When Brazilians put on a show, they don’t mess around. That goes double these days under the progressive, culturally engaged return government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his team. You don’t have to look much further for confirmation than Lula’s appointment of samba-reggae superstar Margareth Menezes as Minister of Culture, and his granting her a budget of two-billion dollars to work with, as she explained in a recent interview with Afropop’s Sean Barlow.
On September 20, Minister Menezes was on hand at Rumsey Field in Central Park, as Banco do Brasil, the country's largest bank, hosted a star-studded extravaganza under the banner of “All Amazonia.” This non-stop, three-hour spectacle of music, dance, video and consciousness-raising about the crisis. Images and videos of burning forests, indigenous rituals, and the glories of the Amazon were a constant presence. In the Brazilian Amazon was unlike anything I’ve seen.
The stage set was a ship with the word “Pororoca” emblazoned on the hull. The pororoca is a “tidal bore,” a rush of ocean water traveling inland through the Amazon River and generating up to 13-foot waves attracting surfers from around the world. The phenomenon is also highly destructive to flora and fauna along the river’s shores, and as sea levels rise, the pororoca extends further and further into the Amazon, which, of course, faces even greater threats at the hands of slash-and-burn agricultural and other directly man-made ill doings.
The horrific challenges and awesome beauty of the Amazon in the 21st century were on constant display in artful video displays throughout the evening: burning forests, indigenous rituals, grand views of life on the river and awful scenes of environmental destruction. Meanwhile, vibrant expressions of Afro-indigenous-Brazilian music and dance unfolded in the foreground. There was the Bahian afro-bloco Olodum, singers Fafade Belem and Aíla, the genre-bending hip-hop act Baiana System, and of course Margareth Menezes and, for the closer, Brazil’s preeminent maestro, percussionist and songwriter Carlinos Brown.
Midway through the show, the president’s wife Rosângela Lula da Silva, popularly known as Janja, stood before a lineup of indigenous leaders, artists and officials to speak about Brazil’s environmental and humanitarian challenges in the Amazon. The message could not have been clearer, even without translation from the Portuguese, and nor could it have been more powerfully and artfully presented.
Here are some of images of a remarkable night for Brazilian New York City.