Saturday, February 27, 2010

Culture Is Our Weapon

Culture is Our Weapon: Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio by Patrick Neate and Damian Platt, 2010 Penguin

IQ "I don't accept money from alcohol or tobacco companies and I say no to a lot of people. I've also realized that when you are successful, you will always attract criticism. But Waly Salomao, was was part of the inspiration for AfroReggae and my guru, taught me this: I don't have to answer for everything.[...]In the future, AfroReggae will be a social company. The focus of the company will be its social projects, but it will have the logic of quality and profit. at the same time, we will freely give the knowledge we have acquired to other social projects in Brazil and around the world." Jose Junior (head of AfroReggae), pg. 173

This is my first non-fiction review and I've decided I'm not going to rate it since I don't see the point of rating non-fiction (it's facts, the only rate-worthy thing would be how interesting it is and that varies from reader to reader).

Culture is Our Weapon is a chronicle of AfroReggae's history and it's impact on Brazil, specifically the favelas (a shantytown) in Rio. The book explains the differences between the asfalto and the favelas and how the government and police are failing the people who live in favelas (moradores). The asfalto is the city, where the streets are paved. In the favelas the streets aren't paved. The favelas are war zones (ETA: Ana has pointed out and rightly so that not all favelas are war zones, some are perfectly ok and safe. Thanks Ana!) between drug dealer (the drug trade is called o trafico) factions, the three factions are Commando Vermelho (CV), the Terceiro Comando (TC) and Amigos dos Amgios (ADA). AfroReggae is a group (really a movement) that uses music and culture to reach out to the young people who live in favelas whether it be thorough the main band, the circus, dance, computer classes and more. AfroReggae "is taking the favelas back-one song at a time." (back cover)

One of the things described in the book that interested me the most was funk proibido (also known as proibidao which is prohibited funk). I'm not sure how to describe funk, so I'll use the words of world-renowned funk DJ Marlboro "In its essence funk represents employment, citizenship and the reintegration of marginalized . It's a way for people to express what they feel through music. [...] expresses the day-to-day lives and thoughts of the people. I don't think anything in Brazil today has as much strength or relates as truly to what people think as funk." (pg. 58) Read the Wikipedia definition here Anyway prohibited funk is music that promotes lifestyles of joining the drug factions and committing violence and other criminal acts. As soon as I read about this I immediately drew a connection between this and some rap music in America. I want to make it quite clear that not all rap music is like this (I love some rap music just not all, mainly the ones that only talk about drinking, drugs, women and being gangstas. ugh). The only difference being that prohibited funk is illegal in Brazil. I thought it was interesting that music that glorifies a criminal lifestyle is illegal in Brazil (I mean how can you outlaw a type of music?) JB (a member of AfroReggae) says "Each probidao that the youth makes reflects a reality in the favela. But at the same time they encourage you to smoke, sniff drugs or even become more violent." (pg. 61) I just thought the parallels between funk proibido and some rap music was striking.

I also found it fascinating that some drug dealers do help the community, one named Roberthino de Lucas built a water park and a samba school for his community (Parada de Lucas) and he brought in a professional football team. This book provides a through history of Brazil and describes the present day situation in the country in a manner that is easy to understand. The work of AfroReggae of changing a community through the arts is inspirational. My only quibbles with the book were that I wished there were pictures of some of the places described so I could better visualize as well as some maps.

I really enjoyed reading about what AfroReggae is doing, I applaud them. As I learned more and more about the history of Brazil (especially in how the favelas came about and the racism that is always prevalent, the darker skinned Brazilians get treated far worse), the violence of the drug factions (youth become involved so young, by the age of five many young kids are already running errands for drug dealers which is a precursor to joining o trafico) the state of the police and government (absolutely deplorable, the police kidnap drug dealers who then pay them off huge sums of money to look the other way), the situation seemed almost hopeless. But AfroReggae is really working hard to lure youth away from joining the drug trade and helping them to become leaders so maybe in the future, the young people participating in AfroReggae will go into government or at least raise their voices enough to demand a change in the way the government (on the national, state and municipality level) operates. When I finished this book there is no doubt in my mind that the arts can save a community.

Disclosure: Received from Penguin. Thanks Gabrielle!

PS To clarify: Spanish is not the main language of Brazil, the main language is Portuguese (all the highlighted words in this review are Portuguese). I only point this out because too many of my classmates think Brazilians speak Spanish and I want to make it clear that they do not since this seems to be a common misconception.

So how did I do on my first non-fiction review, was there too much information (my fear of writing non-fiction reviews is that I will give information overload)? Be honest.


  1. Wow, this sounds really interesting. Music as a tool is something that's always fascinated me - I'm definitely going to add this to my TBR pile!

  2. I just saw this book mentioned somewhere. Personally, I want to read more nonfiction. Glad you reviewed this title.

    Where's the image?


  3. This looks like something I'd love to read! And yes, LOL, Brazilians DO NOT speak Spanish. xD Great review!

  4. This sounds really good--thanks for reviewing. And if you could do more nonfiction reviews, that would be great :-)

  5. I really liked your non-fiction review. If you ahve no background in the subject it can be hard to review non-fiction, but you could also talk about whether the writing was good in future non-fic reviews (yay do more). The idea of illegal music is really interesting and I love the quote that you shared about how it shares a reality, yet it also encourages young people to a destructive lifestyle. I can see why you'd compare that with some rap. I guess the way around that is to make music that reflects the harsh reality, without glamourising it?

  6. Not too much information about the nonfiction book. This post is really interesting! More nonfiction reviews. :)

  7. I really enjoyed this review, I feel like I learned so much from it.

    Also, I enjoy rap music too.

    I can't imagine living in a shanty town, it must really suck, especially dealing with drugs constantly.

    I'm glad AfroReggae is being the change they wish to see in the world. I'll definitely add Culture Is Our Weapon to my TBR as it sounds so intriguing!

  8. Loved the review! You gave background info on the subject and talked about how you connected to the book and then talked about the writing. Very nicely done.

  9. Very interesting Ari!

    I loved this review and how you presented it.

    NOW. I am Brazilian, from Rio. And I never, ever heard of funk proibido!!! Anyways, I did some research online on Brazilian websites in Portuguese and I am not sure it is illegal as much as it is clandestine?

    My sister worked at a police station once and you wouldn't believe the stories she told me about how policemen would sometimes go in the favelas to barbecue with some of the trafic lords. The level of corruption in Brazil in unbelievable.

    I think it is also important to note that not ALL favelas are war zones and some of them are paved with all the commodities you can think of and have become safe places to live. In fact, my brother in law, grew up in a favela and it was a much safer place than the middle class area I grew up at. It is not as black and white as that.

    Anyways, if you want to see some pictures, let me know and I will see if I can find anything online for you! ;D

  10. Thanks for branching out into non-fiction, Ari! As a librarian who orders all of our YA books, finding interesting YA non-fic is a constant challenge. Your review gave me a solid idea of what to expect from this book, and why it would be good for our collection. Like Jodie, I would enjoy it if you mentioned what the writing was like. They're your reviews, though, so do 'em how you want : )

  11. @Laura-I think music and the arts is a very powerful tool and you should definitely check out this book.

    @thestonebow-I had no idea so many people wanted me to branch out to nonfiction :o I would say this book is really good for teen readers especially since AfroReggae works with teens.

    @CO-It's there. I'm indifferent on nonfiction books really, i don't avoid them but I don't go out of my way to look for them either.

    @Maggie-glad to bring it to your attention then :) It drives me crazy how people think Brazilians main language is Spanish!

    @Tricia-I will definitely keep my eye out for more nonfiction POC YA althoguh I don't even know if that's a genre?

  12. 2Jodie-Talk about the quality of writing, check. In this book, the writing was quite good. Not too confusing/over my head and very detailed so the reader is presented with a good background of the story. I agree, it's fine to talk about harsh realities/lifesryles but don't glamourize it!

    @Jenny-Is that good or bad? Should I talk less about the book content? Let me know if you have any YA POC non fic recommendations!

    @April-Yay to adding to your tbr! Glad I was able to impart some of the knowledge I learned in this review. I love Chicago rappers, Lupe Fiasco, Common and Kanye West (even though he is so arrogant!) along with Jay-Z, Nas and so many others. Especially old school hip hop :D

    @akilah-Thank you :) I'm so glad my nonfic review received such positive feedback.

    @Ana-Hmm maybe I read it wrong? Because I recall the book mentioning that "prohibited funk is, as the name suggests, illegal and police try to track down and prosecute its producers." pg. 59
    Of course, not all favelas are bad, I will clairfy that in my review as I don't want to give people the wrong idea. I looked up some pictures myself, thanks for the offer though! The police corruption made me so angry but at the same time, I sort of understand it since the police don't get paid much and they have families but at the same time they should be protecting people not protecting those who hurt people!

  13. Thanks for clarifying that for me about the funk proibido, Ari! I honestly did not know about that.

    I know that the police don't get paid much - and they really, really don't, it is ridiculous - but it gets to a point where citizens don't know who to trust anymore. It is an absolute nightmare sometimes. Very sad, and how to fix that when the government (local or federal) doesn't have the funds to pay them more?

  14. @Ana-Me neither it was eye opening. It's a vicious cycle, the government has no funds so how do we get the government the funds it needs to help By taxing? well then more people are struggling because taxes would have to be high and it goes on and on.


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