Abel Luiz and the free music workshop., 2011. Archive Suburban Madness

For a “state of the world”: From where you see. From where you learn …1

Abel Luiz

I began attending the Instituto Municipal Nise da Silveira [Nise da Silveira Municipal Institute], then Centro Psiquiátrico Pedro II [[Pedro II Psychiatric Center], regularly in the 1990s, when my family moved from Todos os Santos (the other side of the train line) to Engenho de Dentro.

My family on my mother’s side is from there and the surrounding areas – Piedade, Agua Santa, Encantado, Outeiro, Camarista Méier, etc … – which meant that I not only knew, but also identified with the neighborhood.

I made many friends there. Hanging out together we played ball, table football, marbles. We would fly kites, run through the streets and bushes of the hills, we would go to funk and pagoda parties. And we made small fortunes with the pigeons we sold to the old market Mercadão de Madureira – so small were these fortunes that they were soon spent on street vendors – as we hung out clad in shorts, shirts, flip-flops, runners, caps and other accessories that might have been in keeping with the trends of the time.

In the middle of all this, a regular activity of ours was to play ball in the Centro Psiquiátrico Pedro II, in the field or in the block next to the main entrance on Ramiro Magalhães Street. Consequently, right next to this, the other place where we frequented was the Centro Municipal de Assistência Social Integrada [Municipal Center of Integrated Social Assistance (CEMASI)] Gonzaguinha, where there is also a community center and, at the time, was a hub of the communitarian and “pirate” Radio Revolution.

Many of our friends gathered there. A great place of encounter and transit between the different and difference2 were the classes of Capoeira, taught at the time by the professor –today Master – Rufato.3

In Capoeira all kinds of people met up there – kids, neighbors, “patients”, employees, etc … All kinds of people in the hurried day-to-day and hardships of their different lives came together and, there between diversities and differences, we produced transits.

Over time, the Museu de Imagens de Inconsciente [Museum of Images of the Unconscious], the Club Escolar [School Club], and things that emerged later such as the Bloco Carnavalesco Loucura Suburbana [Surburban Madness Carnival Bloco], the Cantina, the Centros de Atenção Psicossociais (CAPS) [Psychosocial Care Centers known as CAPS] named after the writers Clarice Lispector and Raul Seixas, and other potential services and institutions open to everyone and their transits through life, the city…

Through all this I gained and lost many friends. Relationships that have taught me that we learn to see the world from where are. I have friendships of more than 20 years with people who have gone through much more difficult situations than mine, that give me the opportunity to see how the world has changed – and for the better.

Twenty years ago I met one of these people. He came from an asylum where he suffered all kinds of abuse and violence (sexual, emotional, physical, moral…). I remember he looked like a beast. Similarly, I remember that when I first went to acupuncture, I asked about Chinese medicine and, briefly summarizing, was told that it worked as a sort of ratio of 3 to 1. (For example, if you have a bad night’s sleep, you would need to rest for three days in order to fully recover.).

I heard this and I remembered my friend, and the people who go through 20, 30, 40 years … in asylums like the ones I mentioned earlier – how much time do they need?

At that time, we were fostering what I call the “state of the world,” something that defined our spontaneity. We embraced people as much as we could. And this is the point I want to get to: twenty years after meeting this friend, I met another person, coming from a private asylum that had been prohibited and closed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the same marks of a trajectory of pain and suffering imposed by these places.

Here, it is worth noting that advances concerning issues of racism, sexism, gender, madness, health promotion, human rights, culture, and the many other topics that dialogue with different and diverse ways of being alive, of being and acting in the world with the other, while far from ideal, nevertheless have exceeded the expectations that my friends and I had in the 1980s and 1990s.

Following that train of thought, I saw this most recent friend to whom I was referring once arriving at the locale of Loucura Suburbana. About four years ago, he invaded the Clubo Escolar in the middle of a rhythmic gymnastics class – entering the courtyard where the class was held in the best “Tasmanian Devil” style!

Besides the teacher, there was a stereo and a group of girls in their leotards and ribbons rehearsing their choreography. Grunting, shaking, and visibly excited, he came in and ran down the courtyard until a girl, about 5 years old, came up to him, calmly, gently and securely, handed him a pink ribbon, then turned around and switched on the radio.

As the class rehearsed, my comrade grunted, whirled and freely spun around the rest of the courtyard enjoying the moment – his, theirs, and everyone’s.

Is the Clube Escolar4 part of the Nise de Silveira Institute5? Yes. It’s, currently, located in the set of buildings occupied by Loucura Suburbana.

But just like me, those children, at that moment, did not have any notion – and, probably, not even now! – of the work that was being done there, of the bad things that happened there, and, much less, the poignant themes of life in contemporary society that were being discussed. In that moment they were doing something else, they were spontaneously facing the “state of the world” that is present today. A world with new questions and conversations regarding the different and diverse in the ordinary life of humble people who build it:

The day-to-day of their lives, houses, streets and cities…

The day-to-day lives of surviving extreme suffering by force of their will and right to live…

The day-to-day of reactions of violence and regression show, nothing more, than the despair of the conservative and patriarchal forces of power with how the world is already demonstrating and imposing its new directions and transformations.

Anyway, since then and with many people – lives! – I have learned that we are ahead and that we will go further. Those who insist – and in the worst way – on the contrary also already know that we will go further – hence such despair and unpreparedness. Not that suffering, joy, difference and diversity is an experience for just a few. On the contrary, it is life, the inalienable right and “state-of-the-world” in all of us.

PS: each paragraph in this text / story contains a world of stories and dreams that cannot fit into this testimonial. But we are there … Constructing transits and dialogues throughout the city. Anyway, it’s really great when we meet up and talk. And surely, among the many and possible encounters that the city can and should offer, we will see each other, someday, either in the Oficina Livre de Música [Free Music Workshop], and in other activities offered by Loucura Suburbana; or in the next parade of this beloved bloco, on the streets of the neighborhood of Engenho de Dentro.

Oficina Livre de Música and Bloco Loucura Suburbana

At the turn of the millennium, in between 1999 and 2000, the Centro Psiquiátrico Pedro II, until then a federal hospital, subordinate to the Ministry of Health, was turned over to the jurisdiction of the municipality of Rio de Janeiro and became the Insituto Municipal Nise da Silveira Municipality (IMNS) known as Nise). The institute renaming was in honor of the visionary woman, psychiatrist, artist, and defender of the right to life in all its fullness, Nise da Silveira, who in 1952 founded the Museu de Imagens do Inconsciente [Museum of Images of the Unconscious] in that same hospital as part of her work of revolutionizing and refusing all violent psychiatric treatment – a museum and practice which continues to this day.

These changes were accompanied by the founding of a community center and radio station in the late 1990s and culminated in the creation of the Bloco Carnavalesco Loucura Suburbana – affectionately called Loucura [Madness] – in the year 2000. Starting from an initiative of the staff of IMNS, Loucura began as a way of doing and thinking about the carnival that would bring those with psychic disorders together with employees and volunteers from local neighborhoods and communities.

Due to the fact that, at the time, I was already a professional musician and recognized as such in the neighborhood, the connection between the Bloco and I was reciprocal and strengthened over the years, beginning with one-off performances (presentations, rodas de samba [samba gatherings], parades…) to being part of the daily construction of the life and the continuity of the Bloco. So from that time on I have been responsible for the musical coordination of the Bloco.

Little by little, “Loucura” not only took to the streets of Engenho de Dentro, but won over the people’s hearts and the support of different sectors of civil society, artists, politicians, and health professionals, as well as those from other areas of knowledge, academics, and local store owners. All these people together, beyond legitimizing the actions of the Bloco, considerably increased the territorial scope of these actions, something that can be clearly seen in the increase in the number of participants, both in the pre-production and post-production periods, when the parade happens.

Here via Loucura, the city of Rio de Janeiro acquires new ways of thinking about carnival as an event of solidarity in which the mad person and madness take on new meanings, ones that are both human and artistic and that redefine social, political and cultural ties. This facilitates the promotion of a constant dialogue between madness and civil society, where the stereotype of the psychiatric hospital, including all things and people associated with it, is demystified by engaging with and occupying it with a new understanding. In a similar way, mental health users, who through the “exteriority” of their actions, find that they have a less stigmatizing relationship with neighbors and surroundings of the world “beyond-the-hospital.”

In order to affect a “happening” as a bloco, Loucura relies on a team of diverse origins and professions. The team’s actions may include agents and factors that are internal and external to the hospital, which once integrated can in turn be multiplied through the organization of the various lead-up events that culminate in the parade as a form of internal and external awareness-raising, such as samba competitions, parade rehearsals, etc.

Besides being one of the coordinators of the Bloco, I am responsible for the Oficina Livre de Música. Beginning in 2007 the workshop takes place at the Psychosocial Care Center (CAPS) Clarice Lispector, located in the real estate park of the Institute and is today incorporated into the routine of the Bloco. The idea for the workshop emerged from an initial meeting between myself and three other people who worked at the CAPS and who, together with me, set up a study group. Here I brought the epistemological curiosities I had gathered from my first training – BSC in Geography – together with current debates on psychiatric reform, the anti-asylum struggle, and the research, construction, and elaboration of public policy that might be able to contemplate, in a more equal manner, the effective operation of a democratic state of rights.


It will take many lives to process all that I have learned there about music and humanity…

Whenever I have the opportunity, I talk to people, and in the process reevaluate things myself. I see how many times sound and music can be transformative and revelatory of spaces and relations.

The workshop welcomes all kinds of people: “direct” members of the mental health network (users, family members and service workers) and “indirect” members of the mental health network (immediate neighbors and those from surrounding areas, those of different genders, classes and age groups, as well as those from other municipalities, states and even countries).

Over time, I have understood that my resource for bringing people together, in difference and diversity, is sound. And we must be attentive and ready to offer and welcome it in different ways, often at the same time.

It is a kind of exchange and (dis / re) construction of experiences and sonic experimentations where sound fills physical and sensory gaps of space and the body as well as subjective ones, such as time and affection, for example.

In this way, simultaneously and amidst an environment of constant transition, we have people studying musical theory and arrangement, with the same intensity of someone who wants to hear a sound while smoking a cigarette or waiting for his/her therapy session or appointment.

For a few moments, everyone’s life is ordinary, even to the point of sharing simple commonalities, what they study, the soap operas they watch, what music they like, if they play ball, cook, and so on.7

And, in the midst of all this, sound passes…

And a lot of people, who have been part of the workshop, have given and received a little time and sound for their own and other worlds. People who like me often left the workshop different from how they arrived.

A few final words…between these “sounds” and “ordinarinesses.” I have learned great lessons about life, death and humanity. Things that are, in fact, common to all of us, yet at once wholly original and ordinary; what happens when a group of people, in difference and diversity, come together to do something. In our case – sound. 8

So, for these people and for our being-together, thank you!




Abel Luiz
Is a musician, composer and arranger. He is the musical coordinator of the Free Music Workshops held weekly at the CAPS (Center of Psycho-Social Assistance) Clarice Lispector and of cultural organization Loucura Suburbana. He also acts as the musical director of Loucura’s carnival bloco. He was musical  arranger for the organization’s CD Sambas Champions of Suburban Madness. He has taught at the Brazilian Conservatory of Music and co-founded the group Samba do Trabalhador. He also coordinated the training course for popular cultural agents at the Department of History at Federal Fluminense University (UFF). He has participated in various samba groups:  É com Esse Que Eu Vou, O Samba de Carnaval na Rua and no Salão. He coordinated the roundable on samba at the VII Encounter of Multidisciplinary Studies in Culture at UFBA and in 2013 launched the CD Sotaques e Influências.

1 This brief text is a synthesis of various writings in process since 2010. For a more extended reflection see my recently published book Oficina Livre de Musica (a experiênca/experimentação musical na produção de mediação cultural e novas solidariedades no CAPS Clarice Lispertor (Rio de Janeiro: Nova edições acadêmicas, 2018).

2 T.N. In Portuguese the phrase is between “differentes e differences” literally differents and differences in the plural. To conform to English grammar it has been translated in the singular relying on the plural singular in English.

3 T.N. Mestre or Master is frequently used to refer to experts in folkloric traditions ranging from Capoeira to samba.

4 Club Escolhar is a public service initiative run by the municipal education department offering sport and leisure activities for public school students in the region of Grande Meier (suburb in the North of the city).

5 Instituto Municipal Nise da Silveira.

6 One of the important issues to note, even though historically proven to be the case, that needs to be emphasized and demystified, is what concerns the artistic quality of what is represented, or rather, of who is being represented, so that one does not fall into an unconscious positive discrimination towards the insane, rendering irrelevant critical appraisals of what is being produced by them and, consequently, overlooking the needed attention and artistic support for their production. In this regard, the Oficina Livre de Música, via a combination of practical and theoretical teaching and music rehearsals using popular percussion and string instruments, aims to contribute to the composition and production of a new everyday. It is important to note that even though it is located in IMNS’s real estate park, CAPS is independently coordinated and managed.

7 For its execution this care relies on the collaboration of professional musicians who together with the mental health users give wings to the imagination and the reality of the daily life of the city. That is, the point of convergence where and from where these multiple relations and interrelations come together both starts from and is about the everyday. That is, everyday people who, as a way of thinking about themselves, the other and the city, find through competent artistic-poetic-musical expression, a way of reaching another kind of everyday. The encounter of these everyday lives and worlds, more often than not, surprise by their similarities rather than their differences.

8 To listen to some of Loucura’s music:
You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/user/LoucuraSuburbana
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/loucurasuburbana