Rio De Janeiro – The city of sun, sea and samba, and soon, the host of the World Cup and Olympic Games. It’s also a city where the extremes poverty and wealth exist side by side.
Cantagalo, a city favela, or poor community, is built into the side of one of Rio’s many hills, just off Copacabana beach. It used to a haven for drug gangs, dealers, and criminals – not a safe place for a tourist, or even a city local.
Many of these communities are undergoing a rapid development. Through a government project of “pacification” of the criminal gangs, urban development, and a number of social projects, these areas are changing.
My focus was on the facsinating social projects. My guide for the day was a local resident of Cantagalo – Gabriel Abreu. Gabriel made the investment in learning English, and now he takes individuals and groups around his community.
The first thing you notice when you enter Cantagalo are the paintings on the walls, that tell the history of the favela – including a few fun stories. Like the neighbourhood called Pavao (Peacock), because the first two residents arrived on a giant peacock, obviously.
As we walked around, we saw many more paintings, and the results of one art project that works with the favela children, including a Christmas Tree made from recycled bottles.
We were lucky enough to run into the young gentleman who runs a Jazz project – Leonardo Januario. He’s a freelance musician and he started Bela Arte Jazz, a not for profit project to create the first favela big jazz band, and to introduce the young members of the community to the musical influences of famous jazz musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane.
Leonardo is a resident of Cantagalo, and runs the Jazz classes free of charge. He has had some support, and has had about 18 instruments donated – all of which he loans out to his students. He told us his dream is to be wondering round Cantagalo, hearing the sounds of Jazz echoing around the neighbourhood.
After we met, on my way to lunch, I heard a practicing saxophone. It made me smile. Not quite Coltrane, but the practice has started.