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.
BrazzilHow many girls are currently involved in the project?
VivianEighty to ninety at this time; but it varies as girls come and
go. Eighteen perform in the banda feminina.
BrazzilWhat, specifically, is your job with Projeto Didá?
VivianNeguinho 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
BrazzilHave you ever received an education preparing you for this kind
VivianNo. 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.
BrazzilBut the original focus was the music?
VivianYes. 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 Womena 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.
BrazzilSo you met Neguinho through Didá?
VivianNo. 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
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.
BrazzilBut there must have been some rough moments at first.
VivianNeguinho 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".
BrazzilHow did Neguinho identify candidates for the program?
VivianThe 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.
BrazzilAre you talking more about the project now than the band?
VivianYes. 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.
BrazzilDidá is also working with children now. How did that
VivianWhen 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.
BrazzilSo when did the children’s program begin?
VivianIn 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.
BrazzilYou 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
VivianYes. 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.
BrazzilCan 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
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.
BrazzilWhat 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?
VivianWe’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.
BrazzilBut 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?
VivianThe 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
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.
BrazzilYour first CD is impressive. Will there be a second?
VivianWe 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
BrazzilHow much of the CD was the work of Neguinho?
VivianAlmost 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.
BrazzilWhy wasn’t the CD better publicized?
VivianThe 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.
BrazzilIs there a connection between Caetano and Didá?
VivianCaetano 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?
VivianWe 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.
BrazzilWhat are projeto Didá’s greatest needs at this time?
VivianWe 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.
BrazzilAre you able to feed the children?
VivianThe 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.
BrazzilAre you able to recruit teachers?
VivianTeachers 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.
BrazzilWhat about volunteer help?
VivianMany 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.
BrazzilWill the portion of the project, which has been implemented,
continue to grow?
VivianWe 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: