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Q & A: Seu Jorge

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The Scene meets Rio de Janeiro-born musician and actor Seu Jorge to hear how music offered him an escape from homelessness and the favelas.

The Scene: How would you describe the people of Rio?

Seu Jorge: The people are happy sometimes and sometimes not so happy. Sometimes they're sleepy and sometimes they wake up. I like the Brazilian people in general and especially these people as Rio de Janeiro is my home. Especially the simple people. They have many troubles and problems but they have more sentiment. People here fight every day for survival with a smile, survival with a samba, survival with your family. Sometimes they don't have enough to eat but everybody helps each other. It's a great inspiration and the greatest culture. It's a good life.

TS: What inspires your music?

SJ: For me, my own music is all about bass, God and love. But all artists today have another responsibility to talk about social issues. My inspiration is the people of this city. They are real people. I talk about the fruits, the flowers, especially the lifestyle. This lifestyle doesn't have any mother -- it's original style. My music is all about emotion. It's not about the technical side. I prefer playing universal music, not territorial music or national music. That emotion everywhere here.

TS: Do you prefer playing live?

SJ: I like to mix it up all the time. I don't think of it as a career or job. I don't have a promoter. Okay, I record CDs but I don't have labels. I'm not managed. I make movies but I accept invitations when people ask me to make movies. I decide after seeing the script whether I'm going to do it or not.

TS: Tell us about Brazilian music

SJ: Brazil is a very big country, like a continent, speaking the same language but with different accents and different regions. As the accents change the music changes, the style changes, the culture changes. Bossa nova is the special music, but with a jazzy influence, with some samba in the mix. It's the music from Ipanema. Maracatu is the music from the north west. We have so much music. One guy who I really admire is [jazz musician] Hermeto Pascual. He's the universal sound of Brazil.

TS: How did you start playing music?

SJ: Ever since I was 10 years old my dream was to be a musician. My father was a musician, a rhythmist playing tambourines, drums... he worked in one park, playing the stage for maybe three or four years and I used to go and see him play. After my brother was murdered I ended up living on the street because my mother needed to sell my home. While I was on the street I met my musical partner, Gabriel Moura, who was playing guitar and singing in bars and I learnt to play from him. Two years later I joined a theatre company because Gabriel Moura invited me for a singing audition. I never thought about making money. I started playing music as a passion. After my brother died I was very, very hungry, very, very sad and I wanted revenge. My friend put hope in my heart. I changed my mind and I found a friend with the music and I played guitar for the people. My first band, Farofa Carioca, played on the beach for free.

TS: What's your relationship with Rio?

SJ: I was born here. My relationship is especially with the culture, the music, the football, the poor people and the social projects. This city has had many, many, many troubles. It's completely impossible if you're here not to see that. The political culture is not good. A couple of weeks ago Rio de Janeiro received the Rolling Stones. That's an amazing change because they are superstars. It's not fashion, it's roots music. One million people saw this concert for free. The beach is for everybody. But there was a 100-meter VIP area for Brazilian stars and I hate that. Two things this year are very important. One is the World Cup. And the finish of the World Cup will be the start of a new election process for the president of Brazil. That's a bad thing because now the people have no trust in anybody.

TS: You've helped set up musical projects for children in the favelas. That's obviously very important to you.

SJ: My passion for music started when I was 10 years old but I started to learn music when I was 20. Today I see kids of eight, 10 or 12 starting their careers in music. That for me is very important. It's impossible to make enemies through music, only friends. It's not that everyone will be successful with music but music will make successes of these people. Music builds character, strong personalities. The important thing it says to these kids is that money is important but it's not all, fame is important but it's not all, success is important but it's not all. Importance is your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your neighborhood, your morals. Don't lose anything like that for money, for fame, for success. Please don't do that because after you've lost those you've lost completely.


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