BRAZIL is synonymous with the word music.
It’s the driving force behind Brazilian culture and, in playing it, the country’s people show their indomitable spirit.
From the streets of Rio to the country’s favelas (shanty towns), the people live and breathe music. And even in death, music plays an important role.
The incredible power of Brazilian music was recently experienced by Pete Moser and Kathryn MacDonald, from More Music when they were invited to work on a project in a favela called Cabelo Seco in the municipality of Maraba.
During their time in Brazil, Kathryn and Pete worked with young musicians, led music workshops in schools, played with amazing solo musicians, performed in a carnival, led impromptu street band processions through the favelas and experienced the horror of an assassination.
Pete says both he and Kathryn were surprised to find that there were many similarities between Cabelo Seco and Morecambe.
Both towns have their social problems and both have a waterfront promenade and extraordinary sunsets.
“We went to work with a group of young musicians to help them develop leadership skills and to assist them to take projects out into the wider community,” explains Pete.
“The participants were teenagers who face problems of violence on a daily basis. We tried to help them to become more resilient and to work with other young people.
“We worked with the indigenous community which is under threat from incoming wealth.”
Developers see Cabelo Seco as an ideal playground for the rich and many of the poor townspeople, who live by the Rio Tocanchins (a tributary of the Amazon) and rely on it for their income, stand to lose their homes. Huge dams are also being built which threaten the indigenous way of life.
“They live by the river, swim in the river, work on the river,” says Pete. “It’s an extension of the community. It is being dammed up to stop it being tidal – imagine if they did that to Morecambe Bay!
“The river drops by 15 metres in winter and the authorities want it to be navigable for bigger ships. It relates to the exploitation of the Amazon and the deforestation of huge areas. They also want to make way for intensive cattle farming.”
Pete and Kathryn’s Brazilian counterparts were Dan Baron and Manoela Souza, artists who live and work in the favelas.
Manoela and Dan have been working with the young people for the last three years and the project has won an award from UNICEF. It’s all about the young people working within the community and developing their skills to keep the community alive,” says Pete.
Despite the hardships they face, Pete says the people that they met in Brazil were incredibly happy: “They are so much more relaxed and less uptight than we are in England.
“We worked intensively with the young people who were aged between 12 and 16 years.
“This group – The Latinhas de Quintal – had been together for four years and had written a set of songs about the Amazon. Most of them were traditional songs in Portuguese. We showed the older ones how to lead workshops and went into schools. It gave the young leaders increased status and they gained new respect.
“Many of them were young women and the project helped to give them a new sense of themselves in the world.”
Pete and Kathryn also spent two days working with school teachers: “One of the teachers said it made her remember why she had gone into teaching in the first place,” says Pete. “We showed them how to protect their voices, and one deputy head said that in 25 years she had never discussed the importance of the voice and how to protect it.
“Vocal health is a big issue. It’s arguably a teacher’s most important asset.”
Kathryn and Pete were amazed at how intensely musical all of the Brazilian people were: “The people are full of music,” smiles Pete. “Singing, dancing and playing are part of the culture.
“In one workshop I had 45 kids together and they were all playing together and listening to each other in a very short time. British people do not have the same sense of communal rhythm.
“The teachers are deeply reflective and take time to think about each session.”
The couple also took part in a street carnival: “It was a carnival but not a spectacular one like you’d have in Rio – more like a four-day street party,” says Pete. “It was lovely. The people were incredibly welcoming.”
However, the dark side of Brazilian life was not far away in the favelas: “There was an assassination when we were there. A relative of one of the young people was killed. It was terrible for everyone involved and we had to change the plans.
“It was a dangerous place but we never felt under threat in Cabelo Seco.” Pete and Kathryn, who have also worked on projects linking Morecambe with China and Hong Kong, hope to bring some of the young Brazilian music leaders to Morecambe in the near future.
“We would also like to take some young people from Morecambe over to Brazil to work there,” adds Pete.
“More Music has an international remit and we believe in international solidarity. It was incredibly humbling for us to see how people live in adversity and then to reflect on what we do here in Morecambe. It reinforced how powerful culture is in giving people and communities confidence and strength.”