Saturday, March 22, 2008

Banda Didá

As a quick follow up to my blog post about Neguinho do Samba, here is an image of the Banda Feminina Didá on the carnival parade route in Salvador last year with over 3,000 women and children dancing with them.

Body of War

My friend and colleague Ellen Spiro and her co-producer Phil Donahue have done a remarkable documentary, Body of War, about the Iraq War. It looks at the story of Tomas Young who was shot and paralyzed in the first few days of the war. The photo shows him with his brother who also served in Iraq. Through him you can really see the human cost of the war.

A Bill Moyers interview with them was just broadcast. According to the Moyers page, It focuses "on the true cost of war and their documentary, BODY OF WAR, depicting the moving story of one veteran dealing with the aftermath of war. With extensive excerpts from the film, the filmmakers talk about Iraq war veteran Tomas Young who was shot and paralyzed less than a week into his tour of duty. Three years in the making, BODY OF WAR tells the poignant tale of the young man's journey from joining the service after 9/11 to fight in Afghanistan, to living with devastating wounds after being deployed to Iraq instead."

The Bill Moyers site has a preview at

On of the interesting parts of the documentary for many people is the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder. You can see a video by Vedder with images from the film at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Neguinho do Samba

When I think about projects in the world that are really doing serious good work for poor people who don't necessarily get great opportunities in life, one of the groups that comes to mind first is the Didá Project, which was started by Neguinho do Samba (the better known nickname for Antonio Luiz Alves de Souza.) You can see him in the first photo showing a kid how to play drums, which is the way he has had enormous impact on the world.

Neguinho has helped start and develop several key music groups in
Salvador, Bahia that have a common theme: using music, particularly percussion and drumming, to help Afro-Brazilian people become more confident and proud of who they are, which is crucial to helping them get ahead in life. Neguinho said recently, "I can take the biggest thief in the world, put him behind a drum, and he will probably become a better person." That might seem like hyperbole, but I have seen with my own eyes, watching some of the people in Salvador that he has worked with, that there is something almost magical about how drumming, in a group where pride in being Black is a major theme, can help a person get organized and feel empowered to do more with themselves.

Neguinho helped start Ilê-Ayê, the first major Afro-centric music group in Salvador and worked with them for 11 years, then Olodum for 16 years, where he was one of the founding directors, the drum builder and drum teacher. He ended up recording and touring with Paul Simon on the "Rhythm of the Saints" album. He earned enough from that to buy a building in Salvador's old downtown, Pelourinho area, and start a music school and performing group for women and girls. When asked why, he says that he has several daughters and many sisters, who have not had the same opportunities he did, and he saw that as a big area of need. In fact, he turned down another opportunity to tour with Simon and make more money, to do that.

A quote on a website about Didá says Neguinho is considered by Carlinhos Brown, another very well known Salvador percussionist to be the "God of Percussion." (

Viviam Caroline de Jesus Queiros was one of the first girls to go through the school and was one of their best drummers and performers. You can see Viviam in the second picture. Coming from a very poor family, Didá has enabled her to get through secondary school, do a BA in journalism and now work on an MA in cultural production.

Viviam is Projeto Didá's Executive Director and Neguinho do Samba is Artistic Director. They are the leaders of the Didá Project, which has the school, a small stage performance group, larger marching performance group, and a huge carnival group for women and girls. You can see some of the main performers in the third picture.

She and Neguinho are visiting UT this week, on a trip organized by several people in Latin American Studies and Performing Arts at UT (Nathalie Arsenault, Jennifer Potter and Joe Randal).

I have worked with the Didá people for several years, taking study abroad groups in Salvador to meet with them, helping them get equipment like computers, and helping students from the U.S. intern with them, which is one of their major sources of teachers for things like English and computer skills. They are an amazing group of people, doing work with very deep impact on the girls they work with. I hope a lot of people get to meet them at UT and elsewhere on their swing through the U.S.

One of the most amazing things I have seen in my whole life is how Neguinho could take my study abroad group of 15 mostly drum skill free students, give each of them a drum, give them each a small part, and have the whole thing add up to a complex samba reggae rhythm. He will be doing that at several workshops in the USA.

You can find more info and a schedule for UT at

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Viva Zapata

This weekend I am down on the border with Mexico in Zapata, Texas. We have been doing a research project here for four years on the impact of broadband Internet in several rural counties in the U.S. Right now, we are recruiting and training interviewers to help us conduct a survey of people here in Zapata. We are working with the Chamber of Commerce, which you can see in the photo, and the local schools.

It turns out we arrived just in time for the annual county fair and parade. I have always got an enormous kick out of small town parades, both in the USA and Brazil. Sandy and I have taken our kids to see Utah beef princesses and small town carnival parades in Brazil. Great stuff for telling you about the nitty gritty of popular culture out where the real folks live.

I have even participated in cheesy small town parades. I got asked to be Christopher Columbus on a float about 1492 in a Provo, Utah 4th of July parade because I had the right Renaissance outfit. I almost refused because of very mixed feelings about the events of 1492, but it was too interesting to watch from the inside, so I impersonated Columbus for a day. Sandy and I also marched with a band of Vikings from a club we belonged to in the Washington D.C. St. Patricks' Day parade in 1981, in our wild and misspent youth. (Sandy was a pregnant Valkyrie in a chain mail shirt, while I turned out as a more conventional Viking warrior type.) Not to mention several years of being in parades in marching bands back in high school in Idaho, where they always seemed to put us and our white shoes right in back of the horses.

One of the features of the Zapata parade, like many in small towns, is that people on the parade floats throw candy out for kids to chase, which is fun for them, but also results in a bunch of kids ducking out into the street a lot, as you can see in the second photo.

One of the goofiest aspects of the Zapata parade, at least for an Anglo like me from up north, is all the low-rider and other customized hot rods that cruise around among the floats, marching bands, etc. They roared their exhausts and squealed their tires, and seemed to be having a great time.

Zapata is an interesting place. Almost everyone is a native Spanish speaker and prefers to speak that. But many cannot read and write in Spanish, but can read and write in English, since that is what they have been educated in. So they code switch like crazy, going back and forth between the languages, depending on what they are talking about and who they are talking to.

That might be the future for many people. I saw a much more upscale version of a very similar thing last year in Denmark, where almost everyone under fifty is bilingual in Danish and English, one of several things that helps keep them on top of economic globalization.

It might even occur as a good idea to more of the rest of the U.S. one of these days.


Last weekend I went to a conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Philadelphia. You can see a picture of the old and new downtown here, from in front of the conference hotel.

Academic conferences are an odd, but oddly satisfying medium. A bunch of people who are connected by an academic discipline or, in this case, a common interest in film, television and new media congregate on some city to give papers, listen to papers, look up old friends in the hall ways, and try to meet new people whose work you are interested in. They also do all the things that people might do at a Shriner's convention: eat, talk, drink, flirt, party, go out at night, and wander around the city.

I am a bit of a turkey, academic nerd or whatever you might want to call it, so I actually spend most of my time at the conference. But I find it very interesting to hear some of the papers, talk a lot with people I know about issues or maybe even projects we are trying to do together. Usually more interesting than seeing the sights or playing tourist.

But I do love restored or interesting markets. So I tried to get out a couple of times to eat in the Reading Market, which you can see here.

I also made sure to patronize a couple of nearby Mom and Pop Philly cheese steak places. Philly cheese steak sandwiches have been a favorite unhealthy food or guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. (One of the numerous things I like about Austin is the Texadelphia cheese steak place across the street from my building.)

But the Mom and Pop sandwich places in Philly remind me of the ones I came to love in Cambridge and Boston back in grad school. A nice little taste of East Coast popular culture.