The Afro Reggae Cultural Group. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Business Language That Limits Reform.
Researcher: Tomás Martin Ossowicki. Anthropologist, Independent Scholar.
Researcher: Dr. Jeffrey Rubin. Associate Professor of History; Research Associate, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs (CURA), Boston University.
Project Description:In the mid-1990s, the Afro Reggae Cultural Group began teaching Afro-Brazilian children and teenagers in Rio's most violent and drug-ridden shantytown to play drums, dance, do circus stunts, and perform street theater, activities that kept them off the streets and gave them skills for earning money. Twenty years later, the Afro Reggae Cultural Group has expanded to shantytowns across Rio, becoming at once a training ground for music stars, a sprawling school, a political force, and a haven from violence. Through Afro Reggae, kids born into poverty question the status-quo of exclusion at the heart of their city's geography and economy. The private sector in Rio funds monthly concerts in Rio's poorest favelas, bringing together Afro Reggae's bands and national stars and bringing the cultural group - formally an NGO - to the attention of virtually all city residents. Private sector financial support and praise for Afro Reggae raises the group's profile and budget, as businesses affix the group's logo to corporate publicity.
Since the mid-1990s, in what was then Rio de Janeiro's most violent and drug-ridden shantytown, the Afro Reggae Cultural Group has been teaching Afro-Brazilian children and teenagers to play drums, dance, do circus stunts, and perform street theater. Speaking a language of music and culture, the group takes on issues of racism and drug trafficking and gains an expanding presence in the national media. Afro Reggae meets with mayors and governors - and with drug traffickers and police - to curb the violence that favela residents cite as the single greatest threat to their well-being, and that observers across Latin America increasingly view as the single greatest challenge to democratic governance.
Over the course of twenty years, the Afro Reggae Cultural Group has expanded to shantytowns across Rio, becoming at once a training ground for music stars, a sprawling school, a political force, and a haven from violence. In the face of escalating violence, with the police and the state absent from large swathes of territory throughout the city, Afro Reggae combats violence and establishes local norms of citizenship by teaching and celebrating hybrid, cutting edge styles of music and performance. Through these activities, kids born into poverty question the status-quo of exclusion at the heart of their city's geography and economy.
The private sector in Rio funds concerts that occur monthly in different parts of the city, including Rio's poorest favelas, bringing together Afro Reggae's bands and national stars, and bringing the cultural group - formally an NGO - to the attention of virtually all city residents. Businesspeople view Afro Reggae through the lens of these concerts and through media coverage of the group's activities, which together make the não-asfalto, the unpaved shantytowns of the city, visible to them in a new way. Businesspeople embrace Afro Reggae wholeheartedly on these terms, funding the group through programs of corporate social philanthropy and simultaneously pressing Afro Reggae to adopt business models of internal governance and national and international marketing. Private sector financial support and praise for Afro Reggae raises the group's profile and budget, as businesses affix the group's logo to corporate publicity.
Many black activists in Rio accept the need and value of courting private sector funds, for themselves and on the part of Afro Reggae, though they speak cautiously about how this tie constrains activists' tactics and eventually transforms their goals. For their part, businesspeople see Afro Reggae as a working alternative for favela youth, but insist that it can make no more than a small dent in the problems of violence, poverty, and trafficking that residents of Rio confront on a daily basis. Only the state, they conclude, could effectively address these problems, while they insist with equal certainty that Brazilian governments will never be up to this task.
With Afro Reggae, we see widespread acceptance of a reform initiative by high level business actors, coupled with significant modification of Afro Reggae's language and goals in accord with a business model of organization and marketing. The use of a "business language" made reform acceptable to business, but contributed to limiting the scope and outcomes of the reform itself.
Even as businesspeople praise the effectiveness of Afro Reggae's groundbreaking initiatives, their narrow conceptualization of the problem of favela poverty and inability to envision broad solutions - together with Afro Reggae's own emphasis on business practices - create barriers to deeper social change.
Afro Reggae Cultural Group's website in English (translated by Google)
Business sponsorship of Afro Reggae
Favela Rising, a documentary about Afro Reggae
UK counterparts to Afro Reggae
Video of Afro Reggae young people's band, Afro Lata, UK website
Brazil TV Globo on an Afro Reggae employment program for ex-prisoners
"On Point" radio program on Afro Reggae and Rio's favelas
Arias, Desmond. 2006. "Vigario Geral." In Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro: Trafficking, Social Networks, and Public Security. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Gomes da Cunha, Olivia Maria. 1998. "Black Movements and the 'Politics of Identity' in Brazil." In Sonia Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino and Arturo Escobar, eds., Cultures of Politics, Politics of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder, Westview Press.
Mylan, Megan. "Drumming for a Difference: Afro Reggae as a Weapon Against Arias, Violence."
change makers website link.
Neate, Patrick and Damian Platt. 2010. Culture is Our Weapon: Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Penguin.