AfroReggae 21 and Anderson Sa

Anderson Sa with Laura in the recording studio at the AfroReggae Center.

Anderson Sa with Laura in the recording studio at the AfroReggae Center.

When we visited the AfroReggae Cultural Group, we met Anderson Sa in the recording studio and then saw him perform with AfroReggae 21. Anderson is the lead singer of AR21 and the leader of the movement to honor culture and music instead of continuing lifestyles connected with drugs and violence.

Anderson Sa of AR21 describes the recording studio and the music revolution of AfroReggae

Anderson Sa of AR21 describes the recording studio and the music revolution of AfroReggae

This documentary film describes the music revolution, Anderson’s leadership in the community, and the impact of this movement of nonviolence. “Favela Rising” shows historical footage from Vigário Geral, has extensive interviews with Anderson regarding his public and personal journeys, and also explores AfroReggae as a force of positive change.  You can watch the entire film online and order it through NetFlix.

http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/favela_rising

While we were in the recording studio with Anderson, he played AR21’s most recently-released music video. Anderson promised that the dog was not harmed in the making of the video. He said he saw the video after editing and said, “What did you do to the dog?!” In essence, Anderson said the song speaks to the capacity to be human, to feel, and to have relationships with and to love other people and animals. I think this represents much of the movement away from violence and into connections with other people. Here is the full video:

AfroReggae 21 performed two songs for us in the performing auditorium at the Center. Here are some photos of the performance. They exuded passion and joy through their music. I will also post a link for the videos of their performances.

Anderson Sa rocking out with AfroReggae 21.

Anderson Sa rocking out with AfroReggae 21.

Group Photo with AfroReggae 21 and the American Delegation in the performing space.

Group Photo with AfroReggae 21 and the American Delegation in the performing space.

 

 

AfroReggae Cultural Group History

Main Entrance Hall of the AfroReggae Cultural Group Center.

Main Entrance Hall of the AfroReggae Cultural Group Center.

Our host at the AfroReggae Center, Eve Belanger (the Coordinator of International Partnerships), described how the Center grew out of the drug trafficking, crime, and associated violence in Vigário Geral. In 1993, increasing tensions between Brazilian police and drug lords in Vigário Geral erupted in two pivotal sets of murders. First, 4 policemen were murdered by members of the drug cartel in Vigário Geral. In response, the police came into the favela and shot 21 residents in what is now called “the massacre”. These citizens were believed to be innocent and not connected to drugs and crime.

Favela from above.

Favela from above.

This massacre forever changed the history of Vigário Geral. Out of the grief and horror of the massacre, Anderson Sa and citizens of Vigário Geral decided to honor their heritage and culture, their African and Reggae roots. The movement began as a newspaper and small-scale music and drum performances, and it grew into a community center and diverse community training programs that are fueled by passion of music and nonviolence. The Center was established on January 21, in honor of the 21 murdered citizens.

We visited the original AfroReggae Cultural Group in Vigário Geral. Now, there are multiple locations in other favelas in Rio de Janeiro. This parent location grew from a small residential site to an enormous community center. Their programming includes musical programs, social programs, educational programs, and training programs. Eve said that all programs are free and have only a couple of rules:

1. To be involved with the Center, youth must lead a life free of crime.

2. When coming to the Center for the first time, children must be accompanied by an adult (this adult does not need to be the child’s parent).

Eve described that one of their primary goals was to increase the average age of first pregnancy in the favela. When the Center first began, Eve said that women in the favela typically became pregnant at age 14, and that they have shifted the average age to 21. She said they feel this is still too young, because young women will not have had the opportunity at age 21 to have completed college.

We were welcomed by an outstanding performance by the AfroReggae drum corps. They performed on hand-made drums and drumsticks made out of bamboo. I will also post a link to the video of their performance.

Here is a rough translation of the Manifesto of AfroReggae Cultural Group:

MANIFESTO AfroReggae
World degraded.
Increasing chaos.
The planet, a large slum.
The man remains inhuman.
Everything seems tailor-
to go wrong.
But no utopia.
crazy insistent
believe in transformation.
We AfroReggae.
Change rifle by berimbau.
Knock down all borders
with explosions
of vitality and joy.
the ruins
give birth to freedom
and proud to be what one is.
We AfroReggae.
Fighting for the right side of the wrong life.
For a life without hand.
Lifetime of whole persons.
Because no one needs to be what it is not.
We AfroReggae.
Fighting, even only,
because no one is alone.
Human connections, urban connections.

 

AfroReggae Cultural Group, Vigário Geral

Vigário Geral from the footbridge over the railroad tracks. The AfroReggae Center is the tall building with the raised fist on top.

Vigário Geral from the footbridge over the railroad tracks. The AfroReggae Center is the tall building with the raised fist on top.

The AfroReggae Cultural Group was established in 1993 in Vigário Geral, a favela in Rio de Janeiro. To go into Vigário Geral, we walked on a footbridge that started on one side of the road, crossed the road, the railroad tracks, the playgrounds and then went into the beginning of the favela. You can see in the photo that the AfroReggae Cultural Group Building sits right in the beginning of the favela. It is the black and green building with the raised fist on top.

View of playgrounds next to the railroad tracks and the AfroReggae Center in Vigário Geral.

View of playgrounds next to the railroad tracks and the AfroReggae Center in Vigário Geral.

Walking over the footbridge to Vigário Geral. The AfroReggae Cultural Group building is green in the background.

Walking over the footbridge to Vigário Geral. The AfroReggae Cultural Group building is green in the background.

We met with many professionals working and young citizens participating in the Center and learned about the history, activities, and impact of AfroReggae. Eve Belanger, the Coordinator of International Partnerships, gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to people in the Center.

The American Delegation receives our first introductions at the AfroReggae Cultural Group

The American Delegation receives our first introductions at the AfroReggae Cultural Group