Rap-battling street violinist breaks boundaries in Brazil

By Thomson Reuters May 15, 2024 | 6:05 AM

By Leonardo Benassatto

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Maria Luiza Kaluzny thought that to become a successful violinist she would need to leave her working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, and play classical music for the rich and powerful.

Then the 23-year-old, who goes by “Violinista Chavosa,” started playing for passengers on her one-hour commute from Vila Brasilandia, where she started experimenting by mixing pop, classical and international music with Brazilian funk.

She now performs in frequent rap battles, a form of freestyle music competition where two performers trade boasts, insults and quick-witted wordplay to see who comes out on top.

She hopes her talent with the violin can bring culture from the fringes of Brazilian society into the mainstream.

“I thought it would be impossible to have this space to make music with the violin for people from the favela,” Kaluzny told Reuters, using the term for the thousands of slums that dot Brazilian cities. “When the door isn’t open, we go in and knock it down!”

Kaluzny, who was born in the industrial city of Curitiba in the state of Parana, said she believes it is important for people from the outskirts to work to expand the types of career, art and expression open to them.

“I don’t need to be a violinist from Brazil’s fringes and play the European way, where is that written? I play very well because I studied for many hours, just like an orchestra violinist. I studied for it, so I can very well use it for my culture, to deal with the problems and scenario I live in.”

On the subway, as Kaluzny performs en route to work, passengers take off their headphones and look up from their phones with expressions of surprise and delight.

“I was able to choose to be an artist and that’s why I feel alive,” she said. “This is about belonging, taking ownership of it and doing it right here.”

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Bill Berkrot)