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Rio favela musicians escape violence to concert for pope

Update: May, 31/2017 - 12:45
Demonstrators hold an inflated ball during a rally against violence organised by NGOs working inside the community, at Complexo de Mare favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 24. —— AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

RIO DE JANEIRO — Just rehearsing could get them shot. But for the youth musicians of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent slums, their bravery will pay off on Saturday with a concert in front of the pope.

Twenty-six amateur musicians aged between 14 and 19 will perform for Pope Francis and an audience also including 400 children brought from areas of central Italy devastated in earthquakes.

It will fulfill a dream for the young Brazilians. Their Orchestra of Tomorrow’s Mare, named for the Mare favela (slum), had been scheduled to play during the pope’s visit for World Youth Day in 2013, but the performance was cancelled in heavy rain.

"We were really sad because we had prepared special pieces for him," said cellist Debora Santos, 18, up at Rio’s towering statue of Christ the Redeemer, where the original concert was meant to have taken place.

"It’s really gratifying to see all our efforts rewarded four years later," Santos said.


The road to Rome is long from the Mare, a crowded warren of alleys and small streets where heavily armed drug dealers hold sway.

Clashes during aggressive police raids result in frequent episodes of stray bullets injuring and killing bystanders.

The Mare Networks group, a non-governmental organisation, said there have been 18 violent deaths in the favela between January and April this year -- more than in all of 2016.

A police operation meant that on Monday, two of the musicians were unable to join the rest of the orchestra for a farewell Catholic Mass up by Christ the Redeemer on the Corcovado.

"We’ve had to cancel many rehearsals because of the violence," said double bassist Bruno Costa, 16.

He also has a very unique problem with his enormous instrument: "It’s very complicated for me to get around, because of its huge size. The drug traffickers think I’m carrying a weapon or even a body!"

Tragic roots

The orchestra was founded by Carlos Eduardo Prazeres in 2010 as a way of rebuilding his life after the murder in 1999 of his father, a famous conductor called Armando Prazeres. His blood-stained car was found in the Mare.

Seven years later the project is active in all the Mare’s schools and has taught 2,200 children.

"Many of them are prisoners of their surroundings, with very limited horizons. But today our young musicians dream of studying in Vienna and playing in great orchestras," Prazeres said.

Santos, the cellist, said she fell in love with classical music and the instrument when she heard Bach on the internet. "I’m sure I can go far if I work hard. My dream is to play for the Berlin Philharmonic."

In Rome, the pope will get a smattering of traditional Brazilian music but also two tangos from his Argentine homeland.

Pope Francis will be given a white violin signed by students and be asked to autograph another that the musicians will bring back to their friends in the Mare.

"They only dream of getting out of the Mare," Prazeres said. "I wanted to change that, to show that peace is possible." — AFP


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