fugitive frequency, season 2, episode 10: radio em fuga, São Paulo

Brazilian politician Marina Silva poses for a camera with a supporter who is clutching a sign declaring "VOTE PELO CLIMA!"

fugitive radio landed in São Paulo, Brazil in the midst of the 2022 presidential election, taking up residence in the Bixiga neighbourhood where it is being hosted by Lanchonete.org at Conjuntos Santos Dumont. This episode of fugitive frequency is a collage of sounds collected around central São Paulo in the days leading up to the October 2 election, which was inconclusive. A run off election is scheduled for 30 October between the two remaining presidential candidates — the incumbent ultra-nationalist Jair Bolsonaro and former-president representing the workers party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known simply as Lula.

Music is what first piqued my interest in Brazil when I was teenager. When I was last here, during the 2018 presidential elections, my language tutors would often emphasise that the folk and popular music of Brazil kept a social history of the country that had been a dictatorship for much of its existence and in which illiteracy was still relatively high. As I was making these recordings, I sought to tease out the musicality of the everyday, however listening back I recognised a familiar melody threaded through most of my recordings. “Olé olé-olé olé…” As Marina Marchesan [Instagram] pointed out to me, it is a familiar football chant re-purposed for the iconic statesman Lula. I wonder if any other politician has a catchy jingle, and one that is so readily incorporated into any number of genres? (Out walking one morning I found myself among a Lula blocco in Bixiga where this anthem was impressed into my conscience. Also, kudos to Clarissa Aidar [Instagram] for inviting me to the Pensante Monde blocco carnaval rehearsal soon after where this melody was once again played.)

Melody, and in particular catchy jingles, are a recurring motif of this podcast that captures some of the soundscape/soundclash of this Latin American megacity. Device notifications, arguably jingles of sorts, disrupt the playback of regional pop songs in local bars. Noise—traffic, alarms and the distortion of audio equipment— textures these recordings, sometimes punctuating the sound in amusing ways. In a networked world where we are all ‘prosumers’, people’s reactions to my microphone reveals something about our relationship to audio/media culture, for example when a group of boys break our conversation to speak directly into my microphone.

Language (and translation) emerges as another theme, as at times speakers of português and english overlap. As a português language-learner I certainly don’t understand all that is being discussed, and I’ve found that different strands of information and meaning emerge by listening between languages, sounds and music (I think of discussions around noise/signal/information). For example, early in the podcast is a recording of Marina Silva (main image) addressing a climate justice rally on Friday 23 September via a troublesome sound system. Silva is a politician with Rede Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network) REDE. She was formerly Environment Minister in Lula’s government (2003–2008), a presidential candidate (2014) and is world renown for her environmental activism. When editing, I often find myself listening to the sound of the recording rather than what is being said; for its musicality or ‘charisma’.

Another section documents a songwriting workshop led Gabriel Edé [Instagram] and Vitor Wutzki [Instagram] for Radio Santos Dumont, 1 October. Sheltering from the rain in Luduina’s fruit and vegetable shop as other activities, conversations and exchanges continued on around them, Edé and Wutzki’s workshop culminated in the performance of ‘Carro e Dágua’ (circa 36 mins) with the local youth: Pitter, Thiago and Gabriel.

Towards the end of the podcast is a recording of Cicero D. Silva and his band busking on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of Avenida Paulista. With the major corridor free of car traffic for some hours, I drifted into this trio of elderly men performing hypnotic music on drum, triangle and piano accordion.

Cicero D. Silva and band busking on Avinida Paulista. Three elderly men in peasnat hats and patterned shirts perform in fron of a metal structure covered in graffiti tags. From left to the right the men play a raound drum, a piano accordian and a triangle. A suitcase is propped open before them for contributions.
Cicero D. Silva and band busking on Avinida Paulista.

Many thanks to the residents of Conjunto Santos Dumont for their hospitality and a special mention to Todd Lanier Lester [Instagram] and Andrew O’Conner [Instagram], the architects of Radio Santos Dumont.

fugitive radio: radio em fuga in Brazil is supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.

To make a community radio

Two walls form a corner at the rear of Conjuntos Santos Dumont, São Paulo. A shadowy figure stands with their back to us, affixing posters to the wall.

Radio Santos Dumont launched on Saturday 17 September 2022. Andrew O’Conner installed FM transmitters located at three different stations along the internal roadway, including in Tarcisio’s bar and Liduina’s fruit and vegetable shop. These are broadcasting interviews Andrew had recorded with residents some months earlier, effectively collecting some oral histories of this particular enclave in the megalopolis of São Paulo. Andrew and Todd Lanier Lester from Lanchonte.org had invited Marina and Fernanda of Publication Studio to run a poster-making workshop using stamps to engage with local children. The night before I’d assisted Liduina and her daughter Rosa in making trays of ‘gnocchi’ (made with flour, milk, salt and oil, but not potatoes!).

Two images of an elderly making pasta.  She is wearing a black jacket and jeans, with her hair under a net The first image she is needing the dough. In the second she is displaying a tray full of freshly made gnocchi.

Friends of Lanchonete.org came by during the afternoon, including Carol Godefroid who took photographs and her son Gabriel Carnelós who will also join our upcoming event on October 1 & 2. Todd and I have been out talking to residents and putting up posters promoting the event that alongside Andrew’s radio installation also features: Itinero Grapho’s Kombi printing press, a DIY/DWO percussion instrument making workshop with New York-based documentary film and radio maker Amber Cortes, a songwriting workshop with musicians Gabriel Edé and Vitor Wutzi from São Paulo and BYO t-shirt screen printing that I’m learning via trial and error and will manage on the day with illustrator and animator Carl Nelson, who will also be arriving from New York. There will be music — I’m working on Ketchupe DJ — and we also hope to make some more recordings on the day around these different activities.

I’ve also been thinking about how this radio intervention — our festa do rádio – is a critical urban practice. There has been some discussion around lumbung radio how online radio occupies and reclaims digital space, with minimal bandwidth and audio formats that don’t demand the same kind of attention as (audio)visual media. fugitive radio often claims that these days ‘everyone has a podcast but who is listening?’. The notion that ‘noone is listening’ shifts fugitive radio’s emphasis on radio making as a social practice with technology rather than as a production task. fugitive radio aligns with Helsinki Open Waves in its interest in migrant voices and with collaborators such as {openradio} and the aforementioned lumbung radio in emphasising open content and using free and open source tools. As such, fugitive radio may not make what by convention constitutes ‘well-produced’ radio content, but rather has made a political decision to work with certain people and technologies. Indeed community-based media in itself could be understood as a critique of corporate media, and especially media monopolies such as Grupo Globo in Brazil.

So how do such ideas arrive in Conjuntos Santos Dumont, where I have only a rudimentary grasp of the language; where I have been introduced to only a handful of people who may not have any interest in or access to such technologies? What is fugitive radio doing here?

Certainly fugitive radio has had an interest in Brazil since it began, inspired by the ‘barraca’ beach bars in Rio and protest sound systems that I experienced when I was here during the last presidential election in 2018. It also makes reference to a recent independent feminist server movement emerging out of Latin America that includes vedetas in São Paulo. Lanchonete.org provides an (urban) art context that fugitive radio has entered into and is continuing its practices that include: field recordings, riddim production, conducting interviews and experimenting with live broadcast formats (such as rádio caminho)… and now simple simple silk screen printing. But what does this mean for the residents of Conjuntos Santos Dumont?

Radio Santos Dumont installs a novel radio infrastructure in the lane that threads through the buildings. While Andrew has interviewed locals and has presented a version of what local radio can do, I wonder how they might also access it; perhaps initially as listeners and also as participants/producers? In short, to make community radio first you need a community…don’t you? So it is striking that none of us involved in initiating Radio Santos Dumont actually live there — indeed we are by-and-large gringos, not even from São Paulo. So is Radio Santos Dumont for the (arts) community who support Lanchonete.org? Certainly it is employing locals (both from the conjunto and the city more broadly), so it might pique some interest in a context where funding for experimental social practices is scarce. So then, will a community of sorts emerge from the task of producing the event?

A hand drawn handbill promoting Radio Santos Dumont, encouraging people to ‘bring their talent’, ‘bring their memories’ and ‘bring a t-shirt’.

I am struck by our efforts to engage residents with our radio intervention. After seeing the Radio Santos Dumont design conceived by Todd and finalised by Carl and Thiago Correia Gonçalves, I was compelled to make a silk screen, convinced that if I would want it on a t-shirt, so would others. (I recall Todd mentioning that he thought t-shirts might promote a sense of identity for residents, and that differs from its lingering reputation for drug traffic.) Furthermore, Todd printed off a stack of handbills that I am now giving to people I meet in the elevator at 14 Bis. I am renting out a ‘kitchenete’ in this tallest building of the conjuncto, overlooking the internal laneway — which I’m assured is a quintessential São Paulo experience.

Finally, I must mention the Presidential Elections on October 2, which is arguably the reason so many of us gringos are convening in Conjuncto Santos Dumont — to get a sense of what it is like on the ground and to experience what happens during this historical moment. Brazilians are polarised by the presidential candidates, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and a former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and friends here say they are anxious about the consequences of the election. From what I’ve seen, Conjunto Santos Dumont is no different. While we have not made the elections the focus of Radio Santos Dumont, it will invariably set the context in which it occurs.