Andre Luis Azevedo, Jose Junior, Michele Moraes
This arresting documentary tells of the rise of AfroReggae, a Brazilian band with a conscience born of violence and drug-running in the Rio favela of Vigário Geral in the early ’90s. Anderson Sa, the band’s founder and the focus of this film, dreamt of being ‘a revolutionary druglord’ when he was a kid, which speaks volumes about his neighbourhood.
As this fast-paced but well-informed film tells us, 3,937 minors died as a result of violence in the city between 1987 and 2001, and the directors of Favela Rising give us a taste of the situation by presenting ample TV footage of bodies, blood baths, drug stashes and firearms (usually an ugly combination of all four).
But music and performance take centre-stage too, and Anderson himself offers a story of hope; a former drug dealer, he’s now a community leader and a local icon.
Both Anderson and this film pin the rapid rise of AfroReggae – now as much a social movement and a local education project as a music group – to one particular event that took place in Vigário Geral in August 1993: the murder of four policemen by drug dealers, which in turn prompted the police to enter the favela and ‘massacre’ 21 inhabitants.
The ‘Grupo AfroReggae’ began to publish a radical local newspaper, AfroReggae News, and the lyrics of its band – now signed to Universal Music – dealt directly with the community’s history and problems. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Anderson asks one local kid. “An outlaw,” the boy replies. Favela Rising credits art with changing lives (it cites a dramatic drop in drug crime in Vigário Geral), but doesn’t lose sight of its limitations either.