Singing for Amarildo

Last night, my friend Daniel invited me to attend a concert by legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso and the lovely Marisa Monte. The show was held in the heart of Lapa, the Rio neighborhood known for its samba nightclubs and open-air bacchanalia.

As we crowded in through the gates of Circo Voador, one of the best venues for live music in Rio, we were handed a plastic mask. It was the face of a black man with thick eyebrows and a hint of a mustache. When I put it on, the mask covered my entire face. If Daniel weren't much taller than me, we would have looked like twins. Everyone around us had a mask, everyone around us had become Amarildo. 

Daniel, Diego and me with Amarildo mask/Photo courtesy: Vinicius Fadel

Daniel, Diego and me with Amarildo mask/Photo courtesy: Vinicius Fadel

Amarildo de Souza was a 42-year-old laborer from Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil. He went missing in July after police took him in for questioning. The officers were members of the recently inaugurated UPP, or Pacifying Police Unit, a state government program focused on squashing the leadership of drug cartels in the impoverished neighborhoods and replacing them with community policing. It was and continues to be one of the main projects put in place to prepare Rio for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

Amarildo's face and name quickly became symbols of the protest movement that began shortly before the 2013 Confederations Cup last June. From the Oscar Niemeyer-designed bridge at the foot of his hillside home to the historic city center, hundreds of thousands of people protested against the government mismanagement of funds from the mega events, violence and corruption.

Last night, the Circo Voador crowd chanted "Out Cabral," demanding the resignation of Rio Governor Sergio Cabral between songs. In addition to celebrities like OSKLEN designer Oskar Metsavaht and model Fernanda Lima, Amarildo's widow and two of his children were also in the crowd.

Four officers told TV Globo's Bom Dia Rio Amarildo was tortured for forty minutes before being killed. His body is still missing. According to local reports, it was taken out of the favela in a motorcycle cover and vanished. Twenty-five police officers have already been questioned for their involvement in the case including Edson Santos, the unit's commander.

As the show came to an end Marisa Monte asked everyone in the crowd to put on the mask, as she sang the Martinho da Vila classic "Canta Canta Minha Gente" (which translates to "Sing, Sing my People"). The earnings of the show, which was organized by the group "We are all Amarildo," were given to the Institute for Development and Human Rights which has been helping Amarildo's family and others in similar situations, as well as conducting independent investigations in these missing person cases.

Marisa Monte and Caetano Veloso during November 20 show in Circo Voador, RJ/Photo Courtesy: Diego Galeano

Marisa Monte and Caetano Veloso during November 20 show in Circo Voador, RJ/Photo Courtesy: Diego Galeano