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.