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The Sound System Scene in São Paulo Slums

This article was originally published by ArtsEverywhere.

Every month, Arts Everywhere publishes a Global Roundtable where a dozen or so artists respond to a single question. The following article from São Paulo, Brazil addresses the question: What can a process grounded in art-making and aesthetic priorities accomplish that community organizing cannot?

By Ezio Rosa

Historically, culture, and the access to the city have always been refused to Black people, just as it is also historical to observe such people gathering and joining forces, recalling the former quilombos in order to think of strategies and conquer back what has been taken away from us.

Over the past eight years, the sound system scene gained a lot of force in the peripheries. In the late 1990s, early 2000s, favelas and other marginal areas were basically no man’s lands, abandoned by the state and at the mercy of organized crime. While we were denied access to the city (especially due to the wave of unemployment), the sound system scene came up, thus allowing for a re-signification of these spaces.

Since going all the way downtown just to have fun was not always an option, most of the sound system balls take place in the favelas. Composed by a wall of speakers and a DJ, the sound of reggae and related genres draw not only the local youth, but also youth from neighboring, left-aside areas as the balls get increasingly popular. Along with the movement of people, local dwellers settle in strategic spots to sell food and drinks for people attending the balls, not to mention the surrounding bars selling beer and finger food.

These parties often happen weekly and cover the four zones of São Paulo—North, East, West, and South—which generate jobs, culture, and leisure all at once. Considering they often have absolutely no financial support, the balls are usually self-managed by both local inhabitants and DJs. Also, state intervention in these balls is close to zero—I mean close to zero, for in a few cases the military police still show up to keep such popular organizations down.

After so many years promoting these gatherings in all corners of São Paulo, we can observe how performing this work helps demystify the bourgeois imaginary that renders the peripheries as a synonym to violence. Along with the booming of balls, issues like racism, homophobia in its wider sense, and male chauvinism became part of the agenda of sound system collectives, such as Digitaldubs from Rio de Janeiro.

Almost a decade after the rise of this movement in the peripheries of São Paulo, the outcomes are positive, and I realize that it might be evidence that peripheries can join forces toward something much larger and more powerful.



Ezio Rosa, aged 22, is a performer; he dances with the ensemble of the African Carnival block Ilu Inã; acts as a social art educator, approaching themes related to the Law 10.639, regarding instruction on Afro-Brazilian culture; is the DJ of Batekoo party; and also created the tumblr Bicha Nagô, where he discusses homosexuality at the intersection of race and class-related issues.

[Translation by Daniel Lühmann]

[Photo courtesy of Circuito Fora do Eixo]


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