Brazil's Deep Divisions Are Symbolized By Musician's Murder

Dec 27, 2018
Originally published on December 27, 2018 8:08 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as president on New Year's Day. He is a veteran congressman from the far right with a record of saying denigrating things about gender and race. His rise to power polarized Brazil. In northeast Brazil, those divisions are symbolized by a particular incident. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story from the city of Salvador.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: We're next to a kind of shrine. On the wall beside us by some steps, a portrait is painted in bright colors of an Afro-Brazilian man. This man was stabbed to death a few yards away. Everyone here knows him as Mestre Moa do Katende. His daughter, Samonair da Costa (ph), is here. She points at her father's picture.

SAMONAIR DA COSTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "He was an icon in Brazil and around the world" says Da Costa.

S. DA COSTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Every time I walk down these steps, I stop and talk to him a little," she says. Salvador is a hub of Afro-Brazilian culture. Mestre Moa is celebrated here as an expert in capoeira, a fusion of ritual combat, dance and music that came to Brazil with the slave trade. Moa was a master of this art, thus the title Mestre. His real name's Romualdo Rosario Da Costa.

On the other side of this city, in a hard-scrabble neighborhood by the sea, there's another big capoeira mestre, Cobra Mansa, real name, Cinezio Pecanha. He's followed Moa's career closely.

CINEZIO PECANHA: One thing is, Moa was well-known not just in Brazil - all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADAUE ARALECOLE")

ROMUALDO ROSARIO DA COSTA: (Singing in foreign language).

PECANHA: I don't think his name is going to be forgotten forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADAUE ARALECOLE")

R. DA COSTA: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: Moa was also a musician, says Pecanha. You're listening to Moa now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADAUE ARALECOLE")

R. DA COSTA: (Singing in foreign language).

PECANHA: When I knew about his death, it shocked me too much. What shocked me was my brother was killed. You know, I feel like, I don't know, something's changed inside me on the day he died.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADAUE ARALECOLE")

R. DA COSTA: (Singing in foreign language).

PECANHA: And when I went to see, you know, him in the cemetery, I was like, look at his face. Like, how this can happen, man?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADAUE ARALECOLE")

R. DA COSTA: (Singing in foreign language).

PECANHA: He was teaching kids capoeira. That, for me, was the important part of his life, when he was inspiring all the young people to get off from the trafficking, from the drugs, and to do something positive for his society because he was a symbol of that. That's what I think shocked me, that the guy who killed Moa was a black guy.

REEVES: Mestre Moa, who was 63, was killed on the night of October the 7. That's the day Brazil held the first round of its presidential election. Jair Bolsonaro almost won outright. Moa was in a bar close by that wall that's now a shrine.

MILENA CALMON: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: That's detective Milena Calmon, who investigated his case. She says a man walked into the bar and began talking about how great it was that Bolsonaro did so well. Moa strongly disagreed. He and the man got into an argument. This escalated. The man left and returned with a kitchen knife.

CALMON: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Detective Calmon says Moa was stabbed 13 times. His alleged attacker was arrested soon afterwards. This killing caused a huge outcry.

CALMON: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Calmon says the city of Salvador was shaken because Moa was seen as a force for good who ran social projects and looked after the vulnerable and poor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) We don't need no education.

REEVES: A few days later, Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, performed a show in a huge soccer stadium in Salvador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGER WATERS: Of course, you all know, was brutally murdered...

REEVES: It became clear how much Moa's life matters around here when Waters made a tearful tribute to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATERS: He was a great example to believers in spreading love and humanity and empathy and courage.

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: The applause went on...

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: ...And on.

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: Mestre Moa was part of a group of musicians who brought a new rhythm to Brazil's Carnival, coupling it with a special flavor of Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion.

JAIME BARRETO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: That's Moa's cousin, Jaime Barreto (ph).

BARRETO: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Three days after Moa's death, Barreto wrote a song paying tribute to him. Barreto still struggles to get through it.

BARRETO: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Mestre Moa was a friend of one of the giants of Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso, who famously defied Brazil's past military dictatorship, a period Bolsonaro admires. Veloso also has a song about Moa's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESTRE MOA")

CAETANO VELOSO: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Bolsonaro will be sworn into office in Brazil on Tuesday, after the most acrimonious presidential election anyone here can remember. Moa's killing was part of a surge of violence that occurred during the election campaign. Brazil is awash with stories of families divided and friendships destroyed. There's intense hostility between left and right, stoked by the Internet. Bolsonaro now talks of unifying Brazilians. This doesn't seem to be allaying concerns that this hostility will endure and that Mestre Moa might not be its last victim.

BARRETO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Mestre Moa's cousin, Jaime Barreto, says he never imagined a situation like this happening in Brazil, and this really frightens him.

BARRETO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Moa's death shocked everyone," says Barreto. "It should serve as proof," he says, "that people have to break out of this wave of hate."

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Salvador.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONO'S "ELY'S HEARTBEAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.