The Brazilian capital, Brasília, designed by the one of the greatest architect of the world, Oscar Niemeyer, is going to celebrate half a century on April 21st. The new city, located right in the middle of the country, in Central Plateau, started to be build in mid 1950´s, by then president Juscelino Kubitscheck, to be the new Brazilian capital. Built in under four years, Brasília was a dream for many Brazilians who thought the country should have its capital inland, not in the coat as was Rio de Janeiro´s case. Today, Brasília has nearly 3m inhabitants, where the empty spaces of barren land are becoming more and more scarce. Since 1960, the city has turned into a giant, still rapidly expanding. The evidence is in the landscape which, when seen from above, reveals the diversity of Brasília and the Federal District. The urban centre of the capital today is a mosaic of cultures from all over Brazil.
South America’s largest country, Brazil is an amalgam of peoples, cultures, and flavors. Brazilians are mostly descendants of colonial and post-colonial Portuguese settlers and immigrants, African slaves and Brazil’s indigenous peoples, along with several other groups of immigrants who arrived in Brazil mostly from the 1820s until the 1970s. Most of the immigrants were Italians and Portuguese, but also significant numbers of Germans, Spaniards, Japanese, and Lebanese and Syrians.
Unknown to many outside Brazil, the cultural significance of cachaça, a distilled liquor, ranks among soccer, carnival, and samba. Although non-Brazilian’s compare cachaça to rum, their only similarity is that they both originate from sugarcane. Cachaça first gained popularity among slaves and peasants during Brazil’s colonial period but the spirit has recently become a favorite domestically and internationally regardless of the drinker’s class. Also, Brazilian cachaça exports to Europe and the United States have been aided by the trendy drink caipirinha. The cocktail’s global success has inspired other Caribbean and South American states to produce their own cachaça-like alcohols. Consequently, the Brazilian government has initiated protectionist measures at home and abroad to preserve cachaça’s foreign markets. These developments bring together cachaça’s trade, cultural, and environmental aspects.
The state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil just unveiled a glittering new government complex by legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer, still working at the age of 102. His latest creation covers an expanse of 804,000 square meters, including a 265,000 square meter building housing the new seat of government. With the opening of the new complex, Belo Horizonte, the regional capital of Minas Gerais, becomes the city with the greatest number of building by Niemeyer: 14. The headquarters for the Minas Government will house around of 3000 employees that work in the Government, Vice-Government and the Military Office. In addition to the four floors, the building is formed by an underground and piers, performing 21 thousand square meters of built area. In the indoors, it will count with a hall with an area of 1,200 square meters, which will be designed for official solemnities and support services. Oscar Niemeyer was born in Rio de Janeiro, 15 Dec 1907. An internationally acclaimed doyen of the Modern Movement, the Brazilian architect developed an intensely expressive and often controversial style in his large volume of executed work that was extremely influential in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, in the three decades from 1935. He employed an often exuberant aesthetic formalism, and his lyrical use of reinforced concrete was rivalled only by the later work of the French Le Corbusier.
“Over the past 10 years Brazilian music has started to be recognized as a musical force in Britain. It’s no longer limited to lounge bar chill-out CDs, instead focusing on exciting new artists like Seu Jorge.” That´s how BBC´s music critic Sam Jones describes one of most talented and originals Brazilian singers – while he was waiting to watch the artist´s show in Lecester Square, in the heart of London. At the end of the show, he was marveled by the swing of the Brazilian black musician: “Seu Jorge took the spotlight alone to show us why he has suddenly become a big deal in Britain”, wrote BBC´s critic. Seu Jorge, 35 years old, was made internationally famous by his role in the cult-classic film City of God. He has toured many American states, where he is known to the audiences for performing bossa-flecked Portuguese renditions of David Bowie songs in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
Curious to know more about the sharming Seu Jorge? Listen to his beautiful voice:
Many people would say no, Brazil is not a slave-ocratic country anymore. It left slavery behind more than a 100 years ago. Precisely in 1888, when Brazilians were forbidden by law to keep slaves. But many other people would say yes, in many ways this is a slave-ocratic society. One of those to think so is the former governor of Brasília, Brazil´s capital, Senator Cristovam Buarque (PDT). He says that although we no longer accept the selling and imprisonment of human beings or condemning them to forced labor, we condemn millions to unemployment or to humiliating work due to lack of training. “We are slave-ocrats when we allow the differentiation of the schools according to the income of a child’s family, differentiation as severe as that of the lives in the Manor House and the Slave Quarters. We are slave-ocrats because we have still not undertaken the distribution of knowledge, a decisive instrument for liberty”, says he.
Brazilians go a little nutty every February at carnival time. Similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only celebrated throughout the country – it involves millions of people dancing in the streets, dressed in fancy costumes, beads, face masks. For four days, Brazilians just forget the future to enjoy only the present. People from all over the world come to Brazil to have fun in this very special time, mainly in Rio and in cities like Salvador, Recife e Olinda, in the northeast of the country.
“Modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641, when the city’s bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, later absorbing and creolizing elements derived from Native American and African cultures.”
The beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the most well known Brazilian city, famous as much for their boisterous energy as for their natural beauty, are undergoing a makeover thanks to a “Shock Order” program by the current mayor, Eduardo Paes. Under the new rules, ball games are among the undesirable activities being curtailed or banned as the city that will host a World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016) within seven years seeks to clean up its act. Up to 2 million people pack Rio’s beaches on a sunny day, bringing together high society and slum dwellers making it the most democratic place in the city. Some critics say the moves by the mayor will affect the spontaneity of beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana, which have been celebrated in many a samba and bossa nova song.
A controversial new film about the life of the phenomenally popular Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has failed to build the desired hype and is getting lukewarm responses at the box office. These are not the reactions that the film-makers – nor the presidency – might have wanted but then again this film has caused a storm of controversy in Brazil.
Many commentators have expressed outrage that a fictionalised, hagiographic biopic should be launched as Mr Lula da Silva enters the last year of his presidency, hoping to use his enormous popularity to elect his chosen successor in October’s election.
The film depicts the childhood journey by lorry from impoverished origins in Brazil’s north-east to Santos and later São Paulo; the years as a child labourer selling oranges and shining shoes; the abuse from an alcoholic father; apprenticeship as a metalworker; the loss of his first wife and baby in childbirth; and his rise through the trade union movement during Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985.
Opposition politicians have demanded an inquiry into government contracts involving the film’s 27 corporate sponsors. José Serra, the likely opposition candidate in October, said it was a clear attempt to boost the chances of Dilma Rousseff, Mr Lula da Silva’s candidate.
Candomblé is an African-Brazilian religion. It was born of a people who were taken from their homes in Africa and transplanted to Brazil during the slave trade.
The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs which originated from different regions in Africa, and it has also incorporated some aspects of the Catholic faith over time.
The name itself means ‘dance in honour of the gods’, and music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies.
Candomblé and Catholicism
From the earliest days of the slave trade, many Christian slave owners and Church leaders felt it was important to convert the enslaved Africans. This was in order to fulfil their religious obligations but also in the hope of making the enslaved more submissive. Others also argue that enslaved Africans were religiously persecuted in order that they held no connection to a shared past.
Although the Church succeeded in many cases, not all Africans converted. Many outwardly practised Christianity but secretly prayed to their own god, gods or ancestor spirits. In Brazil, where Catholicism was popular, adherents of Candomblé saw in the worship of saints a similarity with their own religion. Candomblé practitioners often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside their corresponding Catholic saints.
In the segregated communities of America, it was easy to create Catholic religious fraternities where black people would meet with each other. These meetings, however, were actually an opportunity for Candomblé worship to happen and for feasts to be held on special religious days. They were also opportunities for the enslaved to gather and plan rebellions against their masters.
Many of the enslaved Africans from Bantu found a shared system of worship with Brazil’s indigenous people and through this connection they re-learned ancestor worship.
Persecution and resurgence
Candomblé was condemned by the Catholic Church, and followers of the faith were persecuted violently right up through government-led public campaigns and police action. The persecution stopped when a law requiring police permission to hold public ceremonies was scrapped in the 1970s.
The religion has surged in popularity in Brazil since then, with as many as two million people professing to follow the faith. It is particularly practised in Salvador da Bahia, in the north east of Brazil. Interestingly, many people from African countries visit Bahia in order to learn more about the faith of their ancestors.
For many followers it is not just a matter of religious belief but also of reclaiming the cultural and historical identity which slavery stripped them of.
There is also some movement to remove Catholic imagery from worship services, in an attempt to return the faith to its more fundamental origins.