The problem blends with the transit of migrants who cross the region in search of the American drea...
SÃO PAULO, Brazil – They come from the outskirts.
And so does their poetry.
Doormen, painters, street sweepers, bus drivers, office boys, housewives, teachers, doctors, nurses, rappers and children write and recite their rhymes to the community during the open microphone nights at Cooperifa – Cooperativa de Cultura da Periferia (The Marginal Culture Cooperative).
“This is where poetry steps down off its pedestal and kisses the feet of the community,” says poet Sergio Vaz, 47, a founder of the movement.
At Cooperifa, everyone is welcome to express what is on their minds, Vaz says.
And all of the ideas are applauded.
“The first time I came here I had butterflies in my stomach, because I only knew one poem by Cora Coralina and I was afraid of making a mistake,” says retiree Edite Marques, 68, who has been taking part in open microphone nights since 2006.
Five years later, with a microphone in her hand before a crowd of almost 300 people, Dona Edite – as she is known – recites the lines of the song “Saga da Amazônia” (the Saga of the Amazon), showing she has completely overcome her inhibitions.
“I used to be afraid of opening up, of fighting back, of dealing with people in other environments. I used to think I was inferior,” Dona Edite says. “A lot of things have changed because of these open microphone nights.”
Dona Edite, who is visually impaired, is part of the group that convenes on Wednesdays at a bar in the southern zone of São Paulo owned by José Cláudio Vaz, also known as “Zé Batidão.”
The voice of the outskirts
In the city of São Paulo, residents of the city’s outskirts account for more than two-thirds of the overall population of 11.2 million, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
Anthropologist Hermano Vianna, one of the creators of the television program Central da Periferia (the marginal center) on Globo television network, says “the most important development of the last decade in Brazilian culture was the appearance of a voice, direct from the margins of society, that could be heard everywhere in Brazil.”
“People living on the outskirts got tired of waiting for an opportunity that never came, that was supposed to come from somewhere else, from the city center,” Vianna wrote in an article published in the magazine Raiz in 2007. “The marginalized no longer need intermediaries (who had always spoken in their name) in order to connect with the rest of Brazil and with the rest of the world.”
Vianna’s theory is based on recent achievements such as the recognition of graffiti as an art, the growing popularity of rap performances among the middle class and the publication in other languages of writers outside the mainstream, such as Ferréz.
Cooperifa is one of the main exponents of the movement, which calls itself “marginal culture.”
The initiative began in 2001 – in a bar in the municipality of Taboão da Serra, located in the greater metropolitan area of São Paulo – through the work of Vaz and others who live outside mainstream society.
“The artist first needs to be recognized within his own community,” Vaz says. “And my community exists in the schools, in the public parks, in the bars and the prisons.”
It explains why Vaz chose city’s bars to host Cooperifa meetings.
Since 2004, open microphone nights have been held at Zé Batidão’s bar, located between the neighborhoods of Jardim Ângela, Jardim São Luis and Capão Redondo. The region was once considered one of the most dangerous in the world and came to be known as the “triangle of death.”
But the initiative already has transcended the margins of São Paulo’s southern zone. Residents from other poor neighborhoods, and even from wealthier parts of the city, are regulars at the performances.
In 2007, the Prince of Nigeria, Otunba Adekunle Aderonmu, was in the audience.
As the number of customers grew, Zé Batidão’s jerked beef escondidinho (dish made with yucca pure stuffed with meat) became famous throughout the city. Inspired by Cooperifa, he also re-stocked the shelves that used to contain bottles of the Brazilian sugarcane rum known as cachaça with books.
And he started to read more.
“A lot of people from around here never even read a book before,” Vaz says. “Now, they have access to literature and to society.”
Eduardo de Almeida, 32, also known as “Cocão” from the rap group Versão Popular, learned of Cooperifa nine years ago.
“A lot of people came through here that played some of the most important roles in my education as a person and as a member of society,” says Cocão, whose rap lyrics are influenced by the poetry and short stories of writers from the community.
Cooperifa is the largest popular movement of the last decade, according to rapper Cleiton Cavalcante, 32, also known as “Fino du Rap.”
The movement has influenced other cultural collectives in Brazil, and more than 50 open microphone nights have popped up during the past few years in the city of São Paulo.
“For some people, it might seem strange to see a guy from the auto body shop with a book in his hand,” Vaz says. “But for us, this is a revolution.”