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Spin Rocinha: How a DJ School is Empowering a Rio Favela

BRAZIL | Monday, 6 January 2014 | Views [6334] | Comments [1]

Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil with over 250,000 inhabitants and is located in Rio de Janeiro's South Zone between the districts of São Conrado and Gávea. Unlike its wealthy neighbouring districts, Rocinha has experienced decades of turmoil. The early infrastructure projects developed by Conrado Niemeyer saw the establishment of São Conrado. As this and surrounding neighbourhoods grew, there was a demand for cheap labour to build houses, schools and hospitals. The lack of affordable housing at the time saw the rapid rise in the growth of favelas. Rocinha was born of this.

Over the years there have been attempts to relocate or force remove inhabitants, whilst many protested the cost of such programs could have been spent to assist in urbanisation. Residents associations were developed to support community develop and continue the struggle for housing rights for Rocinha residents.

The 80's brought organised crime. Drug traffickers on one side, corrupt politicians on the other. Rocinha residents were literally caught in the cross-fire. It wasn't until the the development of the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) and the 'pacification' of Rocinha in 2011, that this 'city within a city' has begun to flourish after decades of hardship.

Still, education or lackthereof for the majority of those growing up in Rocinha is still a major hurdle to overcome. Residents have an average of only 4.1 years of formal education, with less than 1% of Rocinha’s adult population having earned a degree above a high school diploma. So how do children and young adults find opportunities to develop skills within the favela? Enter one such program providing it - Spin Rocinha. I had the pleasure of spending time with its founder, DJ Zezinho.


SPIN ROCINHA, established in 2010, is a youth empowerment and music development program, implemented by Rocinha Media School, in which Rocinha’s young people develop industry-standard DJing skills to produce music that is based on their experiences within the community. Using a process that enables youths to explore issues of democratic, community participation through media empowerment, the program advances the distinctive cultural narratives that help shape Rocinha and the region.

How is the program structured?

This mobile DJ workshop series and after school program is a permanent, ongoing investment in the community of Rocinha. The goal is to provide a youth empowerment and mentoring program for at-risk youth through DJ workshops, intensives, classes, and performance, with focus on the youth issues of the constituencies within the favela. We look to create an accessible environment where youth can - make music inspired and achieved by electronic media; - create a responsive public and community context for the appreciation of new work; - present and disseminate finished works; - advance technical skills to make music and art; - and nurture young, innovative practitioners from all branches of the arts to collaborate in the use of electronic media.

What skills are you teaching those within the program?

SPIN ROCINHA emphasizes an inter-generational approach to community-focused, cross-disciplinary media education that integrates music, performance, media literacy, and technology. This DJ program prioritizes digital music production as its educational development focus. Topics include technical proficiency, sound production, cultural and music history and theory, media literacy, narrative structure, and critical youth issues. in collaboration with community and international peers, this structured, hands-on program provides real-world digital media production and performance skills that serve as a catalyst to advance professional development and opportunities for individual youth participants.

Beyond the technical skills developed, what other skills are these kids picking up?

First and foremost, SPIN ROCINHA promotes positive self esteem. The program provides a fun way for youth to develop leadership skills, as well as to learn about music, media, technology, and the Rocinha community. It also galvanizes young people with similar interests and helps develop real-world skills that expand and disseminate into the wider community through live performance and peer mentorship. Fundamentally, we're looking to provide a foundation for career opportunities in the field of sound and music production and post-production, and at the same time, strengthen our youth community whilst raising awareness of social justice issues.

How important is weaving cultural aspects of living in Rocinha into the program?

Through producing music that builds an awareness of different aspects of Rocinha’s cultural vitality, as well as critiquing the struggles that youth face — their socio-political landscape for example, these all help our students develop not just as musicians, but also as responsible members of the Rocinha community.

Why is it important to keep the program mobile?

By keeping our program mobile, we can work throughout the underserved neighborhoods in Rocinha, at no cost to participants. Total first-year participation in SPIN ROCINHA will mentor upwards of 25 youths. Rather than reaching out to as many students as we can, we want to mentor a small group of students throughout the course of a year. This builds close mentoring relationships that help the student recognize their potential, increase their motivation, build their confidence and communication skills, and acquire solid technical skills to support their desires in pursuing their career development goals and professional opportunities. We believe it takes substantial time and commitment to gain the kind of grounded life and technical skill it takes to access a better future, and to develop more meaningful ways to interact with, and influence the wider Rocinha community.

What type of support are you looking for from outside of the community?

We would love to see more DJ's from around the world volunteer their time with us in Rocinha, and of course new or used DJ equipment is always welcome too. Also, you can sign up for one of our Favela Adventures tours, 100% of the profits go towards funding the DJ school!

Keen to watch more of the Rio adventure? Check out the other videos!

The Heart of Carnaval

Rio Football Fever

Pedra do Sal

Looking for more info on Rio or Carnaval?

Get some local intel - If you have any questions about travelling to Rio, feel free to hit up our Ask A Nomad community here or check out Triptrotters.

Concerned about safety in Brazil? - Check out our travel safety articles on how to stay safe when travelling to Brazil and stay covered with our travel insurance.

Looking to book for local festivals and events? - Check out Be A Local , they were great in getting us tickets to Carnaval.

Thinking about where to stay in Rio? - We had fantastic assistance from the crew at AirBnB who helped set us up with an excellent pad.

Looking to give back when you travel? - Check out International Volunteer HQ , who have some great projects running on the ground in Brazil.

About the Brazil team

Chris Noble is the General Manager of WorldNomads.com and will forever be indebted to the World Nomads of Rio that shared their knowledge and passion over the Carnaval period. He has a renewed love of Samba music and still dances as if his feet were held apart by a broom handle.

This film was directed and shot as part of our Brazil series by the very talented nomad Brian Rapsey.

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Tags: brazil, dj, education, favela, music, rio, rocinha, travel, youth



I'm rebelling to Rocinha next month, Can I visit Spin Rocinha during my stay? Does it open for public to visit and does it have an address?

  Mayo Jul 14, 2014 11:36 AM

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