Hip hop, funk helping to spread Covid-19 awareness in Brazilian favela

By Nayara Batschke

Sao Paulo, Jun 26 (efe-epa).- Hip hop and Brazilian funk serve as vehicles for social protest and non-conformism in Heliopolis, the most populous favela in this southeastern metropolis and one of the areas of Brazil hardest hit by the pandemic and an accompanying deep economic crisis.

But those musical genres now also have become a means of spreading awareness about Covid-19 in that sprawling shantytown.

“Let’s save the favela by saying what the coronavirus is. Don’t share glasses, drinks and beer. Don’t share cigarettes and bongs. Stay away from crowds as much as you can. That means no dances or parties for now,” are the lyrics that blare out of a giant speaker onto the narrow streets of this vast slum.

Written by the rap group D’Gran’Stilo, their purpose is to alert that favela of some 200,000 low-income residents – many of them young people – to the danger they face, one of its members, Cleiton, alias Dog, told Efe.

The main concern of these recording artists is that Heliopolis’ residents will fail to heed health officials’ anti-coronavirus measures due to a lack of information.

The virus was brought to Brazil by affluent people who had traveled to Europe and the United States and has since made the leap from wealthy neighborhoods to the favelas, which are home to an estimated 13.6 million of the country’s 210 million people.

The Sacoma ward, where Heliopolis is located, ranks seventh among Sao Paulo’s 96 districts in terms of deaths attributed to Covid-19 (226 through June 18) and 11th in suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases (4,905 through June 9).

“Local artists and the community have suffered a lot from the pandemic situation, but we wanted to keep producing content” to raise awareness among the population, Mano OD, another member of D’Gran’Stilo who is a resident of the community and recovered from Covid-19 two months ago, told Efe.

Brazilian funk – a genre that blends hip hop and Electro music -, samba and other rhythms associated with social protest are part of Heliopolis’ DNA.

The awareness-raising initiative is among a series of actions being carried out by a residents’ association in that favela, which sees music as an avenue for dialogue with the population, particularly young people.

“The number of people in the streets is intense, but there are also living situations in which 10 people reside in one or two rooms,” Mano OD said.

As part of its efforts, the residents’ association also reached an agreement with MC Lanzinho, a major figure in Sao Paulo’s funk scene who lives in Heliopolis and penned a single urging local inhabitants to exercise prudence.

“Music has a very important role to play because it breaks down barriers and allows a more direct and much simpler way of communicating with the population,” Douglas Calvacante, a member of the association, said.

The residents say the real number of coronavirus cases in Heliopolis is much higher than the official figure of nearly 5,000 due to a lack of testing.

“The situation is very dangerous. People are dying every day. No one knows if it’s from corona (because there’s no test), but we think it is,” a local resident, Romilda dos Santos, told Efe.

In addition to the threat from Covid-19, nearly 70 percent of Heliopolis’ population has suffered a partial or total reduction in their salaries and been forced to depend on Brazilian government assistance (600 reais, or around $110 a month).

But many residents say they have not received any economic aid and have no way to pay their bills or even buy face coverings or other items to protect themselves from the virus.

“I’ve been out of work for four months. This has been a really rough period. If no money is coming in, how are we going to buy masks and alcohol gel?” Silvia, a beauty products reseller, told Efe.

According to figures from the Central Union of the Favelas, a non-profit organization, 35 percent of families in Brazil’s shantytowns have lost all of their income since the start of the pandemic.

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