Jazz Guesthouse Lifts a Favela

By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter

Bob Nadkarni on the roof of The Maze, photo by... tbd.

Bob Nadkarni with a view from the roof, photo provided by The Maze.

RIO DE JANEIRO – July 2009 sees the third birthday of Jazz At The Maze, and marks eight and a half years since the opening of the guesthouse of the same name built from scratch by Englishman Bob Nadkarni in Tavares Bastos Favela in Catete, where he has also lived for the best part of thirty years.

With the live music nights becoming bi-weekly as a result of their word-of-mouth success, the Maze pousada now accommodating around 25 people at capacity and having been used as a location for rap videos and blockbuster films, some would consider allowing themselves a little time to reflect. Within five minutes in Nadkarni’s company, it is clear that this is not the case.

Nadkarni arrived in Brazil in 1972, and the running theme through Bob’s life in the favela has been trying to create opportunities for the people living there when traditionally they have been given few, marginalized or castigated by those in power.

Nadkarni’s priority some twenty years ago, before the creation of The Maze could have been achieved, was a campaign to get the BOPE (the Elite Special Forces unit of the Military Police) Headquarters moved from Niteroi to a large disused building in Tavares Bastos. At the turn of the millennium the campaign finally succeeded and though he had never personally had any problems with the gangs, the number of young people killed or dislodged as part of the violence there was a daily fact of life.

As the gangs moved out the number of shops increased, people were able to open pharmacies and hairdressers, and so simple commerce, the cornerstone of any community, was allowed to thrive again. Achieved with little official support, it was the kind of move that one might hope to see come through government channels.

In the midst of all this it seems incredulous that a candidate in the mayoral race chose The Maze as a target for her election campaign and attempting to get it shut down at the end of 2008, but the negativity of a minority is not something Nadkarni wishes to dwell on. “Some people say I’m treating the favela as a zoo by attracting foreigners but they couldn’t be more wrong. The people here love to see them having been discriminated against for so long.”

A guest room at The Maze

A guest room, photo provided by The Maze.

After the arrival of the BOPE, Nadkarni secured the regular filming of a telenovela in the main square. Ironically themed around the problems of drug gangs, it has nevertheless brought in much needed funds and paved the way for other major filming projects. Among literally hundreds of others he has been instrumental in bringing the likes of George Martin and Michael Radford in to direct here, Snoop Dogg to film the video for his track ‘Beautiful’, and most famously the Incredible Hulk was shot in and around The Maze in 2007, with Tim Roth and Edward Norton both taking up residence.

With more film projects recently completed and in the pipeline it is clear Bob is not keen to stand still. Indeed the next goal is to bring a little taste of England to Rio. “I’ve wanted to do a Sunday brunch up here once a month with live classical music for a long time. That and open a typically English tea room – I want to make good use of this space.”

Other plans include a residential language school in the not too distant future, that looks sure to be a success. Looking out from the main room to a panoramic view of Guanabara Bay – through the very wall that Hulk himself climbed up – and seeing the Star Wars-esque lay out of the rooms on the roof, the idea of staying in this little corner of quintessentially Carioca paradise for a month is instantly appealing.

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