‘Activism’ Category

After one of the worst, most tense weeks in recent years, Rio de Janeiro breathed a sigh of relief when police and troops took over the huge Complexo do Alemão favela complex without a confrontation on Sunday morning. What was needed was a respite from the stress and media overload of police, tanks, dumb reporters in flak jackets and images of burning vehicles.

So I headed down with MC and radio producer Sistah to the  Meeting of Favelas Brazil’s number one favela graffiti jam that unites writers, artists, friends and rappers from across the city and even the country.

Meeting of Favelas is in its 5th edition and always takes place in Vila Operária in Caxias in the Baixada Fluminense district. The community was full of artists painting along the steep streets and in a football court. All an artist has to do is get permission from the house owner and they can paint.

As ever the favela showed that it has a form of lifestyle that has much to offer. Music and entertainment was provided courtesy of the DJs and presenters of the Batalha do Real, Rio’s traditional and best MC battle event. Rio smiles again! Thank you to organiser Kajaman and his team and of course the people and house owners of Vila Operária who gave over their houses for this public art event!!

Early evening and people are making their way home after work in Nova Olinda, a small hilltop town in the semi-arid sertão of Northeast Brazil. Nova Olinda lies in the Chapada do Araripe, a green oasis in vast plains of dry scrub in a region famed for its myths, religion, natural beauty and fossils. Out of nowhere, loudspeakers high on a radio mast above an old town house begin to broadcast the eerie spaghetti twangs of Ennio Morricone. What’s going on?

Inside the restored house, kids in red trousers and white shorts play on swings in a courtyard. Older adolescents in the same uniforms walk between rooms that hold a DVD library, a book library, a graphic novel library, a radio station, a music studio, a TV production suite and a theatre. At the entrance to the house is a museum containing traditional northeastern and ancient indigenous artefacts.

Ideo (in photo below) the museum manager, is  just 13!

The house is part of a project called the Fundação Casa Grande – Memorial do Homem Kariri a cultural institute staffed and organised by children and young people. It was set up in 1992, when Alemberg, a musician and researcher, began to restore the house (that belonged to his grandfather) in order to store a collection of archaeological pieces. Alemberg’s idea was to show people that Brazilian history dated back further than just the Portuguese. As he set about work on the house with his wife, curious children began to participate in the process.

So begins what Alemberg, an Ashoka fellow and Avina leader, calls “a unique experience: a foundation, a museum, and a cultural centre all directed by children”. I call it a brilliant example of Brazilian creativity and sparkle. In addition to this the foundation has set up a cooperative of popular hostels managed by the kids’ parents. For fifty Reais (about 18 pounds) guests can rent rooms in their houses where they will receive full board with three meals a day. I spent several days here hanging out, learning about the foundation and visiting the region.

The Guarani Kaiowá are one of Brazil’s most populous indigenous people. Kaiowá means forest people, except that they have no forest any more. It has all been cut down. They have been cleared off their lands in Mato Grosso do Sul state in successive waves, and dumped to fend for themselves in tiny, overcrowded reserves. The battle for space in Mato Grosso do Sul is tough. Land in the area is earmarked for lucrative sugar cane production. Below Seu Nelson and Dona Antonia stand between fields of cane planted on ancestral land.

The 1988 Brazilian constitution guaranteed Brazilian Indian land rights, and in the 1990s small groups of Kaiowá families began to leave their reserves to reoccupy their ancestral lands. This tactic, although painful and slow, has resulted in some success, and a number of traditional territories have been reoccupied. 35 territories are still in question and throughout the state Kaiowá families are camped by the roadside in shacks covered by black plastic sheets. Above, leader Zezinho explains tactics at the Ñanderu Laranjera camp. Despite the heat and the dust, spirits are high, and Kaiowá elders pass free hours passing on traditional customs and prayers to the younger generations. Below, photo of a traditional Guaxiré festivity, held in the dark while trucks speed by in the pitch dark at speeds of up to 140km per hour.

The Kaiowá struggle has been brought to the big screen in the film Birdwatchers by Chilean-Italian director Marco Bechis that won the One World Media Award in June. For more information on the Guarani Kaiowá and how to support them, see the site of Survival International.

Trailer for Birdwatchers:

July 1st, 2010

Rammellzee (1960-2010)

“…The letters are weapons. Instead of Orson Welles stating that the books will be burnt, the books will stay there. The letters have left the page, and once it went up then they had better be ready to fly. It was our competition, called the burners, that made those letters get so bad, so dope, so illuminating them bastards actually ended up with wings…”

The flamboyant and mysterious sculptor, graffiti writer, art theorist and MC, Rammellzee, passed away in Queens, New York on 27 June. Like many, he began his career by writing his name on the trains and walls of New York in the 70s. He went onto become an MC, and is featured on the microphone here at the grand finale of Charlie Ahearn’s film Wild Style. Rammellzee progressed to sculpture and performance art, taking on a complex and intriguing persona who camouflaged himself just as the graffiti writers camouflaged their work. Read his New York Times obituary here.

Here he describes the evolution of graffiti in an outake from Style Wars by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant:

Vigário Geral meets Northern Ireland via northeast England in a project called Together Apart, that brings together breakdancing/bboying and live percussion in an exchange project devised by People’s Palace Projects in conjunction with AfroReggae . The Bad Taste Cru, a collective that originates from Omagh in Northern Ireland (now based in Newcastle) provide the moves while the guys from Vigário provide the beats. This project, presented yesterday at Rio’s João Caetano Theatre, has loads of potential. Congrats to all involved, it would be great to see more. The Bad Taste Cru describe themselves as “one big family of Bboys, skaters, writers, MCs, friends, film makers, outcasts, geeks and weirdos” who “share a common bond through a love of hip hop culture and being misfits and outcasts from our peer groups”. Fairplay to you BTC!