Brazil’s Dulcet Tones of Tech

Paulo Rebêlo
Wired News
December 2001

In a poor neighborhood in the city of Olinda, artists, dancers and musicians are embracing technology as a way to help youth imagine a way out of poverty.

A group called Leo Coroado, which has sung and danced “maracatu” since 1863, is trying to fight poverty and violence by using its music to educate citizens in Olinda’s neighborhood of guas Compridas. Now, with the help of computers and the Internet, they intend to expand their approach.

Maracatu is a style of dance and music from the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast part of Brazil. But maracatu is still not very popular nationwide. (Click on the sound file to hear a sample.)

With the music of maracatu, Leo Coroado tries to attract people, most of them youngsters, into cultural conviviality. With the technology, they want to give the youth work, education and self-sufficiency.

“It’s a whole new world for us,” said Afonso Gomes Aguiar, 53, Leo Coroado’s president. Gomes doesn’t know how to deal with “those machines,” but he’s certain they’ll change people for the better.

Leo Coroado is implementing a technology infrastructure in the neighborhood. Volunteers teach local residents the basics of how to work with computers. These students then become the volunteer teachers, which begins a cycle that continues until the group can start to charge a small fee for its work. Money would enable them to update themselves and expand their business.

Think creating websites. Think editing digital music and converting sound files. Think working as a third-party company in a neighborhood where most haven’t, until now, ever heard about the Internet.

“Of course, there are some people who don’t believe us, who think this computer stuff is only a fussy talk,” said Leo Coroado’s Afonso Aguiar. “Personally, I don’t discount their reasoning; we live in a poor place where many have found their living in crime or are only fellow disbelievers of anything that could improve their lives.”

So far, the initiative is supported by only a few maracatu lovers from the neighboring city of Recife and from Olinda itself. Brazilian institutions, such as CDI (Committee for the Technology Democratization) are also helping. CDI’s units, which are called Schools for Technology and Citizenry, are spread countrywide.

“We don’t want to only teach them how to handle computers. We also want to create social entrepreneurs, people that can organize, manage and assume social investments and initiatives in the area,” said Paulo Henrique Araripe, executive-coordinator for the CDI in Pernambuco. “We’re giving them tools that might let them leave the actual situation of exclusion they’re in.”

Youngsters directly involved with Leo Coroado already update the official website and, with that experience, they are beginning to produce different content and sites with references about maracatu for visitors and readers abroad.

“We’re not a computer school,” Araripe said. “The neighborhood gets responsible for management and teaching newcomers’ kids.”

Since kids seem more open-minded to new technologies, Leo Coroado is focusing its efforts on them. Afonso Henrique and Kassandra Kelly, both age 5, are a good example.

They have been into maracatu’s conviviality since birth. And nowadays, they follow every training and every presentation of Leo Coroado. Recently, the group has been touring through So Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, spreading the maracatu music.

“We notice the curiosity and the interest of kids, so our expectation is to create a solid base of support in order that the community itself provides services and works of its own,” said Srgio Angelim, a maracatu enthusiast involved at CDI’s project from CESAR, in Recife.

“Besides technology, we intend to provide psychology accompaniment, sex education and whatever volunteers may be able to do,” Angelim said.

Leo Coroado has about 120 members, according to its president. (There are several other groups of maracatu in the state.) They expect to develop and publish an online newspaper with news, information and events about guas Compridas so that anyone may follow what they’re doing there.

“We’ll change guas Compridas and we hope to start changing our people,” Aguiar said. “And I’m sure computers and technology can help us to get there.”