Mixing, scratching, spinning: A new DJ school in favela Rocinha shows young people how to become a DJ.
In Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, the music never dies: 80ies-Hits, songs from the northeast of Brazil and latest funk raps are pouring out of small bars and shops lining the main street, the hundreds of brick houses, a buzzing sound escorts some of the mini-vans and cars driving by and young people walking up the steep hill are listening to their earphones.
Also 20-year-old Ramon is standing behind DJ decks in one of the houses at the main street, smoothly blending a spanish Dance-Hit together with a faster electro track for several minutes, without a break. Ramon didn`t even have to pre-listen the second song – the blinking lights at the mixer and his laptop told him everything he had to know for that perfect demonstration of digital DJing.
It is the start of a lesson, at Rocinha`s new DJ school „Spin Rocinha“. Since last August young people from the favela community have been learning how to become a DJ, attenting sessions twice a week. Three young men and a 16-year-old girl are attentively watching every move of their teacher Ramon. „It`s pretty easy“, motivates Ramon them. „You just have to keep the rhythm and the speed of the two songs, you want to mix together, in mind.“
Still a difficult art for the DJ students, no problem for Ramon: The Rocinha boy started to experiment with DJ sets at the age of 13. Now, with seven years of experience, he earns his money as a professional DJ and music producer.
Alike around 30 other DJs in Rocinha are able to make a living from DJing. But being a youngster interested in a DJ career is still very difficult in Rocinha – due to the expensive equipment a DJ needs. A luxury most families in the favela are not able to afford.
With the DJ school „Spin Rocinha“ its founder DJ Zezinho wants to give young people from the community a free and easy access to equipment and knowledge. „Some are just curious, others are really interested in a DJ career“, the 49-year-old Rocinha resident says.
For Zezinho, music can also be an empowerment tool for the young and a way to deal with their experiences growing up in the favela – embracing aspects like discrimination but also favela culture, creativity and the special community sense.
„We already have a lot of projects here like football, capoeira lessons or art“, says Zezinho. „But it can never be enough.“ In the past Rocinha residents had often adressed the Brazilian-American, who also lived in San Francisco a couple of years, to open an English school in Rocinha. „But I wanted to do something that is my passion“, he says.
Zezinho considers music to be an integral part of favela culture: „People love music here, music is an enjoyment, a moodchanger – it can elevate you from feeling down to feeling better, distract you from suffering.“ The DJ school, Zezinho explains, should show the love for music and DJ culture that already exists in the favela – and spread it.
Of the twelve current students of the DJ school, of whom mostly four to eight show up at a lesson, some had practised DJing before, some just started like 16-year-old Iris. „Music is important for me“, says the 16-years-old. „When I heard of the DJ school I just joined in.“
Teacher Ramon explains everything from scratch: the cables, the functions of the mixer, tricks for mixing, the structure of tracks. But he also gives backround information, mentions the history of the favela funk – the often discriminated but also discriminating sound that tells about sex, drugs and the gangs but also everyday life.
Funk is not the only music the young DJs will become familiar with here: „The work of a DJ starts with studying music“, Ramon says. „The DJ has to listen to the music at the streets and at partys, he has to get Rock, Electronic music, brasilian styles like Forró or Pagode, everything.“
A lot of improvisation
The students also experiment at the DJ set themselves. „That`s the best way to learn it“, says Zezinho. Just do it – a typical favela approach. Also the school itself is run with a lot of improvisation, lessons take place in Zezinhos apartment at the moment. „We are just beginning“, Zezinho says. „We need a place, we need more equipment.“ He is proud that he managed to buy basic equipment – with money he earned from his favela tours, by guiding foreigners through the favela.
Despite the school still being in its beginning, it already spread word: Other favelas already requested if Zezinho couldn`t support them to install DJ schools in their favelas, too. „But first I want to get this project right“, Zezinho says. „And then I want to spread it.“
It is almost ten o`clock as the lesson ends and the young DJ-aspirants hurry home. At the streets and in the small alleyways of Rocinha the music doesn`t stop.
# Project: Non-Profit DJ school with weekly lessons aiming at empowering and educating music loving teens
# People: The DJ school welcomes (international/brazilian) DJs who want to contribute their skills (also for just one session), music-lovers with a faible for fundraising (equipment), people who want to book the young DJs for their birthday partys, people who want to support the DJ school with DJ equipment
# Place: “Spin Rocinha” is located at the main road of Rios largest Favela, Rocinha (“pacified”), and quite easy to find.