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Brazzil - Brazil/USA - April 2004
 

Opening Bahia, Brazil, to the US

It's a watershed pact between African-American and Brazilian
interests. Essence Magazine founder, Clarence Smith, Ira
Moseley, César Nascimento, and company are setting out to
establish regularly scheduled direct flights, beginning in October
of 2004, from selected cities in the U.S. to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Phillip Wagner


In mid-December of 2002, leadership from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) signed a memorandum of understanding at the offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. The signing formalized a working relationship with Black business leaders from Brazil, which were represented at the signing by Maria Hyeronides Barros de Lima. The CBCF hailed the agreement as "a victory" for CBCF, for the Black communities in the United States and Brazil, and for native Brazilians and disabled entrepreneurs. "It is definitely a global victory!"


Cardoso, Nascimento and Moseley

The event highlighted the transformation of a once exclusively Brazilian entity, the Center for the Integration of Businesses Belonging to Groups Historically Excluded from the Economic Process (CIEPEGHEPE), into Integrare, an organization linking business and cultural interests in the United States with counterparts in the Southern Hemisphere.

The original entity, and by extension Integrare, was patterned after the U.S. National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). Louisiana Democratic Congressman William J. Jefferson led a 10 day fact-finding journey throughout Brazil just prior to the agreement. He said that the pact would "encourage the expansion of trade between African American and Afro-Brazilian businesses".

While in Brazil he met with key government, business and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, and added: "It is important for us to recognize the tremendous benefits of connecting (Brazilian) goods and services providers to American outlets and exposing African American businesses to their consumers". I recently discovered that those benefits are being realized today.

Early Support

The basic concept of CIEPEGHEPE was the brainchild of visionary Brazilian businessman César Nascimento. With Nascimento's encouragement, CIEPEGHEPE was incepted in October of 1999 by a group of Brazilian businessmen, together with several Brazilian NGOs and Xerox of Brazil.

Additionally, the undertaking was supported by American executives like Steve Sims and Ms Harriet Michel of the NMSDC, D. Olandan Davenport of Olandan Davenport and Associates, and Nancy Jones from Honda America Inc.

By more recently focusing on encouraging the participation of African-American business and political interests to expand the initiative's influence, Nascimento played a key role in facilitating the founding of Integrare.

In 2001, de Lima assumed the role of Executive President of CIEPEGHEPE (now Integrare) from Nascimento and helped "the organization to more clearly define its focus as working for social groups representing people of color and … indigenous Brazilians and disabled entrepreneurs".

That same year, according to Integrare-Brazil, "Henrique H. Ubrig, president of Dupont of Brazil, assumed leadership of the organization's new (advisory) deliberative council". In addition to Xerox and Dupont, Budai, Honda, United Technologies Corporation (UTC) and Delta Airlines each provided critical early support as the organization established itself.

Black Is Economically Beautiful

In an October 2003 visit to the United States, Nascimento acknowledged (at an event dubbed "Brazil on Hill" held at Capitol Hill): "Official statistics demonstrate that the black population in Brazil is much more concentrated at the base of the socio-economic pyramid".

But "Our objective today is not to spend all of our time (dwelling on) the shameful social and economic situation that the African-descendants in Brazil have faced since the end of slavery," he added. "In the last few years, Brazilian government officials have recognized (the existence of color-based) discrimination in Brazil, so … now it is possible to start treating the disease."

"The best way to approach the challenge," asserted Nascimento, "is by tackling the economic (issues) associated with being black in Brazil. If we (accept) that almost 40 percent of Brazil's population is African-descended, and that they are at the base of the socio-economic pyramid, then we must conclude that they represent (great) economic potential".

Brazilian journalist Pedro Bial has previously said basically the same thing, pointing out that the larger issue of so much poverty in Brazil is not the burden of the impoverished on society, but rather the lost benefit from so many potential contributors.

"If you create economic conditions in Brazil to enrich the poor," says Nascimento, "you will by definition enrich the black population". So, he concludes, to improve the Brazilian economy "we need to work with its black population. The middle class moves the economy, and in Brazil increasing the number of people in the middle class means enriching Afro-Brazilians".

That view seems to be shared by many in the United States. USA Today recently quoted 47-year-old Tyrone Miller of the Bronx as saying that "Minorities are pulling the American economy, so if you really want to make money and get ahead, it's not profitable to be racist".

Encounter in Bahia

I recently sat down with Nascimento at the offices of PromoBahia, in the trendy Iguatemi shopping district of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. He was accompanied by Ira Moseley and Euzébio Cardoso, senior vice president and associate producer, respectively, for You Entertainment.

Moseley, who studied Brazilian cinema at NYU and is on the board of directors for the prestigious New York African Film Festival, came to You Entertainment from one of the major air carriers. Cardoso served for more than a decade as the International Director for the world-renowned Brazilian drum corps, Olodum, which backed up Paul Simon on Rhythm of the Saints.

Nascimento served for more than four years as a member of the Black Community Development and Participation Advisory Board of São Paulo State, an agency charged with advising the state governor in matters related to the black community. As a business professional he's worked with such well known enterprises as PricewaterhouseCoopers, J. Walter Thompson and Microsoft.

He's currently president of the São Paulo accounting firm, On Controller, and is the Brazil general manager for Avocet Travel and Entertainment. Both Avocet Travel and Entertainment and You Entertainment were founded by media mogul Clarence Smith, whose rise to prominence was, like Nascimento's, not strictly tied to a money-motive.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Smith re-examined his life and left a lucrative position in the insurance industry to found Essence Magazine. Smith's focus became black women, whom he credits with being the driving force behind black culture in the United States. Avocet T&E and You Entertainment share Park Avenue offices in New York. Moseley is a longtime friend of Smith.

Relationship Initiative

The recent confluences of North and South American black entrepreneurs, visionaries and creative geniuses symbolizes the about to be realized potential that was seeded by Nascimento in 1999. This particular group is about to implement the first major organized relationship initiative between the African-American community at large and African-Brazilian Bahia.

The long-term view of their project is that Clarence, Ira, César, and company are setting out to establish regularly scheduled flights, beginning in October of 2004, from selected cities in the United States to Salvador and, possibly, elsewhere in Northern Brazil.

The flights will bring African-Americans to Brazil for essentially two reasons: To establish and maintain cultural-tourism and to establish and maintain business relationships while encouraging the importation of Brazilian products … and possibly visa versa. "But we also want to move beyond that," noted Ira, "to capture a fair share of the general market as well".

The Diasporic dream of connecting African-American communities with the African-Brazilian cultural epicenter of Bahia appears to be as passionately ingrained in Ira Moseley as it is in César Nascimento. In fact he played a pivotal, if subtle, role in Clarence Smith's eventual decision to redirect energies in that direction.

Like Damascus-Bound Saul

"I fell dumb-struck in love with Brazil in 1963, at the age of eight in Philadelphia. I was just walking down a street minding my own business when I heard the Brazilian bossa nova lyrics "...quero a vida sempre assim, com você perto de mim, até o apagar da velha chama ..." through an open door".

"I immediately fell in love with bossa nova, and since that time I've been on a quest to learn all I can about Brazil and Brazilian music," he said, "and to use music as a way to generate interest in Brazil. I pursued a college degree, went on to video production, and eventually studied Brazilian cinema at New York University".

By 1998, Ira was working in the airlines industry, which provided him with plentiful travel-to-Brazil opportunities. He eagerly took advantage. But after coming to Brazil for several years he lamented that there was no direct access to northern Brazil from the United States.

"Salvador, for example, was (and still is) only accessible to travelers from the U.S. through Rio or São Paulo" he said. "You had (have) to lose a full day of flight time and vacation time to get there". His then current employer didn't seem to share Ira's enthusiasm for establishing direct air access to Bahia and northern Brazil.

Rerouting the Thought Process

"Clarence Smith called me in December of 2002," offered Moseley, "not long after his retirement (from Essence). He wanted to start up an air charter system focusing on the Caribbean, but I realized that the Caribbean market was already over-served. There was too much competition, and there were no differentiating advantages associated with serving that market relative to northern Brazil".

Ira already understood that there was at least one differentiating factor that made northern Brazil the more attractive market for African-Brazilian consumers, culture. A running dialogue with Smith ensued over time. "Then on January 1st of 2003," he said, "I saw an article in the New York Times about a Shangri-la-like hotel complex in Sauípe, about 85 kilometers north of Salvador".

The hotel was having trouble filling rooms, in spite of its paradise-like atmosphere. "When I next spoke with Clarence I said `look, this is describing the opportunity that you and I know is there'. So I proposed the idea of offering flights originating in New York with Salvador, rather than the Caribbean, for a destination. I knew there was no competition. We had no direct access to the northern tier of Brazil from any city in North America".

Clarence Smith embraced the idea. "So that was the nexus that created the seed for this current project?" I asked, meaning Ira's conversation with Clarence Smith in early 2003. "Clarence realized that there was this great under-served, untapped market," he responded. "And, in particular, he realized that African-American have an insatiable need to find out who they are. Black Americans have all this disposable income and discretionary time, and this great curiosity about their heritage. It's a great mixture".

Generators of Cultural Flow

"African-Americans," Moseley asserted, "are really generators of cultural flow and movement in the United States. Many of our cultural innovations are picked up by the general population and become main-stream. African-American cultural influence has cascaded up and down society in the United States.

´Just think about what has happened with jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop. Every aspect of jazz has found its way upstream. It's about as mainstream now as a music form can be. We know that kind of ebb and flow can be created here, and one of our main goals is to light-up the north-south African cultural axis and to try to take advantage of that in terms of building business opportunities".

An energized Ira continued: "This place (Brazil) has so much to offer African-Americans. Much more than anyplace on the continent of Africa. The environment here is stable; there is no civil war here. There are no famines on the scale of what a visitor would encounter in Africa. Brazil offers access to state of the art telecommunications, reliable banking systems, good roads and health facilities".

And who, specifically, would the project appeal to within the African-American community? "Our target market," he said, "is African-American females between the ages of 25 and 55. They are the cultural generators in African-American society. It's a market that we (thanks largely to Clarence Smith) know and understand very well".

A Supportive Benedita da Silva

Nascimento indicated that he and Moseley met back in 1997 while "trying to encourage BET (the premiere U.S. African-American television network) to invest in Brazil in association with D. Olandan Davenport" and others pursuing closer relations between African-American and African-Brazilian businesses.


Da Silva, Smith and Oliveira Filho

"Since then," he added, "we've become good friends". Moseley said, "For many years we tried to identify a good Brazil related business opportunity. Our focus had been mainly in communications and entertainment, television, film and music. The two of us and Asfilófio de Oliveira Filho (Filó), an associate in Rio, constantly brainstormed to come up with something. One day when Clarence was in Brazil, and after he had embraced the idea of establishing direct flights to Salvador, we went to him and offered our services".

Smith was initially slow to respond to the offer acknowledged Moseley: "He already had an established working relationship with Benedita da Silva (by virtue of his earlier activity involving the Essence Travel Club) to generate African-American interest in tourism". Da Silva though was initially more encouraging. "She's been like a mother to me," said Ira, "She has been very supportive of the initiative from the outset, but has no direct and/or indirect connection with our project".

No "Trial Run"

"Is all this sort of a trial run?" I asked. "Oh no," said Ira. "This is game-time and we're in it to win". "Exactly!" added Cesar "we're here for a lifetime of business, and our idea is to institutionalize that. The first (phase) of the program is to establish direct charter flights from New York, Washington and Chicago, all cities with large Black populations, to Salvador.

"But, as Ira mentioned, we are not only looking at this constituency, we're looking beyond that. We know that the African-American community is one that makes new waves in lifestyles. Based on that, our strategy is to go further into the American market, the general market, using Salvador as a gateway. And (locally) from Salvador we intend to go into the countryside of Bahia and elsewhere in northeastern Brazil".

Assuming success, the venture plans to progressively initiate weekly direct flights to northeastern Brazil from other U.S. cities, like Detroit and Atlanta. "When people come from North America they generally stay seven to maybe nine days" replied Ira "regardless of race or ethnic origin. The few Black North Americans who have already discovered Brazil spend a lot of time and money here. By offering direct flights, we'll be providing travelers from the U.S. with an extra day here, and that's a day of leisure".

Some for Favelados?

Moseley made it clear that "Right now we need to focus on and develop the business itself". But Nascimento noted: "We're working with a local tourist agency that specializes in arranging tours for people of African ancestry, and otherwise serves their needs. They're considering possible agendas in Salvador, and we will be working very closely with Afro-centric community groups".

"Euzébio, in fact," noted Moseley, "is a leader in the African community in Salvador, particularly with Olodum". "We suspect," said Nascimento, "that workshops with some of the African-Brazilian community groups are something that our customers will be interested in".

"Our strategic plan includes trying to find ways to involve the local community in all aspects of our operations," said Nascimento. "We want to leverage our business position in ways that will benefit the residents of Salvador. We are not looking just to make charity. It may be that some of our customers will be interested in making direct donations to worthy causes here, and we will reinforce that kind of motivation.

"But Avocet and You Entertainment will be focused on business opportunities for the underprivileged, because we believe that through business opportunities we can help them improve their own lives. That's what we're thinking to do".

Culture and Entetainment

Moseley has produced a video, in association with You Entertainment and TV Bahia, based on an African-Brazilian community festival called "Zambiapunga". This documentary covers the festival from preparation through celebration, and its history. It also provides a look into some of the region's quilombos.

Quilombos are communities that were originally established by escaped African-slaves centuries ago and which have maintained many of their original African cultural influences. "Strategically" said Nascimento "our focus is the travel business. But around that we're looking at entertainment because we want to create an `experience' for our customers.

"Somehow we want to begin to educate our clientele about Brazil, about Bahia. We're considering TV content, special events that we might put together that would generate some of that content, and the full range of other media for getting it out to our target audience: DVD, CD, film, etc."

"And music?" I asked, "there has to be a special place for music, doesn't there?" "We're putting together a new record label," he responded, "You Records, with Clarence Smith as CEO. We want to create a new sound, a fusion of Brazilian and American styles, just as reggae-samba became a fusion of Caribbean and Brazilian music.

"We're already in the process of recording CDs with Brazilian and American artists and music producers. Our main office is in New York, but our creative genius Asfilófio de Oliveira Filho (Filó) will be working out of Rio, where he lives".

Filó was a marketing strategist for Benedita da Silva and recently, according to Moseley and Nascimento, "he found an unpolished gem" in Bahia. "We were trying to put together a strategy for promoting talent from Bahia," said Nascimento, "when Filó found Fernanda Noronha and her partner Jair Luz. Keep them in mind because this Fernanda will become one of the new divas. We are finalizing a CD that will be released both in Brazil and in the United States".

Total Package

"Eventually" said Nascimento "we're looking toward providing a total package. We want to offer our customers an opportunity to fully experience Brazil. Our expectation is that when he or she comes here, it won't be just for one time. We're not targeting the person that will want to come here just for the sun and the beach.

"Ok, we'll be happy to serve those individuals, but they aren't part of our market focus. Our intention is to serve the needs of the people who are seeking an experience somehow related to the discovery, or rediscovery, of African heritage in the Americas.

"We want to share with them the beauty that you see in this society. It's something that can only be appreciated through experience". "Right" Said Moseley "It's an integrated strategy involving travel, tourism, and entertainment content".

SPECIAL NOTES

1) The Brazilian NGOs that participated in the formation of CIEPEGHEPE were SEBRAE-SP, Nossa Caixa, the Council of Black Communities, and Getúlio Vargas Foundation of São Paulo.

2) The song that the young Ira Moseley heard through an open door in Philadelphia in 1963 was titled "Corcovado". The lyrics and music were provided by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, the same team which produced Brazil's Bossa anthem "The Girl from Ipanema". Corcovado is the mountain (hill) from which the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks Rio de Janeiro. The lyrics for "Corcovado" follow:

Corcovado

Num cantinho um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Prá fazer feliz a quem se ama
Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado
O Redentor, que lindo!

Quero a vida sempre assim
Com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama
E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade
Meu amor

3) The remainder of the Avocet/You Entertainment team:

Kwevi Quaye, Avocet President; J.Gordon James, Avocet Aviation COO; Yla Eason, Avocet USA Marketing VP; Scott Folks, You Entertainment USA Marketing VP; Ruth Morrison, You Entertainment US Television VP


Phillip Wagner is a frequent contributor to Brazzil magazine. His current focus is preparing to pursue graduate studies at Indiana University in September of 2004, with a regional focus on Brazil. He is currently in Brazil improving his Portuguese and continuing to work with social programs in Bahia. Phillip maintains an extensive Brazil-focused website at http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/brazilhome.htm and can be reached at pwagner@iei.net.


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