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.
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.”
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.