Favela Brass provides at-risk children in Rio de Janeiro with the chance to transform their lives by learning a brass instrument and playing in a band. We provide:
1. Free tuition, at our home in the Pereira da Silva favela in the Santa Teresa district, and in local state schools.
2. Instruments for the children to practice on at home.
3. Opportunities for the children play in public and participate in musical exchanges with other children in Rio de Janeiro and beyond.
The inspiration for the project came after British trumpet player, Tom Ashe, following his love for Brazilian music, moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2008. After participating in the city’s vibrant brass band and street music scene (which culminates in Rio Carnival) for a few years it became clear that there was a serious problem: children from poorer families, and especially those living in Rio’s favelas (informal settlements, controlled by the drugs gangs) weren’t learning learn brass instruments.
The main reasons for this were that:
1. Brass lessons weren’t available in the state schools.
2. Credible long-term non-governmental music education projects in poorer areas were extremely thin on the ground.
3. Brass instruments are 2-3 times more expensive in Brazil than in say the UK or US.
As a result of these factors, brass playing in one of the most important cities in the world for live music had become, largely, a preserve of the middle and upper class.
In an attempt to do something about this in 2014 Tom moved to the Pereira da Silva favela in Santa Teresa and started to give lessons to the local children three times a week at his house, using instruments donated by friends in the UK. Tom was soon joined by master percussionist Mangueirinha São Vicente of the Vila Isabel samba school, American trumpet player Joe Epstein, and many other Brazilian and international volunteer teachers. Having started with a group of just 4 children, word quickly spread within the community, and by 2016 our 30-student brass band being was featured as part of the BBC’s coverage of the Rio Olympics.
As well as learning traditional Brazilian music, once the children started to get to a higher standard on their instruments, we introduced them to jazz music and the second line style played by brass bands in New Orleans. Though the children had never heard this type of music before they immediately understood it, embraced it, and put their own stamp on it. Our repertoire now represents a mix of Brazilian popular music, international popular music and New Orleans street music.
Funding for the project has been mainly by way of individual donations and notable fundraising efforts such as the Coast to Coast Stomp, organized in the UK by trombonist Stuart Garside. Over the course of 10 days in August 2015, 8 British jazz musicians walked from the West to the East coast of the UK, raising money through sponsorship and by busking in each of the towns they went through on the way. In the end over £4,000 was raised and the feat was repeated in 2016. We are also supported by monthly individual donors in the UK and through an ongoing crowdfunding campaign in Brazil.
In 2018, our work was recognized by the United Nations in Brazil.
Another big factor in our success has been our administrative coordinator, Carola Bitencourt and team of volunteer administrative staff, who have greatly increased the efficiency and professionalism of our operations. Favela Brass has been approved under Brazil’s cultural incentive laws, and in 2020 we became an officially registered Brazilian nonprofit, paving the way for us to receive tax-deductible corporate and individual donations in Brazil. We are also very grateful to Brazilian law firm Mattos Filho for providing us with Pro Bono legal advice.
Last we started offering after-school lessons in four local state schools, taking on another 60 regular students. The project is set to further expand in 2020, and we are now looking to reach out to other youth music projects to set up exchange programs for our children within Brazil and beyond. Watch this space!