Favela Jazz at The Maze

By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Maze is aptly named. Not that the renowned guest house in the Tavares Bastos favela above Catete is especially difficult to find, for Rua Tavares Bastos winds and bends all the way up the hill from the main road Bento Lisboa near Catete Metro Station.

The band jamming at Jazz at The Maze in July 2010, photo by Felicity Clarke.

Rather that upon reaching the community at the top, a left turn takes you on one of those mysterious single file passageways created by haphazard three story buildings in close proximity. Follow the arrows, look for a sign on the floor and, if you’re lucky, you’re at The Maze.

Acclaimed as one of the more unusual accommodation experiences in Rio, The Maze has been home and castle to Englishman Bob Nadkarni for nigh on thirty years. As well as successfully campaigning for the installation of the BOPE in the favela, creating positive visibility and opportunities for the community and providing a unique tourist experience, Bob has made The Maze a hot spot on the nightlife culture map of Rio with his hugely popular monthly jazz nights.

Taking place the first Friday of every month, Jazz at The Maze started out in 2006 as a way for Bob to cure some rather specific saudades: “I used to be in a jazz band in England and it’s one of the only things I miss so I decided to bring it here. Twelve people came to the first night. Now we’ve just celebrated our fourth birthday and get crowds of five hundred people every month”.

The growth of the night’s cult status is not surprising. Jazz at The Maze is a curious event, with the playing of a genre with roots in early twentieth-century New Orleans in the context of a Rio favela. With a focus on romantic jazz, most of the tunes played at Jazz at The Maze were composed between the 1920s and 1960s and recorded by artists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. In an open jam session that has brought together amateur musicians from all over the world, the changing band and vocalists swing through a series of songs, improvisations and raw, soulful sounds.

For Bob, whose generosity of spirit and warm, welcoming banter make him a popular character and perfect host, the music is an obvious passion. “There are only twelve notes in western music and it’s amazing what you can do with them”, he enthuses. “Jazz is about friends meeting and it’s about playing in a sense. A game or a conversation between the musicians that crosses all cultural barriers.”

Singer Nuria Pucci performed a selection of jazz classics, photo by Felicity Clarke.

As Argentinian singer Nuria Pucci’s nonchalant rasp soars through the space in an almost funky version of Gershwin’s Summertime, it’s clear that Jazz at The Maze is a serious musical offering. But what draws the mixed crowd of middle to upper class Cariocas, expats and international visitors is the whole experience.

The ‘edgy’ favela location is part of it, but equally The Maze’s fascinating magical-cavern character adorned with Bob’s Francis Bacon-esque artwork and the mesmerizing view over Guanabara Bay create a setting genuinely like no other.

Which brings us back to that name. Labyrinthine in structure, The Maze both dazes and amazes, but far from confusing, the monthly jazz nights (and rock ‘n’ roll band nights every third Friday of the month) create a pleasingly laid-back atmosphere and tangible vibe of enjoyment throughout the crowd. Jazz in the favela: a puzzling prospect that’s a resounding success.

Jazz at The Maze, every first Friday of the month, Rua Taveres Bastos, 414 casa 6, entrance R$30. You are advised not to take your car as there’s nowhere to park and transport up and down the hill is available all night.

9 Responses to "Favela Jazz at The Maze"

  1. geraldine denise kuss  July 7, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    I was somewhat surprised that Felicity Clarke referrs to the guest house in Tavares Bastos as being “INFAMOUS”. Does she REALLY mean that it is , as the dictionary says, nefarious, wicked, heinous, outrageous, detestable,odious? All of which are synonyms of the word “Infamous” OR could it be that she made a mistake? I prefer to think the latter, but I think there should be a note explaining this in the next edition. The guest is is, picturesque, comfortable and interesting cutural experience, and definately NOT infamous.

  2. Doug Gray  July 9, 2010 at 6:20 AM

    Unfortunately that was an editing change not originally in Felicity’s text, and I hope that anybody reading the full article would realize she fell in love with the building, admires what Bob has achieved, and utterly enjoyed the evening, rather than any of the above dictionary definitions. Having heard about the place myself long before arriving in Rio, had my interest piqued, been there several times since and known people who stayed there a long time, I was trying to conjure up more of an idea that it was a word-of-mouth location that conjures up a certain mystery and intrigue. I just used the wrong word, sorry

  3. CB  July 9, 2010 at 7:15 AM

    you forgot to mention the R$8.50 warm beer (after paying the $R30 entrance to a property with no rent, planning etc etc), mosquitos, the lack of ventilation in summer, the mediocre music and the 45min queue to pay on leaving. The maze is definitely the victim of its own success; it was interesting when opened a few years ago, but now a haunt for gringos who know no better and think they are cool and edgy coz they go to a favela…
    There are a lot better and cheaper places with better (and Brazilian) music in Lapa…
    The maze – value for money 0/10

  4. Kate Stewart  July 12, 2010 at 3:49 AM

    I have been twice (4/2009 & 5/2010) to The Maze Inn, both times arriving by 9:30pm, and leaving around 11:30pm. I am charmed, love the view and the international crowd, many of whom were on their fist visit to Rio

    I was alarmed during my last vist as the crowd increased to a level that I considered a safety hazard. I could pay the R$30, but I preferred the prior year, when it was free entry before 10pm, and after 10pm the fee was R$20. I can only guess that Bob is trying to cull the crowd by natural attrition.

    Upon leaving, there was such a traffic jam that taxis were backing down a side street, to allow the other taxis & mini-vans to come up.
    This was caused by cars parked on the top third of the road, along both sides, reducing the traffic to one lane. This was not the situation last year. This is a recipe for disaster – no emergency vehicle would be able to pass – not an ambulance, not a fire truck, not a policman.
    Lastly, I understand that the BOPE were to move to another favela last month (June 2010). do you know if they moved?
    Unfortunately, due to the two congested situations (inside & the road), I do not plan to return, or to direct my guests to The Maze Inn.

  5. Bob Nadkarni and family  July 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Quite right about the crowds. In April it had got out of hand (over 700 of you came) and Malu and I hadn´t got the heart to bar people at the door when they´d come all the way up. We´ve quadrupled the singers, trebled the bathrooms and the staff (community people), gone from one bar to three, put more seating on the veranda, but however hard we work we can´t increase the space. We do the jazz nights because we love it, and it seem like you all do too. So, yes, and with regrets, we upped the price from R$20 to R$30 and it made the whole night better for everyone. As for the access, the road has been torn up to be restored (National Heritage) and it should be finished soon. By the way, our beers aren´t long necks like down in Lapa clubs- they´re big bottles which, slurp for slurp, are cheaper than Lapa.

    Just as we ask you all to leave you cars at home and enjoy the caipirinhas without being a threat to others, we make no aplogies for not allowing drugs use here because we have stuck our necks out and spent 20 years freeing a community of traffickers, dirty cops and guns (which is why you can all come here) and anyway, it´s our family home and we don´t want our little kids exposed to that. Maybe we never imagined our family would grow so much, but, for all of you who have adopted us, and vice versa, the amazing Maze is your home too for at least one long night every month.

    You´ll be glad to hear that when the BOPE relocates to Maré, the special police training will remain here and Brazil´s Special Forces and UN Troops will continue to be trained in our little streets. What we started 20 years ago is spreading to rid the lives of every one of you of the cancer of drugs traffic. We don´t just build creative spaces, hang concerned works of art, play fun jazz and shake a mean caipirinha, we´re a way of life which we want you all to be part of, here in the MAZE and in your own neibourhoods too.

    Bob, Malu, Bruno, Lucy and Eric Nadkarni

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  7. Norman Hirsch  February 11, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    Hi Bob & Family:
    From what I read you are doing a great thing in Rio, not only cleaning up the traffickers but also providing nice entertainment where people can still experience the favela relatively safely. For those reasons, I’m hoping to be there on March 4th, 2011. I hope you will have bossa nova music!!!
    –Norman & Julie

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