the same families as the girls in the banda
    feminina, but they come from the same places, often very distant places. Some wash car
    windows at intersections, or sell ice cream, just to have the money for bus fare to and
    from our facility. We’re able to provide some transportation vouchers, but not
    enough for every day.

    Brazzil—You talk about parental involvement, but this must be very
    difficult. Neguinho has indicated that the program sometimes has to work almost as
    hard to reform the parents as the children, because so many of these children come from
    difficult situations.

    Vivian—Yes. Our idea is to make a tripod of the child, the family and
    the (public) school. The place we’ve had the least success with is the school. For
    now we’re asking the mothers to come to Didá so we can work with them to discover what
    help their children need in school. The children bring their homework exercises to
    Didá for review and receive assistance with their efforts. It’s really frustrating
    because in the end it doesn’t matter if the parents are doing their job and we’re doing
    our job but the school isn’t doing anything.

    Brazzil—Can you elaborate on the overall efforts of Didá?

    Vivian— Well, Didá is a music school. Our courses are open to
    anyone; men, women & children without distinction. But we’re best known for the
    banda feminina, which was the foundation for everything that has followed. It’s
    our most important program because so much attention is focused on this group; it’s how
    we’re known to the world. And we really believe that women generate the
    world, so working with the banda we’re assuring a good foundation that will ease
    our future burden to be working with these children.

    Besides the music school, the banda and Sodomo, we have a Carnaval bloco,
    Mulher Gera o Mundo (which, like their CD of the same name, means women generate the
    world). Our annual Carnaval theme always honors great women in history and focuses
    on themes related to women’s issues. Each year, 2000 women participate in our Carnaval
    group, which I believe is the only female bloco in Brazil. There are other
    projects that we’ve not been able to initiate but have begun to plan for and promote. These
    include the pediatrics and gynecologist clinics, and a clinic for a general practitioner.

    The space we need is in an adjoining building that Neguinho has lent to the government.
    If we can renegotiate to recover this building we’ll be able to progress more quickly.
    We already have partitions and professionals who are willing to volunteer time
    and services.

    Another project we envision is a music research center. It was Neguinho who gave
    birth to samba reggae, and samba reggae has already inspired many other rhythms because
    Neguinho never stops creating. He’s always developing something new. Our
    research center would study the evolution of the rhythms he creates. It would also
    be a place where talented new musicians with limited financial support could record their
    work, so that other new ideas and movements may be generated.

    Brazzil—What about changing technologies? All the music of Bahia
    seems to have its roots in the rhythms of African drums, but Didá is more than music. Can
    your projects have the impact you anticipate without looking forward too?

    Vivian—We’re trying to establish an Information Management Center. We
    know that computers would allow the children and the girls to develop another marketable
    skill, which can improve their lives. Our desire is to offer a well-rounded
    foundation in the arts so they can learn how to dance, how to paint, how to sing, etc.;
    but also to learn some marketable skills. Our approach is always evolving. And
    technology is important for the banda too because we want to score our music on
    computers. It would make our jobs much easier.

    Brazzil—But the medical facilities, the research institute and the
    information management center are all projects, which are not yet being developed. Is
    this because these projects are of lesser priority?

    Vivian—The primary reason is that we haven’t been able to generate
    enough financial support for them. Right now the school is struggling because we
    have such limited funds to pay our teachers and maintain the building. Those things we do
    have we have because we project a "wooden face". We can’t afford to worry
    about being too ashamed to ask for help. A wooden face never gets red, even when
    thinking of things that could make one feel too ashamed to ask for money, or help, to
    obtain.

    We’re not going to give up, and we’re not going to have only the Didá banda.
    We’re planning to have other bandas because Didá is to us "like a child
    that will live by itself", not always connected to the project. We plan to
    have other children like Didá. The girls of Didá have a full agenda and they hope
    that it will become more full as time passes, creating a need for other bandas here
    in Bahia, which will provide opportunities for other youth.

    Brazzil—Your first CD is impressive. Will there be a second?

    Vivian—We were working with BMG records, but the contract has expired.
    We’re trying to record a second CD independently because we’ve learned that having to
    be dependent on a record company is very difficult for a new group. We would, for
    instance, much rather record fewer songs of higher quality. We don’t want to record
    hundreds of songs that nobody will respect or care about. We want to have more
    artistic control.

    Brazzil—How much of the CD was the work of Neguinho?

    Vivian—Almost all of the music and lyrics were written by Neguinho, and
    Neguinho was co-producer. But the original agreement with the recording company was
    for Neguinho to be the sole producer. We’ve discovered through this experience that
    we have only limited knowledge and power to control our destiny with the major recording
    companies. The other producer for the CD was Alfredo Moura, another musician who works
    with Neguinho from time to time.

    Brazzil—Why wasn’t the CD better publicized?

    Vivian—The publicity we expected never materialized. We
    discovered that the quality of our music is no assurance that our songs will play on the
    radio. On the week that the CD was launched our songs did play a few times, but
    there was little support from the record company. Salvador is a melting pot of
    music and the competition is great. You have to pay to have your songs played on
    the radio, and it’s very expensive.

    You have to be able to provide a car or a television for the radio station to offer in
    a promotional lottery. It’s an inclusive business and if you don’t pay then your songs
    won’t play, even if they’re the best. Caetano Veloso is the best composer, songwriter,
    performer and poet in the Brazilian music industry today. He (and Gilberto Gil)
    created the Tropicália movement. But when he was starting out he didn’t have the
    money and they didn’t play his music.

    Brazzil—Is there a connection between Caetano and Didá?

    Vivian—Caetano is a godfather to Didá. He discovered our work
    in 1996. Prior to that time he was not familiar with us but because he knew and
    respected Neguinho’s work he was willing to listen to our music. Caetano immediately fell
    in love with Didá and invited us to work with him on the soundtrack of the movie Tieta,
    based on the romance novel Tieta do Agreste by Jorge Amado. The leading
    actress was Sonia Braga. It was the most fantastic experience of our lives. Caetano
    sang with us at Carnaval time for two years following release of the CD and never asked
    for compensation. His wife Paula is also a fantastic person. She has the
    business sense to accomplish things.

    Brazzil —As cultural coordinator which aspects do you deal with?
    African? Brazilian?

    Vivian—We focus especially on the African woman; the history of women,
    history in general and significant women in history. I myself don’t teach, I learn.
    We’re trying to discover, for example, the contributions of women in Bahian history,
    and we also study folklore. We try to preserve and enhance the value of our
    cultural manifestations. We emphasize important cultural dates and musical personalities.
    We want the children to know about these things because so many of them arrive here
    thinking they’re blond or Indian. Fathers and mothers often emphasize the fact that they
    may have non-African blood, and many work to hide their African heritage. We want
    to make them aware of their real roots and to be proud of their African heritage.

    Brazzil—What are projeto Didá’s greatest needs at this time?

    Vivian—We need study materials for children, and "school
    tables" with attached chairs. We need uniforms for capoeira classes and
    dance classes, and videotapes. We have one small video camera. The dance room needs
    a mirror. We need clothes for Flamenco dance, castanets and a dancing bar (for the
    wall). We need CD and tape players, skirts and computers. The only computer
    we had has broken. We need many of the basic things like paper and notebooks.

    Brazzil—Are you able to feed the children?

    Vivian—The city government provides some food so the children may eat
    here before or after attending public school. At nights we’re able to provide a soup for
    dinner. This was a great worry for us at one time but it isn’t now, at least not
    for the moment.

    Brazzil—Are you able to recruit teachers?

    Vivian—Teachers are a great need, and are very difficult for us to find
    because they receive so little money to work here. Currently we pay them
    from a small stipend, which we require from the few students who have any resources. These
    students aren’t part of the project, but our classes are open to anyone who wishes to
    attend for music or dance. But even many of these students can’t afford to pay. We
    won’t deny anyone who wants to study here but has no money. The stipend for
    instructors is supplemented with the proceeds of instruments Neguinho sells, from a course
    he gives, and from royalties to music he’s written. So we stumble along like
    cripples. Finding the money to pay teachers is the one worry that most keeps us awake at
    night because the teachers work most directly with our children. And they need to be paid.

    Brazzil—What about volunteer help?

    Vivian—Many people have come to help us, but most don’t stay very long.
    It’s difficult for other people to feel as committed as we are, or to give as much as
    we demand of ourselves. Our concern is for the girls and children, we want
    everything to be made in a clear way. By and large it’s the core staff of three who
    manage the project. Many pass through the project with us and we thank them very
    much. But they don’t stay.

    Brazzil—Will the portion of the project, which has been implemented,
    continue to grow?

    Vivian—We hope so. Sodomo has not been fully implemented. We
    need transportation to go to the schools of the children and bring them here. We
    need transportation to get them home late at night. Neguinho wanted to get a bus
    from the United States where they’re less expensive, but import taxes made the purchase
    impossible. He tried for a long time to figure out how to ship a bus, but we still
    need one. We often work with students until 8 PM, but some of the students don’t arrive
    home until 9:30. It’s very late and we’re very concerned for these children. Did
    they arrive safely? What happened to them when they arrived home?

    We want to be able to bring them here and deliver them back to their families. We also
    want to be able to bring the mothers of the children here. We’d like to make a dance class
    and a banda with them to take them out of their difficult lives and introduce them
    to more of the world. We believe it’s important to enter into the lives of the girls of
    the banda and the children.

    We want to expand our existing programs to attract more children. We have only
    40 children at this time. Ok; they make the noise of 80 children (laughs). But
    they’re fewer than what we’ve planned for. We want to touch more lives. We
    want to continue to focus on addressing the needs of the marginalized and preparing them
    for a better future.

    Phillip Wagner is a resident of Indiana in the United States who first
    traveled to Brazil to instruct process management for EDS, with whom he has been employed
    for 23 years. Phillip is also, a free-lance photo-journalist whose credits include
    coverage of the Israeli-PLO accords, the film industry, travel to Mexico and Brazil, and
    the Brazilian music industry. A previous credit includes "Meet the Girls from
    Rio", following interviews with Marisa Monte and Zélia Duncan, in Indiana’s most
    widely circulated entertainment publication Novo Newsweekly. Danielle Valim resides
    in the Pituba district of Salvador and, like Phillip, harbors a special interest in the
    works of programs in Brazil which help people to help themselves. Phillip and
    Danielle are engaged to be married. Phillip’s e-mail and web-site addresses are:
    pwagner@iei.net
    http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/gooddeeds/index.html
    http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/brazilhome.htm
     

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