I have spent the last week performing and speaking in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I was invited by the United Nations Foundation to present at Rio+Social, a forum where activists, politicians, moguls and artists discuss how social media and new technologies can serve the greater good. It’s part of Rio+20, the U.N.’s conference on sustainable development. I’ve been performing alongside producer and DJ Apple Juice Kid (aka Stephen Levitin), with whom I teach a Beat Making Lab in the music department at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Rio is beautiful. Gorgeous landscapes, delicious foods and welcoming people have made this an incredible experience. I’m a Durham native, and I love my hometown, but Rio has reminded me that travel is one of the most important things a person can do.
Travel is maximized when exchange takes place – when one connects with people and each party takes something from the other. It’s like creating good music. The more artists bring their unique experiences to the table, the higher the possibility for robust collaboration.
During our performances in Rio I’ve tried to channel the diversity and creativity of Durham culture. While Apple Juice Kid DJs, remixes and mashes American beats, with vocals from Sergio Mendes and Brazilian Baile Funk, I improvise, sing, sample and rap. On several occasions we have invited Brazilian drummers and percussion players to join us, enhancing the cultural exchange.
Another important aspect of travel is being in the company of good people, preferably locals. Apple Juice and I could easily have chosen to be picked up from the airport by U.N. handlers, and driven to a local hotel. We could have ordered the continental breakfast and taken a shuttle to and from official Rio+20 events. We live in a globalized world where it is easy to succumb to the convenience and comfort of familiarity. But what fun is that? I didn’t come to Brazil to sleep at the Hilton, and eat eggs and bacon for breakfast.
Our Brazilian ambassadors were the Borges – a Triangle-based family whose eldest daughter attended Durham Academy with my wife. The patriarch, Salvador Borges, is a cardiologist at Duke Hospital who has lived in the Triangle for two decades, and travels to back to Brazil several times a year. The family graciously agreed to host me and Apple Juice Kid during our stay and I am deeply grateful. I am not only appreciative of the family for its hospitality but also thankful to live in such a diverse community. People from all over the world find a second home in Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill, bringing their customs, rituals, culture and experience with them to North Carolina.
The Borges have provided intimate exposure to Brazil, which has extended far beyond Rio’s borders. I’ve seen lush mountains erupting out of sandy beaches in Niteroi. I have eaten delicious, organic guava, pinha, banana and sugar cane straight off the trees in Itacoatiara. And the meat. Oh my. I’ve tasted the most delicious home-cooked Brazilian churrascaria in Angra Dos Reis. Drenched in sea salt and cooked to perfection these slivers of tender beef melt in your mouth accompanied by fresh, garlic-infused rice, beans and vegetables. Muito bom (Portuguese translation: very good).
But some of our best time in Brazil has been spent in Rio. On our second night here we found ourselves in Larangeiras, Rio at Salvador Square. There was a mix of cultures, hipsters and international residents hanging out there. It was about midnight. Apple Juice took out his djimbe and we started an impromptu performance on the street. After a few minutes some of the locals joined in. One of our new friends turned an empty film reel into a tambourine. Another turned a wooden box into a kajon, slapping polyrhythms with his fingers and palms. I improvised at the top of my lungs, mixing Brazilian anthems with American ones, alongside dozens of our new friends and complete strangers well into the night.
It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time.