Monday, 30 March 2015

Thank you Sigrún!

For the past three months we've had the immense good fortune to have had Icelandic trombonist Sigrún Jónsdóttir living at the project and giving brass lessons to the children three times a week. As well as being a top-flight professional trombonist (she's already done a world tour with Björk and leaves us to do a tour of Germany as a solo artist and then another world tour with Icelandic indie folk pop band Of Monsters and Men) Sigrún is also a great teacher and made a huge impression on the children.

Sigrún has been to Brazil once before and was already popular with many of the musicians here. With her excellent knowledge of Brazilian music from choro to samba to forro she slotted right in and was in constant demand for shows.

Although her main instruments are trombone and violin, Sigrún also taught trumpet, cornet, tenor horn and tuba at the project.

The photograph below was taken just as Sigrún arrived at the project in January. The girl in the turquoise top one from the right is Lorena, who at the time only played the tamborim. Sigrún gave Lorena her first lessons on the tenor horn before switching her on to cornet after a few weeks. Her lessons with Sigrún obviously had a profound effect on Lorena, who now gets up early to practice before school and is one of our most promising students. Think you may well have changed someone's life there Sigrún...

It seems amazing to think that when Sigrún joined the project we only had 10 regular students. Over the last 3 months the project has grown to the point that we have more than triple that number of students and it's no coincidence that this happened while Sigrún was at the project. She's very popular with the children and they were very sad to see her go (they weren't the only ones!)

Sigrún says that she says that plans to come back to Brazil after the world tour. Of course we can't take that as a certainly - 18 months is a long time, plans sometimes change, opportunities arise and we understand that. However one thing is for certain: if she does come back, that will make some young Brazilian musicians very happy indeed.

Thank you Sigrún!

Sigrún's appeal for monthly donations

After three months of teaching brass at the project three times a week on a voluntary basis, today is Sigrún K. Jónsdóttir's last day at Favela Brass. Please take the time to watch the personal appeal that she recorded this afternoon, encouraging friends of the project to consider the possibility of signing up for a monthly donation to support our work.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Monthly Giving Appeal

Favela Brass is growing quickly. Whether it was our parade within the favela during Carnaval, our beautiful new T-shirts, or just the sheer charm and charisma of our teaching staff (!) we don't know, but over the last few weeks we've had a constant stream of children arriving at the project to enrol. Having worked with a small group of about 10 students for most of 2014, we now have 34 students and have had to start putting new arrivals on a waiting list.

The challenge now is to maintain the previous quality of teaching at this larger scale; to manage the transition from giving lessons to a few of our neighbours' children to running a music school. One implication of this increase in size is that our costs have also increased - we now need more instruments, more teaching hours and more materials. In order to try and meet this increased cost we're appealing to friends of the project to consider setting up a monthly donation.

If we ended up with 100 people donating just £3 per month that would be enough to cover the cost of providing 3 music lessons and 2 English lesson per week for all of our 34 children. That is, for the price of a large cappuccino at Starbucks you could help to give 34 children a life-changing chance to learn to play a musical instrument.

Those who wish to sign up for a monthly donation, please just choose the amount that you'd like to donate each month from the drop-down menu below and then click the "subscribe" button. Thanks.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Airbnb + Favela Brass

We recently received a visit, and a generous donation, from international lodging rentals website Airbnb.

So why would Airbnb want to visit a music school in the middle of a favela?

The reason is that renting rooms via Airbnb is a central part of the financing of our project. I rent out 3 rooms in my house in the favela (which is also where we do our lessons), which puts me in a financial position to be able to work on Favela Brass pretty much full-time on a voluntary basis. I met Carolina Martins from Airbnb São Paulo whilst playing at a samba party in Rio and when Airbnb's head of global citizenship, Mark Levy, decided to make a visit from their head office in San Francisco to see Brazilian charities in Rio, Carolina saw the connection with Favela Brass and the visit was arranged.

After a breakfast laid on especially for us at local restaurant ABCD, our group, which included the Airbnb staff, local Airbnb hosts (there are plenty within the favela), Favela Brass teachers, designer and saxophonist Pedro Pamplona, four of the older children and their grandma, went on to the school. After a short performance from the children on brass and percussion the whole group participated in a samba percussion workshop, with the kids helping to teach the adults the rhythms.

Airbnb didn't just visit our project, however. They also very generously donated sufficient funds to the project for the hire of a professional designer to create a unified visual identity for the project - a logo plus 5 other design applications of our choice, which could include a banner and background for our blog, stickers for our percussion instruments, facebook flyers for our school events, a flag for the project in the classic samba school style, or anything else we can dream up... Designer Pedro Pamplona has even offered to do a giant spray paint version of the logo on our wall!

Although it might seem superficial, a strong visual presence for our project is vital. It provides a very important first impression for those who see the project from outside, and it also helps to unify the project for those who participate in it. In many ways Favela Brass is like a traditional Brazilian samba school that also teaches brass instruments and has a wider musical scope. We aim, like the samba schools (and British brass bands, while we're at it), to bring our community together through music and create a sense of identity around the school. Rio's samba school's strong visual identities (logo, flag, school colours etc..) help them to do just this - I once went to a rehearsal of the Mangueira samba school and saw people queuing up to kiss the school's flag! (although I have to admit I think I found that more scary than inspiring!)

We asked professional designer and musician Pedro Pamplona to do the design work. Here's his initial draft for the new logo which I already think is an absolutely inspired job!

I guess all that remains is to thank all involved for what turned out to be a genuinely special day (In Rio de Janeiro parlance you would say it was "alto astral", that is, good vibes all round!)

Huge thanks, of course, to Airbnb for the very generous donation towards our artwork and to Pedro Pamplona for agreeing to take the job on. Big thanks to restaurant ABCD for going out of their way to open their restaurant up exceptionally for breakfast, and for the lovely spread and delicious selection of tropical juices! Thanks to Favela Brass students Vinícius, Gabriella, Victor-Hugo and Patrick for the great show and help with the percussion workshop, and to their grandma, Aparecida, and Favela Brass teacher Sigrún Jonsdötter for looking after them. Thanks also to local Airbnb hosts Axl Lahaye, Petra Kullnig, Zé Maria, Anna Kahn and Ricardo Bêis for coming along and supporting, and thank you also to Carolina Martins, Mark Levy and all of the Airbnb staff from São Paulo for coming to visit our project and community.

We'll be posting further versions of the logo as it progresses here on the blog and welcome any opinions!

People involved in the visit:

Airbnb Staff:

Nataly Bonato
Milena Brentan
Christian Gessner
Mark Levy
Bruno Lewicki
Carolina Martins
Samuel Soares
Leonardo Wen (photographer)

Favela Brass Staff:

Tom Ashe
Sigrún Jonsdötter
Pedro Pamplona (designer)

Favela Brass Children and Family:

Marcos Vinícius Casquilho
Patrick Pacheco
Gabriella and Victor Hugo Santos Ferreira
Aparecida Santos

Local Airbnb Hosts:

Ricardo Beis
Anna Kahn
Ze Maria and Petra Kullnig
Axl Lahaye

Restaurante ABCD:

Claudio e Angela Veríssimo

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Thank you to the British Embassy in Brazil

As part of the This is Great Britain campaign, The British Embassy in Brazil are currently producing a series of online cards about British people with links to Rio de Janeiro. Today I had the honour of being included as number #32 for founding the Favela Brass project.

Great to see the project getting official recognition and extremely flattering for me to be included on any list that also includes Charles Darwin, The Queen and Rod Stewart - can't see that happening again in a hurry!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Today's Lessons

Today Leonardo got a chance to take the lead in the percussion lessons and Maria Eduarda from neighbouring favela Fogueteiro had her cornet lesson.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Super Keen Students!

We finished enrolment for the course this week with 31 children. Although the majority are from the Pereirão favela where the school is located, we also have a small group of 7 children from Fogueteiro, a neighboring favela. Yesterday they made the 45 minute walk here in the rain. Anyone who understands the general attitude of Rio residents to rain will understand the significance of that!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Show at Rosa Vento

Yesterday the children played at a cultural space called Rosa Vento, just down the road from our favela in the Laranjeiras neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. As you can see from the video below the kids played a great show and it was very well received by an appreciative audience:

Huge thank you to Rosa Vento organizers Letícia, Acsa, Priscilla and Isabella not only for inviting us to play, but also for all of the help with transporting instruments around, feeding the kids and setting the whole thing up (and all this on top of having designed our T-shirts for free last month!)

Thanks also to our teachers, the families of the children and all of the people who helped to make the event a success. Last but not least thank you Sami Kontola for making the first sales of Favela Brass T-shirts to the public!