In Brasilia: monumental space and… hip-hop?

I am now in Brasilia, where I have a number of interviews with parliamentarians, and officials from government Ministries and the federal police. The hotel I am staying in is right off the main monumental axis, in the northern hotel district. It is in some ways, the total opposite of where I was in Sampa, being masterplanned, spacious and with visible greenery. But it is a masterplan typical of Le Corbusier and his acolytes, that seems totally lacking in any flexibility or consideration for people not traveling by what they thought would be mankind’s liberation: the private car. So it is almost impossible to walk to a decent bar or cheap restaurant in the evening. You have to get a cab (or a bus if you know where you are going), to another ‘district’ for such things. The spaces are large and clearly designed to be monumental, but actually they fail in both being genuinely impressive and in being accessible. That is not to say that there are not some amazing buildings – of course there are many of Oscar Niemeyer’s greatest creations – but it is a place that looks better from the godlike view of the plan, or the selective gaze of the tourist brochure, than being within it as an ordinary person.

The taxi from the airport took a route through some of the contemporaneously planned and built residential districts. If it wasn’t for the semi-tropical vegetation, it could have been the Netherlands… long lines of similar 60s housing blocks, broken into neighbourhoods, each with its own little row of shops and restaurants, and divided by little parks and other community facilities. The blocks show quite a lot of variation in design and are certainly not all exactly the same, nor are they so large that they become inhuman in scale. With all the trees, and the facilities within walking distance, this really did seem like it wouldn’t be a bad – if not really an exciting – place to live. Which is exactly what I feel about many places in the Netherlands! For today, calm and unexciting is exactly what I need!

Strangely enough however, almost the first thing I came across when I got here was a local-government organised (and state petrochemicals company, Petrobras-sponsored) hip-hop festival, right on the main axis in the shadow of the TV Tower. So as the sun went down (if we could have seen it through the clouds) and the lights of the city blinked behind the hemispheres and towers of the Parliament building, I was getting down (well, tapping my feet) to some phat beats and conscious lyrics about the hardship and violence of life in the ‘periferia’ from the likes of Liberdade Condicional, and other favela stars. This, if nothing else so far, made me feel rather more hopeful for the future. For this evening only, the periferia had come right into the centre and was, symbolically at least, at the heart of Brazilian democracy.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

3 thoughts on “In Brasilia: monumental space and… hip-hop?”

  1. It’s not that easy to deal with Brasilia. If you have the chance, go visit Itamaraty palace. It’s an interesting Niemeyer’s piece.

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