Making noise to ‘scare sadness away’
For The Herald
San Paulo marginal literature on show at Buenos Aires Book Fair“The official Brazil that constructed its citizenship on the motto of order and progress and its identity on the myth of racial democracy was achieved by forgetting certain voices, bodies, agencements and events.” This harsh — yet honest — insight is the opening line of Saraus: Movements/Literature/Periphery/Sao Paulo, an anthology, or, better yet, a vindication of Sao Paulo’s forgotten voices and bodies.
Published this year by the self-managed label Tinta Limón, the anthology was curated by Lucía Tennina, whose intention was to show the cultural expressions that depict the crude realities so many Brazilians face every day — a portrait of the favela (Brazil’s word for shantytown), with drug trafficking, poverty and violence; but also with a humble way of living that encloses many pleasures and joy.
These forgotten voices were in charge of adding their own flavour to yesterday’s main event at the Book Fair. It was about 7.45pm when the drums started pounding — a deep heartbeat that culminated in everybody joining hands and dancing around the stand, like a school of fish, swimming in the midst of the ocean that was the crowded Book Fair on May 1st. After all, the point of saraos is to make some noise.
It soon became apparent that “saraus” are not about the body of a book, but about putting a body to literature as a whole. That being said, it is hard to determine whether Suburbano Convicto — the sarao which opened the event — was a group of poets or rappers. It seems fair to simply call them artists.
During the presentation of the Sarao Do Binho, a couple of African drums marked the rhythm of a woman’s dancing-and-reciting performance, in which she narrated a poem about race and the pride she has in being black. Later on, another woman introduced her song by saying — in a sweet tone — “we work from the heart, always. We, Brazilians, make noise and sounds to scare the sadness away.” She then proceeded to sing a hauntingly beautiful song about the favelas. The audience, spellbound, looked at her in the reverential quietness that so often comes from hearing soulful music. The language barrier seemed to be not only inexistent, but at times even beneficial, like a sort of inverse Babel’s Tower, where the lack of a common language brings people closer together rather than further apart.
An inevitable comparison arises when analyzing the marginal culture of Brazil and Argentina (with its cumbia villera). While Argentina’s social tissue was crumbling in 2001, San Paulo’s “periphery” was starting to knit the rudiments of what today is known as “marginal literature,” a literary movement — born in the favelas — whose integrants speared the creation of “saraos.” It all started with the publication of an anthology in Caros Amigos magazine compiled by author Ferréz; it was a special edition of the magazine, titled Caros Amigos/Literatura Marginal. A cultura da periferia. It opened with a manifesto in which the movement proclaimed to “represent the authentic culture of a population composed by minorities that, in sum, constitute a majority. And we have a lot to protect and show, we have our own vocabulary, a very precious one.”
One year after this “special edition” was published, the movement was consolidated and, thus, the first saraos were born. Based on several bars scattered around San Paulo’s margins, saraos started as events in which neighbours congregated to read out loud their work (or someone else’s) — music came in shortly after that. Little by little, these bars turned into cultural centres, in which one could find all the expressions embodied in the “marginal literature” movement. A movement that grew exponentially, creating publishing houses in the favela, films, literary exchanges, blogs, websites, debates, seminars and so much more.
The definition — given by dictionaries — of the term saraos is “an evening party with dancing and music.” It's strange that a dictionary definition is, in this case, much more accurate than the explanation given by experts on the subject. This is a movement that takes pride in coming from the periphery of San Paulo, and yet here, in Buenos Aires, it is the guest of honour, the heart of the fair, the life of the party. While scaring the sadness away, different saraos spoke loud and proud yesterday, in the voices that were once silenced under the unbearable inequity of being forgotten.