I’ve had a love affair with Brazil for quite some time. An affair that came to me in the form of music. Songs and lyrics with an ability to cradle an immense amount of emotion, effortlessly. Like a roar coming from the inside, charged with sorrow and melancholy yet full of joy and resilience. As if it had found the secret to wash away pain through melody. Brazilian music has since been my ally through many difficult times in my life.
That’s why when Anton Lorimer from SmugMug films approached me with an invitation to film a short documentary about my work, Rio de Janeiro was my first choice as the backdrop for the story. I wanted to explore if what I felt through Brazilian music would be present in the people and experiences I was bound to encounter.
Almost right after landing, I found myself marching along Ipanema beach to the tunes of a bloquinho (an impromptu musical parade typical of Brazilian carnival). My very first impression was how similar Rio de Janeiro felt to my own Puerto Rico. The humid tropical weather, the warm hospitality and the contagious rhythm of the drums. It felt as if I was visiting long lost relatives. Colorful costumes, spontaneous choreographies, beers in hand and couples making out voraciously along the way. Happiness ensured !
All of a sudden, the sounds of the trumpets and drums crashed into the noise of engines rolling and sirens howling. The feet that were stumping in dance now stumbled around in panic. A group of municipal policemen broke into the crowd. Their aim was to surprise and apprehend petty thieves in the act. No more drumsticks waived in the air, instead long black batons threatened the sky. While all chaos broke loose, my mind muffled all sounds as I heard a loud thump, it was the strike of a baton hitting the head a teenage girl. A few more youngsters were corralled, handcuffed and taken away. The perpetrators were all minors.
Sadly I wasn’t surprised by this event, I had been warned that things like this could happen. However, this moment did kind of set the tone for the next few days to come. An emotional rollercoaster of exciting and beautiful instants followed by WTF head scratching flops. Let’s see…to name a few…
Oh yes, our AirBnB flooded in the middle of the night. The owner offered to move us to another property which he claimed better than the current one. Since it was late, we accepted the offer to try and get some rest. When we arrived to the new place, we actually thought it was pretty nice. Large spacious rooms with a private kitchen for each room, accompanied by a huge balcony. Everything seemed to be great… until just as I fell asleep, fireworks (and apparently gun shots as well) broke the solemn silence of the night. The next morning we realized that our new apartment sat right at the entrance of pretty dangerous community. Turns out fireworks are the way narcos use to communicate across distances. So yeah we left that place too.
Nevertheless, I was elated by the wonderful opportunity to be in Rio. Visually, the city is a dream. The harmonious blend of mountains and sea makes you feel as if traveling through Neverland. Every single session yielded some of the most spectacular imagery thanks to the talented dancers as well as the astounding locations. Photographing within the steep steps of the Vidigal favela forced me to get out of my comfort zone and I was thankful for it. We discovered many places full of history and charm. Vivid colors, lively textures and stunning lighting conditions. We wrapped our afternoons at local dives, having beers with the locals and sharing conversations. The positive energy and the smiles of the Cariocas greatly outweighed any of the little setbacks.
Talking about our mishaps with our fixer Diego Baravelli, as well as many locals, they would joke and say, yup that’s Rio, an amazing paradise where nothing really works as it should. Seems that in our short time there we got a small taste of every day life for Cariocas. A melange of bohemian joyful spirit menaced by constant uncertainty and fear. Institutional corruption and social inequality have created an atmosphere of insecurity where the only certain thing is that shit will hit the fan at one point or another.
Yet people still fill the streets daily after-hours to drink beers amongst friends, almost as a sign of solidarity. They sing at the top of their lungs and dance following the “blocos” as one entity. They will not give in, they will not give up and they will fight together. Brazilians graciously sway through this system with the poise of a veteran tightrope artist, knowing full well that at any given moment things can fall apart beneath them.
After all of this I believe I understand now, perhaps a little, where the resilience and passionate spirit of Brazilian music comes from. Brazilians understand that life is full of crappy moments, but life is still beautiful nonetheless, and it must go on. What matters in the end is the relationships we build, the people we love and the beers we share.
“Mas sei, que uma dor assim pungente
Não há de ser inutilmente, a esperança
Dança na corda bamba de sombrinha
E em cada passo dessa linha pode se machucar
Azar, a esperança equilibrista
Sabe que o show de todo artista tem que continuar”
-Elis Regina ( O Bêbado e a Equilibrista)
You can find more images and order prints following this link: http://www.omarzrobles.com/Prints/Rio-de-Janeiro/
Also, stat tuned for the documentary to the released on SmugMug Film’s YouTube channel later this year.
All images and text ©2018 Omar Z Robles. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or use with out written consent from Omar Z Robles.