“Poetry and Reggae in São Luís” is an independent documentary about an alternative cultural town São Luís, at the edge of the Amazon, on a coastal island in north-east of Brazil, in the state Maranhâo. It gives an insight into poetry, music and dance in a city largely inhabited by a black population.

São Luís developed in the 18th Century to a centre of poetry, there lived famous poets like Sousandrade, and still a numerous of poets of all generations are active. The island situation, architecture and a unique cultural atmosphere promote the arts, so that São Luís is being called the “Athens of Brazil.” A popular saying is: “Who stay one night in São Luís, risks to wake up as a poet.”

In the 1970s, the reggae from the Caribbean arrived in São Luís. The rhythm was quickly adopted by the black population and spread out to a genuine movement. Today, the town still lives in the roots-reggae fever, which many radio programs honour. Local musicians compose in the old style and enrich it with new elements of their own cultural traditions. Also, the art of dancing is unique and without parallel. Unlike to Jamaica reggae is danced in Jamaican Brazil closely embraced and tender.

The poems and song lyrics are about life and magic traditions, from Jean Genet on imaginary visit and from revolutionaries in coffee bars – or these are meditations on own art and one’s own identity, aware of their African slave descent. Art and everyday life, emotion and intellect merge, motivated by the desire for cultural self-determination; poetry is at once political opposition, music is both subversion and mission.

The film will reveal to the audience a picture of Brazil, far from the usual stereotypes of carnival, soccer, samba and Bossa Nova or poverty and crime. He lets varied people appear – beside writers, musicians, dancers or DJs these are self-help groups, ethnologists or historians who identify as a part of the movement and provide in engaged readiness information. The camera tries to capture the ambience, the rhythmic flow of the dances to the rain in the baroque streets of the city.

One expert summarizes the movement in São Luís like this: “Why not making music, poetry and dance? Isn’t it better than creating violence?”

Christoph Janetzko