Carlinhos Brown: ‘Poverty Is Not An Excuse For Anything’

Along with Gilberto Gil, Carlinhos Brown is one of the great Afro-Brazilian activist musicians. A seemingly ubiquitous drummer, Brown lead the great 100-strong bloco Afro percussion group, Timbalada, and is also a prolific songwriter (for Caetano Veloso, Sergio Mendes, and Marisa Monte, among many others) and community firebrand. On the DVD World Music Portraits: Carlinhos Brown, you can see him pounding and painting instruments fashioned from scrap metal with his teen drumming ensemble, Lactomia. He also leads Os Zarabe, an Arab-tinged drum-and-bugle flashmob that arrives and departs mysteriously.

The New York Times reports on how Brown's Pracatum music school is transforming his impoverished Candeal neighborhood in the northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador. Beyond simply turning out fine musicians (a Brazilian surplus commodity), Brown's project is also transforming the very look -- and more importantly, the outlook -- of his neighborhood. "Poverty is not an excuse for anything," Brown says optimistically. "Poverty is an opportunity."

While Pracatum School churned out a cast of talented musicians — people like Léo Bit Bit, who plays with the band Scorpions; the twins Du and Jó, who play with Caetano Veloso; and Marivaldo dos Santos, who plays in “Stomp” — the association went to work fixing up Candeal. It persuaded the city’s health department to open a clinic there, the neighborhood’s first. It raised money to build and renovate more than 200 homes and plaster and paint 60 others. It got the mayor’s office to install sewer lines and refurbish a public water fountain that many families use to this day to wash their clothes.