on our toes

The Municipal School

This was a day to share and work with 200 young people (aged 9-15) at the local Municipal School where 3 of our band attend. An assembly for all and then sessions for the classes in pairs (groups of 60). Dan as translator, me fronting, Kathryn taking photos.

Very very lively all afternoon. Kids so excited and very tough to control. Big session included a variety of songs, tunes and a slide show.


It also featured Evany, AnnaPaula and Matheus who all received massive approval from their piers. It was about an hour and then we shifted chairs and moved into workshop mode. Tough three sessions followed with too many kids for the space and the excitement level so very high that to keep focus was tough indeed.


The language barrier and the high numbers meant that it was difficult to do the things I normally do but I knew that was probably going to be the case. We survived and demonstrated in some ways showed how the work takes place.


We also wrote a new song as the afternoon developed. (Later that night we spent a couple of hours in serious reflection discussing how we might have made it better. Dan’s trust that I would have a methodology for mass participation had meant that he hadn’t challenged my role and I hadn’t set up the situation in the way that I would usually do. A key thinking is about the demoncrisation of space and how we could have given the young people the space to own so that there was no need for what I call discipline – a term Dan and Mano no longer use. It requires a real change of head I believe and will take some deep thinking over the next few days and potential reformation of methodology.)

The plan changes again

It is dark. Back after a walk to the shop to buy juice, coffee and bananas. Many people were out around their doorways in the dark streets, talking and we wondered what was taking place. Arriving back and expecting a full rehearsal to be in place for the school presentations tomorrow. However there was a serious meeting with the young people. A 26 year old relative of AnnaPaula had been shot and killed 30 minutes ago – just close to where we had been walking. He lived with AnnaPaula and her grandmother and was a friend to a few of them. However he was a drug user/seller and it seems as if the community is in mixed state of sadness and also rightful retribution. He was using children to sell and deal the drugs and everyone knows that this is not acceptable. So very difficult when so many in the community are connected and there are so many interlinked families and friendships. All our plans change. The presentations will take place because they all felt that it is not right that the drugs should dominate and rule. They will change though in their feel and structure for sure. The party tomorrow night is off. Very hot here. The fan blows but the heat stays. Hard day. Expectations challenged in every way. This is a community that feels it’s community, that knows it’s families and is trying to find it’s way and struggling. The work that Dan and Mano are doing is about trying to keep a positive energy and support the young people to become new role models and leaders.

The Music Starts happening

(There are no photos of the young people or the streets of Cabelo Seco because Dan and Mano have set clear rules to avoid any suspicion of exploitation in any way. He, however, is trusted to photo the sessions and the young people and has their consent so we will have some to share on our return which we will have had approved by them and their families. There is deep suspicion of child exploitation, prostitution and abuse as Brazil is one of the worst countries in the world for this.)


Waking to run a session with Caroline and Camila to help them find their voices and start the conversation about being young singing leaders. I have brought along the Sing Up book on YSL. It is a great little document and I use it to base a session on. I will follow it up later in the week. I start to learn the songs and understand their voices and the way that they approach their singing and songs. Then the percussionists arrive and we look at a few of the other songs and wait for Zequinha to come with his guitar. He is nearly 60 and a great singer, songwriter and band leader. He has been the mentor for the Latinhas and has been a key mediator/collaborator for them here in the favela. He is getting tired and depressed by the general troubles in the community and the outside pressures that are damaging everything here. However he brings good energy and the young people love his musicality and the session grows and grows.

The Orla in the sun

After a delicious lunch at home me and Kathryn go for an extended walk in the sun along the seafront past the life going on there. So many swimmers, people playing in boats, listening to loud loud sound systems in the backs of cars and sitting in bars watching the football.

We chat and reflect and soak in the sun and then head back. I dive in on the way. The current is so strong I nearly get swept away. I swim hard back to cling onto the railings. Wah ! Danger danger !

Playing and Learning

I have a session with Zequinha to prepare for the presentation in the school but also just to have a bit of fun with him. We play Girl from Ipanema, Pretty Africa, Besame Mucho, Summertime, Guantanamera and And I love her ! Then slowly the band arrives and we work on the songs and remember them. There is a set of 10 or so songs made with him over the last year and they are beautiful and played with real feel. Then some of the dancers dance along and the movement is truly inspiring. Totally natural with body and feet. We feel privileged to be in their presence and watch and listen. To see young women in such a focussed musicmaking is really lovely and inspiring. Later we go to street side food stall and eat shrimp soup before walking home in the torrential rain.

Returning to Cabelo Seco

This is a long long day that starts with a 3.30 am wake up to get to the airport ready for the 6am flight to Maraba. However… the flight is delayed and delayed until we are finally transferred to TAM for a 1.15 flight. We take advantage of the time to catch up finally on a piece of Arts Council work before finally getting to the air. Arriving back is like coming home to this lovely house and our friends.


We catch up with news and then a great 2 hour session of singing and drumming with the young people. An open session that sees a great sharing of songs. Before going out for shrimp lasagne at a local bar we look at the week ahead and consider the packed schedule of school sessions, teachers days, evening performances, rehearsals for the Latinhas and Kathryns Birthday Party !

last day in town

Teatro Paz

The politics of culture. The Fitzcaraldo carried through the Amazon. The Opera House built from many colours of wood showing amazing craft skills and beautiful decorative features – for who? This city has history and the sense of inequality that a building like this symbolises is interesting to think about as we are taken round by a guide who speaks a little English and is helped by Agatha, a woman from San Paulo who comes round with us.

The décor gets simpler as we ascend to ‘paradise’ or as we call it n the UK, the ‘gods’. The ceilings lower and the chairs harder.

It was built in 1869, I guess at the height of the rubber boom. What Operas were heard here? How culture is forced into new surroundings.

Vinicius at lunch talks about wanting to go back to his music school and teach them Samba and Bossa and question the continual focus on Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. What relevance have those composers to a man in Belem?

The theatre is beautiful even though……

Friday night

As we walk back downtown to the river we pass the hammock store where we bought gifts 20 months ago from a lovely shopkeeper. He recognises us and calls us in for a brief chat. I wonder how many more times in our lives we will visit here and whether we will buy hammocks from him again? The market streets are very full and noisy but we don’t feel any danger. We talk intensely as we walk, through shoe shops, herb stores and a lovely restored market until we reach the river where we stop for a beer. Friday night and the place is busy with pedlars selling the usual mix of oysters, watches, chewing gum, cheap toys, barbequed meat and jewelery. Yet again after a little while we catch eyes with a man who invites us to join him for a drink. We spend some time with him and his ‘papa’.

Toca a Toninhos

Our last night in Belem is in the bar with Vinicius and friends. The music moves from bossa classics to Ella Fitzgerald and Beatles songs and I play trumpet with the band!

It is fun and we feel very much part of the place. Toninhos says as we leave that the place is never as full as when we are here. I am sure that isn’t true !


Dan and Manos Flat

The morning is very chilled as we sit, read, catch up and have a lovely breakfast bought from the deli round the corner. This is a good part of the city to live in and quite familiar from the last trip. The view over the city to the river catches all these tower blocks. The sounds from the school next door of kids playing out takes over from the cockerel that starts at 6am and goes on and on.

The walk

Gentle strolling down through the park and past the Teatro Paz. Passing great street cafes, jugglers performing in front of cars at traffic lights, market stalls, old churches and the beautiful yet very run down buildings. Such a sense of history here – of riches from the past that linger. Fresh coconut milk to cool us down before we reach the great markets of Ver o Peso.


Everything you could want is on sale and before we lunch we sit on the top level by the river and drink beer and talk and talk and talk.


It is the rainforest and every day there is a significant downpour. Today is the same and we watch it from inside the market as we eat

From the colonnades of a lovely mansion where we drink coffee and read our books.

And on the streets of the harbour where the vultures play and the carts drag coconuts, fruits, fish and all sorts of goods.

The harbour is full.

Old Friends

The evening finishes at Toninhos bar where we finally meet Vinicius and his father again. Sitting round a table with them and a group of friends we catch up, try to explain wht it is we are doing here, try to understand their lives and talk about the crisis in Europe and the lack of jobs, about the tiny chance for them to get work as journalists out of university and then about the beautiful beach where they just had 4 days holiday! Rather tired we head home for sleep.

New Friends

Chance meeting

It seems extraordinary that we have been away only seven days when I consider the power and emotion of the experience. The amount of accelerated learning. The immense coloured images now loaded in my brain. Sitting in the flat at the end of another of those days packed with experience and new friends. The fan blowing on my back, the cold beer on the table, the view over Belem from our 11th floor.. many tall buildings and in the distance I know is the river.

Woke up slow today with the intention to revisit the island of Cutijubac and spend the day on the beach. By the time we leave the flat (Dan and Manos flat / national office) it is 11 and we catch the bus to Icoraci (40 minutes). The crazy speedy bus drive runs on and on. We worry slightly and ask another passenger whether we are on the right bus. She (Raquel) says sure and that she will take us to the boat. As we walk she calls her cousin and as if by magic the cousins husband turns up in his car and takes us down there. He speaks great English and is very happy to be with us. Down the pier to the boat, which we find out goes in an hour, so he invites back to his house to meet his wife.

We spend a great time there chatting and finding out about his life as a English and chemistry teacher and also designer of iphone apps! They both have ipads and there is general internet play including the connection to the Heartbreaks. As we listen to Winter Gardens he says – wow they are like the Who (Joe would be so pleased!)

Childs Play

The boat takes 30 people. Is beautiful in it’s simplicity and very familiar from the previous trips. We set of and the couple with their 2 tiny children next to us become our smiling friends.

The sky is big. The sea calm. The islands distant. The boy (of about 4) finds our empty water bottle and over the course of the next 30 minutes discovers all the potential tricks and games he can play with it. It is wonderful to watch and so reminds me of dear John Woodward and his belief in the innocence and beauty of play. First the lid is turned, with fingers, with mouth, with me helping. On and off, on and off. Then just general experimentation with the sound as he bashes things around him. Off comes the label, wrapped round a finger, rolled in a ball, used as a flag flying in the wind. The bottle is fitted thought the railings but won’t fit through the bars of the seat so he squashes it a little. Then opens it out. The squashes and blows it out. This is good. It becomes a telescope. One eye, then the other. Looking out to sea and into the boat. The top is sucked to his mouth, suctioned.. and then the bottle the same. The bottle is wrapped in his T shirt and he bounces on his mum. Back and forth. Making noise and silent. It is all the most beautiful education.  And then we arrive and our instruction from Manouela is to go to the beach called Playa Vai Quem Quer beach.


2 moto taxis take us. Scooters with young men driving us down potholed dirt tracks for 10 minutes to a beach…. Quiet with bars and a beautiful sea.


Chill – swim – eat – get burnt – swim – walk – beer .

I meet a new friend on a walk to the next bay and he comes back for a chat before it is time to go…

Stormy return

Packed boat leaves as the rain and the storm kick in. On the journey most people put their life jackets on as the boat rocks and rolls in the lightning, thunder and torrential rain.

We make it back safe – it feels good to hit dry land. The carnival however has arrived in Itourici and there is much madness going down and police everywhere. We find a bus finally and head back home meeting a new friend – Renato – who chats to us as the bus hurtles through the rain soaked highways back to Belem. We sit with cold beers and fans trying to cool down the intensity of the day.

To Belem

Moving On

We decide to go to Belem today though we had planned a 2 night carnival stay in Tucurui. Why ? The feeling that we had tasted the feel of the town and wanted to go and have the extra day in the city we knew. Feeling that we had now had a variety of carnival experiences and it would be good to settle in their flat and have 3 days rather than 2. To party with strangers can be great but is nothing like partying with friends and the feeling we had in Maraba was the one we wanted to keep. So skype call to Juliet in Bangkok, breakfast in the hotel, a lovely interaction with a kind taxi driver and we were off on a 7 hour drive.

Having to wait for the bus gave an excuse for a great walk by the wide river

Along another prom watching these kids play with the costumes from the night before.

There is an enormous waste in spectacle. Costumes and images made for a short moment of the show. So much energy then trashed and the kids are given some stuff to play with and the street cleaners sweep away glitz, sequins and ribbons.


At the bus station as we wait a lovely man start to chat to us about football. I share information about UK sides. He talks about the Liverpool Milan match of 2005 (?) and names all the players on the Liverpool team! Then shares a great set of Zidan clips on his phone before we leave !

A picture window

This time an air con bus. We have no snacks. Buying them at stops on the way is fun. Empanadas, sweet coffee, tapioca, cheese buns, popcorn. All purchased at small town bus stations where we stop for a few moments.

The windows show us miles of palm groves, wood yards where the sawdust is mountains high and the dark wood waits for departures who knows where, rain attacks the bus on occasions and we pass a soaking carnival procession with band on a pick up and dancers stepping out.

We have smiling relationships with the people around us and as it gets dark we arrive in Belem. Taxi to the flat. Then great food down at the river and sleep.

on the move

Bus ride through a non existent forest

Maroon bus. No air con. Potholed road to Tucurui. 4 and half hours of travelling through land that used to be forest I believe.

Shrubland now with termite hills, the odd eucalyptus grove, white cattle with bony humps, brown rivers, ponds, wooden homesteads with verandas, palm trees of various sorts and many burnt tall trees. The bus moves at a fast pace stopping every now and then to pick up people who stay with us a while. It is a good journey. The landscape and roadside settlements don’t change much. Until we pass a massive cement factory next to a small but developed town.


Soon after in the distance is a white spray flying up and we come to a big dam and a reservoir stretching for miles to our left. The power of the water as it creates electricity, the width of the river and the huge river lock. We are getting close to our temporary destination.

Connecting Home

The Guiana Palace Hotel in the good sized town of Tucurui is clean and simple with good wi fi.  I am able to upload images, collect accumulated emails and feel again connected to my wider world. There is very little significant news except a great success with some grant funding for the Hothouse. We are building the steps – bit by bit.

The Escaderias de Santo Antonio

Humid busy traffic streets and a hill leading down to ….

a parade space being made ready for the nights espectaculo when the Escula de Samba will take the streets. We walk along to where the floats are being finished off. They have a particular style – realismus and / or maybe pop art.

Where do they fit in an artistic spectrum? What stories will they tell. There is a band practicing up on a high terrace.

Running out of energy we head back to the hotel for resting time with beer, fruit and cachaca purchased from a large supermercado. It is good – we sit and read and listen as a storm of huge dimensions soaks the world around us. No rush to go out – we know that now. Everything has it’s time.

When we arrive down at the Escaderias there are many there though it is not yet heaving. Corn, cheese epanadas, beer all purchased and eaten as we find a place to sit and make friends with the people around us. Very family. Very relaxed.


There are people in private hang outs, judges in their huts, street cleaners and camerapeople. A light spattering of rain brings out the umbrellas. We wait, and wait and listen to the sound checks not quite sure what will occur.

And then they begin to move from the far end and the first school begins to make it’s way down the parade ground. Designed to tell a story with costumes in phases and 2 big floats pushed along front and back. There is a formula that each school follows and which is presumably judged. Soloists, tightly choreographed groups and more free dancers. The music is one song performed by 3 singers accompanied by a guitars and tres and a large batteria.

The band are wirelessly amplified as they move along and the show lasts an hour – with one tune ! The crowd watch seemingly quite uninvolved, chatting, watching, yawning and drinking. We watch, eat chips and I drink!

Though I’m sure I wasn’t drunk …  that’s not Kathryn’s story!

Deep thinking and dancing

The Bridge

Sunday and we are hiring a car to go to visit the monument made with the Landless movement to remember the massacre of April 1994.

First we take a slight detour to see a 2.5 km bridge over the river which opens the conversation about the exploitation of the Amazon, of it’s people and it’s resources. The political agenda is ever present. The trains that carry the extracted minerals, wood and cattle can be this long and run day after red not day. The current ‘socialist’ government has no feelings about preservation of peoples and environment  and follows from previous administrations that have been allowing the rich to burn the forest and it’s people in order to create farmland and mines. The many hydro electric dams are just then next stage and have dire consequences locally, regionally and globally. This is the context of their work and one of the focuses of their Latin American solidarity work.

Car Drive and Popular Education

Little hire car manages the pot holes and craters in the road guided by Dan’s secure hands! Conversations never stop and the theme for a while is about  language and the development of a new paradigm that is ‘popular’ education not ‘informal’ education. Informal implies a negative, a lack of developed thinking and a concept that is on the outside and not central. However, in every aspect of cultural development and education we have developed a methodology that is both reflective and disciplined, carefully constructed and conceived in response to social context. The term should be ‘popular education, as a partner in the learning environment to formal education. So the work we do at Mais Musica is as important as the work that others do and is extremely rigorous in it’s thinking, development and in it’s place in a national and international environment….. and we drive on through mile after mile of ex forest that is now ranch land growing cattle for international markets. There are palm trees, trucks of every size and potholes and craters in the road!

Lunch takes the conversation to eating meat as we sit in a roadside place called Bull in the Fire.

Me and Kathryn consume lovely rice and beans with salad as they eat chicken barbequed and brought over on long shafts of metal!


By the side of the road.  19 burnt Brasil nut trees, each at least 10 metres tall. Commemorate the massacre of people from the Landless Movement. By the military police. To send a signal ‘Don’t mess with the rich landowners’ More died than the 19 who are represented by the trunks. Those were the only bodies left. Many women and children were buried in unmarked graves

We sit on the veranda of a wooden house and talk to the women who live there by the side of this road. The eldest lady was here when it happened and hid under a mattress until it was all over.

The tragedy was an enormous moment in northen Brazilian history and the people from the Landless Movement asks Dan to help build a memorial/monument. The process was long and totally democratic in every aspect and this seems to be a character of his pedagogy (methodology).

The burnt trees were chosen for their poetic character and collected from the forests by truck and crane. They are positioned to create an aerial map of Brazil. Every April people from the movement come here and camp for a month or more and it becomes a school, a theatre, a place for learning and solidarity. We drink cocunut milk and sugar cane juice in a roadside ‘shack’ and talk some more.

Izzy the Poet

On our way back to Maraba we stop to see a woman who has worked with them for many years as a trainee educator and then a poet. We met her in Belem 2 years ago when she attended my workshop. In her tiny single brick wall house we talk. She is now a teacher. She has 4 young children. She has pneumonia. She is optimistic and also sad it seems. As we sit and look out at the dirt tracks, the chickens, the scrawny mongrel dogs playing out I can’t help thinking yet again about how different all of our expectations of life are. The young child playing on the bed – where does his life lead. Travelling is so reflective

Dancing and Playing and Dancing some more

Arriving back we snack and then get ready to go out to dance with our blocos! We have the Copo de Farado t shirts and tonight I take my trumpet in case the opportunity to play arises. Finding a bar again we sit and have a drink and a photo opportunity arises.

Our bloco is gathering and we go join them ready to dance the length of the promenade towards the big stage. At the front are the choreographed dancers, then our gang of 80 or so part people and behind us the big boogy bus. The tunes come from that and also then sent to the speakers along the road. The bars are full… we are all a bit mad and ready to party and off we go.

It is mad and fun… and we feel very much part of this bloco from Cabelo Seco. The next along will be some of our young people in choreography and Zequinas band on top of the truck. I go to join them ! 2 surdos, kit, bass, guitar, vocalist and horn section + me. I change shirt to match and after interminable sound checking off we go. And there are so many tunes!!! That I don’t know. I smile and play some of the time. Good fun… and I see Kathryn and Mano down in the road in new shirts as well – dancing and getting sprayed with foam …

We end up at the stage and go for some more cachaca all together and then start to dance to the singuera band … a kind of sexy reggae .. home about 3..


and this is carnival ?

Breakfast is Prepared

Carnival day one in Maraba and woken quite early by the chat of people outside our window. The net has kept is safe from mossies though I was bitten a little yesterday evening. Our room in this house is a little home for us for this time and feels friendly. The daily cold shower is a good awakening.

Today the young people are going to help prepare breakfast for us all and then we will share and play a little music before they go off to rehearse for their carnival bloco. We gather round the kitchen table – Anna Paula, Andrianna, Evany, Kathryn, Me, Caroline, Camilla, Eliza, Dan, Mano and Matheus. We eat apple, papaya, cheese toasties, coffee, hot chocolate and we chat in 2 languages. It is very friendly nd a weekly occurrence in the house. The youngest child is 11 the oldest 16. Then we offer some Licorice allsorts brought from the airport and the faces are a picture. A very new taste that although sweet is also very new. Aniseed is not a local taste at all! Kathryn then gives everyone a lovely small diary and a onemanband postcard. They are so pleased and we sign the cards and put our phone numbers in the books.

The first Musical Exchange

Around the table. ‘Bring me sunshine’ on the trumpet goes down a storm. Then a song ‘ Oi Messo’ with drum and percussion. We learn then chorus and sing along. A second more samba like song follows and Eliza on the pandeiro is very good for me to see. Maybe this is my opportunity to learn this thing!

Out come the cooking chopsticks from HK! And around the table we hit chairs for a little time. It is fun as ever and the energy is high. A good step. There will much more of all of this. We relax again and chat and add dates to the diaries. People drift and more arrive and for a little time there is more sharing with a bit of fun the melodica and community leader anna Louise arrives with T shirts for her Bloco. They all laugh as I try mine on. I thought it was cool but it is obviously a bit strange with my white white arms!

Money and Solidarity

We sit in the front room and talk about money, expectation, contribution, sustainable development and the future. It is fascinating to try and work out the landscape together. They are being so careful how they make decisions in this community. Everything is discussed with the young people and community leaders. There was an award from the state that will hopefully pay for a number of things over the next year(s) including the making of a community garden/cinema, trips for people outside of the community, training for leaders, instruments etc. They are taking it very very slow and trying to make sure there is no misunderstanding, no exploitation and that the work is truly embedded an led by the young people. What are my expectations?

I explain that More Music has some funding to develop internationally and that this trip is R&D in relation to that. That we are paying air fare and covering my salary. That Kathryn is coming at our family cost. That we really hope that our work is an exchange for living costs – food and accommodation while we are here. There is no expectation to bring home money. However in the long term if this is to develop it will have to have it’s own funding stream. Solidarity, learning exchange, social capital and long term community growth are our aims.

Walking the promenade

Lunch is good. Guava juice is wonderful. Dan and Mano shop for food and we walk the length of the prom where there is endless activity in and out of the water. Much prep for the carnival tonight with bars developing, stalls opening and many of the young men coloring their hair.

We watch, talk and reflect deeply in our conversation and watch the river flow.

Meeting the others for beer we talk more this time about methodology and pedagogy of our work, the journeys to China and how we might collectively develop from these 3 weeks. It is so interesting. The conversation never stops! Walking back to the sunset we pass the stage, meet the big car sound systems,


have a dance with Anna Louise and her monkey and then home for a little rest time before out for our first night carnival.


Bloco in Maraba

Dressed in Copo de Farado vest tops we walk into town. White arms exposed in pride! There has been much conversation about me playing trumpet with Zequinas band later complicated by no rehearsals and different information about when and where and whether it is appropriate.

Dan and Mano are very very sensitive to how the community of Cabelo Seco and also the wider community will perceive any development with ‘outsiders’ and this has been slightly fuelled by a newspaper article in the paper using their press release as a basis which focuses on collaboration and sensitivity but that is headlined  to imply something different. And Zequina is very sensitive. As we leave we meet him and he says that they are not playing tonight. This is good so I leave then trumpet behind. We pass the big stage and make our way down the prom where there are now many stalls selling everything from beer to cashassa, food of many sorts and hats, masks and headdresses. There are sound systems at every bar and quite a lot of people out many dressed in bloco t shirts.

At every moment assessing what we see and trying to make sense of it. Here it is trying to understand what will happen with the truck and the dancers in the bloco. It soon becomes apparent as we sit in a bar and drink Cayparinas and watch.