Mars da Favela: Crystals not Pistols
Australian rapper Mars Castro came to Brazil to make music and party until it began to bore her. Inspired by the lifestyle in the Rocinha favela, she discovered a new passion: transforming bullet casings into jewellery. Bling instead of bang, Mars da Favela instead of Mc Marsepan. Read More
Australian rapper Mars Castro came to Brazil to make music and party – and to enjoy the sweeter things in life. Until they began to bore her, and she got to know the other side of the country: the real Brazil, as she calls it. Inspired by the lifestyle in the Rocinha favela, she discovered a new passion: transforming bullet casings into jewellery. Bling instead of bang, Mars da Favela instead of Mc Marsepan
“So I tore myself away from the rockstar lifestyle and settled down with a coconut to see what Rio was really about and ‘twas then I discovered the real Brazil,” writes Castro in her blog. Up to then, Castro had lived the dream of a rising rap star and partied with the in-crowd of the music scene – leaving it all behind was a hard step to take.
What did you think of the favelas before you knew Rocinha?
The only thing I knew about the favelas was the Baile funk music and funk parties. I’m a rapper as well and came to Brazil partly to work with DJ Marlboro. But he doesn’t hang out in the favelas; he’s rather commercial these days. We were pretty much just expected to follow him around in his large entourage of girls, from VIPs at his exclusive DJ gigs back to his mansion, and it was a bit sexist and debauched really. I kinda broke away from that crowd after a while because I wanted to meet some genuine people.
So how did you discover the Rocinha favela?
Well actually I met a boy from the favela. And he was very different from the people living on the ‘asfalto’ (non-favela dwellers) or the wannabes that I had been hanging around with. He was genuine and super down to earth. And a total breath of fresh air. When he showed me where he lived and I got to meet all his friends and family, I was relieved to be getting to know the real Cariocas and hanging out in the larger community. And that happened to be Rocinha. So one long epic love story later… I ended up living with him and his family in Rocinha. He’s now my husband. And we have one foot here in Melbourne, Australia, and the other in Rocinha, Rio.
In fact the only law and order I ever saw in Rio was in the favela. There is what is known as the ‘law of the favela’ which is: no killing, no stealing, no raping, and no physical abuse. It’s not tolerated at all. I felt a lot safer inside the favela than outside. This ‘law’ created by the ‘Don’ of the favela is there to keep the peace and to keep police out of the favela, so he and his workers/gangstas can do run their business (selling drugs) with no problems. These guys can’t leave the favela because they’ll get arrested, so they make their community the best place it can be.
I actually met him (Nem, the Don) before he was arrested and he was giving money (drug money) to do repairs and construction within the favela, giving money for medicines to poorer residents, putting on parties for the younger people. In fact for the last 30 years, the dons of the favela and the gangstas are the ones who have built the infrastructure, including the entire water supply. The government didn’t want anything to do with the favelas. To the government, they are an embarrassing problem that isn’t even on the maps.
Why is Rocinha an inspiration for you?
There’s too much inspiration to list. A majority of my inspiration for the jewellery came from seeing how the ‘traficantes’ are fighting for their territory, literally. Fighting to feed their families. In such a corrupt country with such disparity between rich and poor, the people obviously do what they need to. And seeing gangsters on the street carrying weapons and that sense of power and the fashion associated with it.
The powerful imagery of gold chains and big guns was inspiring because of the total contrast from the outside world of corrupt police, corrupt politicians and militia. Everyone’s out to make a buck for themselves and not spreading the money or the love. The gangstas are the only ones that aren’t hiding behind a facade.
Gangstas aside, in my day-to-day life my inspiration comes from the joy the people of Rocinha exude and share. Dancing all night, barbeques on the roof, hanging out with your neighbours in the street, knowing everyone, having such an amazing and sharing community. The simple vitality and positivity of people whose homes are known as ill-reputed favelas, but to them it’s their home, their "communidade".
How would you describe the art and culture scene within the Favela?
I don’t know if the people in the favela actually care about going to an art gallery or writing essays on culture. As the working class, they’re probably so busy working 6 days a week for minimum wage that they don’t recognise how creative they actually are. For example: building a thriving community out of not much, seeing a hill and going forth to build your own water supply, hook up your own electricity (gatas) and make a home by your bare hands out of sticks and bricks is artistic genius in itself. Step back and look at the favela. IT IS ART. And when you live in it, I don’t think you realise how amazing it is. Are the people in the favela artists? Absolutely: To build something so amazing out of nothing is the ultimate in creativity.