Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Music, Dancing-And a National Policy-Are Challenging Violence in Brazil. (News)

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Music, Dancing-And a National Policy-Are Challenging Violence in Brazil. (News)

Article excerpt

For Brazil, perhaps it's the obvious solution: violence has become endemic, but many people find music and dancing more compelling than hostility.

Every hour, 13 Brazilians are murdered. Maria Helena Prado de Mello Jorge, an epidemiologist from the University of Sao Paulo says that in recent years violence, especially against young people, has reduced the life expectancy of men by four years in the state of Sao Paulo.

For Antonio Carlos Alkimin of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, violence has wiped out progress made in other areas. A dramatic fall of 30% in infant mortality in Brazil between 1990 and 2000 has not been reflected in any decrease in overall mortality--which actually increased between 1992 and 1999.

The basic causes of violence are arguable, but the narcotics trade, an abundance of weapons in the slums, and lack of hope among young people facing unemployment in the big cities are believed to be major causes. Wania Pasinato Izumino of the Centre for the Study of Violence of the University of Sao Paulo says that "large segments of the population have been impoverished by disordered economic growth and an unequal distribution of wealth". According to the Coordinator of the Centre, Nancy Cardia, improved access to rights such as health, education, leisure and cultural activities for the poor in the big cities could be a strong antidote to violence.

Meanwhile communities are beginning to do things for themselves. In 1993 in Vigario Geral, a favela (slum) of Rio de Janeiro, 21 people were murdered in a single night. Soon after the slaughter, Afroreggae, a small group of musicians, went to Vigario Geral, where they found an emotionally shaken community with no hope for the future. "We began a festival movement, trying to rescue the community's self-esteem. We set up dance and percussion workshops and we won credibility in the community. Today, we organize cultural and health activities for more than 450 adolescents," affirms Iere Ferreira, a coordinator of the project.

The band now has 11 musicians, most of whom live in the Vigario Geral area. Another project in the same favela called "Troupe da Saude" (the health troupe) uses theatre, music and circus. Composed of adolescents, its members go around the streets and on the trains, and in a cheerful and relaxed way, using appropriate language, pass on information about drugs, adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

Rodrigo Belchior was born in a favela in the south of Rio de Janeiro. From an early age, he was aware that children were dying in the favela from the "diseases of poverty". When he was 13 years old, he had to start working to help support the family, and struggled to balance this with his studies. "During all these years, the slum has changed very little. Now we have water and public illumination, but we don't have basic sanitation. And it is not always peaceful", he said.

Now, at 26, Rodrigo is a musician, and coordinating the "Villalobinhos" named after Villa-Lobos, the famous Brazilian conductor and composer. Rodrigo's project offers musical training for 25 young people from favelas for three years, with daily classes on music history and playing instruments such as violin, clarinet, flute and cello.

"Every day we face the drug traffickers" said Rodrigo. "Their action is a type of veiled seduction, offering lucrative work to the adolescents. On the other hand, we seduce them with art. And in the end the one who wins the battle is the one who has the more seductive power. The kids have a choice: the drug trafficking or the music?" Rodrigo says.

Itamar Silva is another determined resident working for improvements for his favela, Santa Marta. Coordinator of the Group Eco, he is negotiating with the local government on a project to urbanize the favela by improving the houses, streets and infrastructure for a total cost of US$ 6 million. …

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