By Juliana Tafur, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – In a notoriously violent favela in Rio’s North Zone lives a thirteen-year-old boy named Eric Marley. His early childhood in the Terra Encantada (Enchanted Land) slum was plagued by gang violence. Drug lords were his role models; police officers his enemies, and guns carved out of wood his favorite toys.
“I used to play games imitating drug traffickers,” Marley recalls. “I found their lifestyle appealing and believed I was going to follow in their footsteps when I grew up.”
But at the age of nine, Maria Black band guitarist Daniel Sant Anna came into the boy’s world and introduced him to music. The tunes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Tom Jobim soon replaced the violent lyrics of Brazilian rap, known as ‘funk’.
“It was hard to learn the musical notes, but Daniel was very patient. He never told me I couldn’t do it, so he gave me hope,” Marley says. “Also, unlike funk, this type of music calmed me down.”
But the moment of truth came when the boy had to choose between a bicycle and an acoustic guitar for a Christmas present. While most other kids his age would have opted for the bicycle, Marley did not. “I liked playing the guitar more than anything in the world,” he says.
And he wasn’t alone. Sant Anna started a guitar school in Terra Encantada, and the number of pupils reached thirty in its first year. They formed a guitar ensemble ‘Violões Encantados’ (Enchanted Guitars), which received enormous support from the community.
“In the beginning I wanted to focus only on music, but I later realized that the kids had to learn other things in terms of behavior, such as not to drop litter or shout, since older people here don’t teach them these things,” says Sant Anna.
As well as their teacher, the 39-year-old guitarist became their friend and mentor. This relationship, in exchange, has had an irreversible impact on the lives of kids like Marley. “Before I met Daniel I didn’t stay at home and didn’t like to study,” he says. Now, the thirteen-year-old is more focused and is doing well at school.
When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Marley says, “I’m not interested in being a drug trafficker anymore, but I don’t want to be a police officer either. I want to be a musician; I want to be like Daniel.” And with proof of a promising career, he adds: “Now we even have a band!”
Come November, Marley will have something else to add to his resume. In celebration of the five-year anniversary of Violões Encantados, the release of a music DVD is in the works. The video has already been filmed and Sant Anna is now selecting the songs to be included in the production. He is also seeking corporate sponsors, hoping that all proceeds will go towards new equipment for the music school.
“Launching our own DVD will be a very big step for us,” says Marley. “For me, being part of the guitar ensemble is a dream come true.”