There’s a new cultural element in this year’s Jazz Fest — organizers concentrated on showing off ties between New Orleans and Brazil.
Jazz Fest Cultural Exchange Pavilion Coordinator Valerie Guillet says the two regions have much in common.
“These are really manifested in music and parades, in carnival and a lot of different ways,” she says. “It’s like cousins, very far apart geographically but amazingly similar culturally.”
Historically, Brazil was influenced by European nations, had a major sugar cane industry and was part of the African slave trade. What evolved are lively carnival parades, dancers in elaborate costumes, and vibrant and diverse urban neighborhoods.
Images from Rio de Janiero’s communities called favelas are on display for visitors.
There are 24 images displayed along a ring attached to the ceiling. According to Erika Tambke, who coordinated the photo exhibit at the pavilion, many people have the idea that favelas are slums — but the pictures show a beauty in their daily life. The pictures are taken by residents in a project called “The Peoples Image.”
Tambke points out one of her favorites.
“Well, I can start with that one, which I like very much. The kids. They’re all girls. They’re jumping. I don’t know if you have this game, you know, with the rope?”
She means jump rope.
“Jump rope. Yeah. It’s quite nice,” she says. “You don’t see the rope in this particular photo but that’s what they’re doing. And even though you don’t have the faces or the heads I think it’s quite interesting because you can feel this atmosphere of the game of the playing and the kids.”
Two graffiti artists are on their first visit to New Orleans, where they will be creating an image on both sides of a panel erected to the side of the pavilion.
Through interpreter Ana Powell, the artists say they have no idea what they will be creating — it depends on what they see here.
“So they work by improvising so the themes come from the community, basically,” says Powell. “The improvisation is something that’s very Brazilian.”
Set in a corner of the pavilion are the cardboard creations of Sergio Cesar, who has been creating favela models from recycled materials for 30 years.
In the middle of one project he’s making at Jazz Fest, a New Orleans shotgun house stands out — in yellow, with bits of a discarded fan standing in for iron lacework.
“He said that starting by knowing that Louis Armstrong is from here, he also mentioned that seeing how the city is recovering after Katrina, and he thinks it’s related to his work because what he does is he builds things,” Powell says. “So it’s relating that to the rebuilding of the city, saying it’s a pleasure to be here.”
Jazz Fest cultural spokeswoman Guillet says the artists selected for the cultural exchange are not the big stars of Brazil, and that was done on purpose.
“We bring people that may not be known but are very talented and that are not seen very often in the US. So most of them have actually never traveled to the US,” she says.
Brazilian music is being performed on stages throughout the Fair Grounds, as well as throughout each day in the Jazz Fest cultural pavilion.