João Jorge Santos Rodrigues
Fellow Since 1989
Grupo Cultural OLODUM
This profile was prepared when João Jorge Santos Rodrigues was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
In 1986 Joao Jorge electrified the Salvador Carnival. The local group he had helped revive, Olodum, entered the competition with a display heralding prominent blacks in early Egyptian history. The newspapers debated the history and the appropriateness of using Carnival for such social ends for days. Although Olodum did not win the Carnival competition, its message touched a nerve, and the music it created to carry the message is still popular.Joao Jorge joined Olodum in 1983 after failing to get several other neighborhood groups to grow beyond their one-purpose (social or Carnival), typically one-person-dominated limits. He helped Olodum broaden its leadership by giving it a democratic legal framework. He helped it take up and sustain the fight to preserve its neighborhood, part of the historic (black) core of the city and a major cultural center, in the face of politically-aided commercial pressures. He helped it develop education programs for children, adolescents, and adults. For example, Olodum's marching massed base drums, a highly successful element of its program for adolescents, is increasingly famous across Brazil, especially in its black communities.Joao Jorge, Olodum, and the other groups he's influencing are also increasingly concerned with the economics of their and their communities cultural output. Carnival produces enormous revenues. Shouldn't a good part of it come to their communities? Shouldn't they create their own multigroup Carnival buying and manufacturing cooperative to cut costs and create jobs? Shouldn't they capture more of the economic benefit of the music they create by producing and distributing their own recordings?Joao Jorge's answer to all these questions is "yes". He's started to demonstrate practically how community black culture groups can capture much more of the economic benefits of what they're creating. He's created the legal framework for Olodum and others that's a prerequisite to adding this commercial dimension, Olodum has started producing and distributing its own recordings, using its media expertise to profitable effect in the process. He hopes to pursue other ideas over the next years.Underpinning all these results are the two core changes Joao Jorge is bringing to grassroots culture groups: sharply enhanced institutional capacity and very significant social awareness and involvement. When he discusses the results of his six years' work with Olodum, Joao Jorge talks with particular pride of how its many programs have "formed people who are active in the full range of movements" and of how those "who came to Olodum as fourteen year old adolescents are emerging now as leaders". The group's transformation for him was symbolized when it was able to hold its own intellectually in the debate about Egyptian history that followed its 1986 Carnival statement.Joao Jorge feels he's mastered an important set of skills and that he's demonstrated an approach that could help the disadvantaged black half of Brazilian society significantly. Over the next several years he'll continue to experiment with and develop the approach in his Salvador base, but increasingly he'll be focusing his efforts on spreading it nationally. News of parts of his work has already spread to some black community groups in Rio and elsewhere, but the sort of institutional change Joao Jorge is seeking requires more than that. He'll provide direct help to key groups in other cities. And he'd like to experiment with ideas such as creating a network to encourage exchange and cooperation between leaders of sympathetic cultural and Carnival groups, anti-racism organizations, and groups working for poor children.