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Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio de Janeiro

by Patrick Neate and Damian Platt

Pub Date: March 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311674-5
Publisher: Penguin

Novelist Neate (City of Tiny Lights, 2005, etc.) and human-rights defender Platt celebrate the success of an influential musical organization.

Encouraged by José Junior, founder and executive coordinator of humanitarian movement AfroReggae, the authors traveled to Brazil in 2005 intent on writing about the group’s mission to mobilize citizens of Rio de Janeiro’s inner-city societies—mostly controlled by the drug trade—toward grassroots art and music. Neate and Platt found their rooftop terrace alive with noise from a neighboring favela, one of more than 600 exploited, heavily drug-trafficked, mixed-race shantytowns dotting the city’s landscape. As one of the more unique nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) currently in existence, AfroReggae is fronted by a core band along with 12 artistically creative “subgroups that include dance, theatre, and circus troupes; a samba school; and a reggae band.” Their members are mainly comprised of former drug dealers now intent on using music and education to redirect the lives of impressionable, at-risk adolescents. The authors include staggering statistics on violent deaths in Rio alongside a refreshing number of success stories of former drug traffickers who attest that their lives were saved by AfroReggae. Brazilian DJ Marlboro, “a household name in Brazil,” provides a funk-music history lesson, and the authors’ housekeeper Leida relates insightful stories and chilling updates on the dire situation in her village, Rocinha, where rival drug factions shoot to kill. In touring the favelas, Neate and Platt present their South-American locale as a place overtaken by unshakable drug factions, crumbling beneath an ineffective, three-tiered government and hard hit by widespread corruption, gang warfare and bloodshed. Yet their raw account shows a city incrementally redeemed as AfroReggae exerts its powerfully affirmative influence.

A straightforward look at how music and hope can change the fate of an unmoored society.