Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Brazilian Activist Anderson Sá Spreads Message of Resistance and Resilience to New Orleans for Stone Center's 2010 LAGO Conference

November 8th, 2010

By: Shearon Roberts

Photo: Anderson Sá addresses conference attendees at his keynote address. (Photo courtesy of Emily Schulman)

Every community has its own unique way to empower its youth and find a path to overcome its adversities. Those were the concluding thoughts of Anderson Sá, president of Grupo Cultural Afro-Reggae, and the keynote speaker of the Stone Center’s Latin American Graduate Organization’s 2010 conference titled: “Agents of Change: Resistance and Resilience in Latin America.” The event, held October 28 through 30, featured graduate student research presentations that demonstrated how media, the Latin American diaspora, non-profits and even music are all forces for resistance and resilience for change in Latin American communities.

Sá‘s group, Afro-Reggae embodied the spirit of the conference’s presentations. Afro-Reggae received a 2009 Human Rights Award from the Brazilian government, and Sá, himself, was a 2007 Reebok Human Rights Award recipient. His life story was featured in the award winning documentary Favela Rising, directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary, and was shown during the conference.

Sá turned his life around at the age of 16 after being lured into the world of narco-trafficking in the favela he grew up in called Vigário Geral, a highly-concentrated, low-income community on the north side of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was through culture, mainly music, that Sá said he found an outlet to stay away from the drug gangs, and then dedicate his life to lure other youngsters away from a life of crime.

“It was just to be with the guys, the guys controlling the favelas, it was for the status of it all,” Sá said through his assistant and translator during the conference, Eve D’Amours. Music and the arts, Sá added, is now giving the youth of Vigário Geral a high intensity forum for their frustrations, turning it into creativity. Afro-Reggae has now become a force for peace between rival gangs, and law enforcement in Sá‘s favela, a model that is being studied and adopted across the world and in neighboring Brazilian favelas.

In a question and answer segment following the screening, a New Orleans native asked Sá how his achievements can be replicated here to bring about change to affected youth after Katrina. Sá pointed out that what worked for Vigário Geral may not necessarily work for New Orleans. He added that every community would have its own solution for its problems, but insisted that that solution must come from within the community itself.

Graduate students from across the United States and abroad tapped into Sá‘s call, as they presented research that documented community responses to community problems. As Sá‘s Afro-Reggae discovered that culture, and in particular music, would be a rallying call to turn youth away from drug and gang violence, the Music and Resistance panel of the conference, moderated by Dr. Dan Sharp, Tulane’s assistant professor of ethnomusicology, attracted the largest crowd of conference attendees.


Dan Sharp moderates the panel on music and resistance. (Photo by Shearon Roberts)

Teljer Liburd, a master’s student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, looked at the universality of music in her exploration of “The Reordering of musical and social spaces through a more Hip-Hop oriented Reggaetón.” In addition, Stone Center master’s student and one of the LAGO conference organizer’s Eric Miller saw music as a form of resistance in Mexico in his presentation of “Contrabando en los símbolos: Performative Resistance in Grupo Exterminador’s Narcocorridos.” Vanessa Martinez, of the University of Texas at Austin, explored how a low income community in the Dominican Republic can develop its own cultural movement like Afro-Reggae to benefit its disenfranchised youth. Her paper was titled: “Pero Aquí No Hay Músicos: Music as a tool for Social Reform”.

Martinez said that when she recently visited the community of Los Platanitos, of 1,200 people living on homes built on a landfill in Santo Domingo Norte, she was told there wasn’t any music there. The valley she encountered was far from quiet. Martinez said the sounds of young girls playing hand-clapping games and of music blasted from cell-phones told her the community was far from musically silent. “It is music, because it involved text, music and rhythmic elements,” Martinez said. “It was a forum for the children to explore interaction, with minimal risks.”


Presenters, panel discussants, guests and friends enjoy the Pachanga held on Friday evening. (Photo by Shearon Roberts)