On the morning of August 20, Carlos Samuel Galvão, aged 20, was on his way to music class. As he headed towards the bus stop, a stray bullet almost hit him. He was protected from being shot by something he believes had previously saved his life: music.
Samuel, as he is known, was carrying a violin on his back when he was caught in the middle of a shooting in the region of the community where he lives, in Rio de Janeiro. One of the shots was aimed at the young man and hit the musical instrument. “The violin served as a shield and saved my life,” he says.
“If I didn’t have the violin, I would be just another one in the statistics. I would go through the story that there was an attack by heavily armed criminals, the same story as always, for a day or two they would talk about the matter and then they would hushed the case . Nothing was going to happen, as usual,” the young man tells BBC News Brasil.
He knows the tragic death statistics of black people in the country and knows some of the stories of victims of violence. “I knew a lot of black people who were victims of stray or ‘found’ bullets,” he says.
He knew, for example, the young woman Kathlen Romeu, aged 24, who died in June this year after being shot during an action by the Military Police in the Lins de Vasconcelos community, in the North Zone of Rio.
“We went to the same church. But then we went to churches in different places. I never saw her again, until a while later I saw on television that she had died”, says Samuel. “I believe something similar could have happened to me that day (August 20), but God didn’t let me,” adds the young man.
Blacks represented 77% of homicide victims in the country in 2019, according to the Atlas of Violence 2020, released at the end of August this year by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security (FBSP) and by Ipea (Institute for Applied Economic Research).
The data, the most recent on the subject, points out that the homicide rate among blacks corresponds to 29.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. The same data among non-blacks is 11.2 for every 100 thousand. This indicates that the risk of a black person being murdered in Brazil is 2.6 times greater than that of a non-black person.
‘Before music, I didn’t know what to do with my life’
Amid the growing violence against black people in the country, Samuel believes that music has become fundamental for him and for other young people.
“I usually say that it was fundamental for my trajectory. Before music, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I would grow up, get a job and be one more person working in an area that I don’t like. But when I was enchanted by the violin, I found that that would be where I would work with what I like,” he says.
He lives in Morro dos Macacos, in Vila Isabel, in the north of Rio de Janeiro, and saw the opportunity to study an instrument when the non-governmental organization Ação Social pela Música do Brasil arrived in the community.
The organization aims to provide music education for children and adolescents living in vulnerable areas.
“An aunt told me about the project and I went with my mother. When I got there, I chose to learn the violin, because I always thought it was a very beautiful instrument, because of the movie Titanic. I said: ‘Well, I’m going to learn to play this one'”, he says the young.
In the first classes, he, who was 14 at the time, was discouraged because he thought that was not what he really wanted. “But when I stopped, I felt a huge absence and came back the following month full of gas,” he says. “I started to stand out and so, within, more or less, a year I was already in the orchestra playing”, he adds.
He was later selected for the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Rio de Janeiro, founded by Ação Social Pela Música for outstanding students.
Like Samuel, other young people he knows also saw new chances for a better future by participating in the project. “I hope there are many more projects like this, because it helps a lot of people not to get into the wrong life. The project saves their legal lives. I’ve had acquaintances who lost their lives when they got into crime, because they didn’t have opportunities,” he says.
“When the project arrived, a lot of people wanted to participate and are still in it today. If it weren’t for the project, a lot of people would be in this wrong life”, he comments.
Director and founder of Social Action for Music in Brazil, Fiorella Solares says the project has helped thousands of young people. “It has been very fruitful. The project has advanced a lot and provided social inclusion through music education”, he says.
In addition to Rio de Janeiro, the initiative is also present in the outskirts of João Pessoa (PB) and in Ji-Paraná (RO). Currently, according to Fiorella, the project serves 4.7 thousand students in the country, including children and teenagers. She assesses that the initiative helps to reduce social inequalities in Brazil, by bringing culture to places that hardly have access to music education.
She considers Samuel to be a positive example of the project. “I believe he will be able to become a professional in the area, because he has dedicated more time to music and has been highly praised by the teacher. Studying music requires discipline, you have to devote many hours, as in the case of sportsmen,” he says.
Over the years, Samuel gained more and more prominence in music. Along with the project, he has traveled to different regions of Brazil, in addition to having visited New York, in the United States, to participate in a presentation with the group.
A loose cannon
Samuel’s dedication makes him want to learn more and more. On the morning of August 20, he had a violin lesson. When he woke up, he heard gunfire in the community.
According to the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, that morning there was a shooting attack against the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) Macacos. According to a note sent to BBC News Brasil, the police retaliated and a shootout began.
“The suspects fled and, after the terrain was stabilized, a 9mm case, 5.56 ammunition, a radio communicator were found. The material seized was sent to the 20th DP, where the occurrence was registered”, informs a statement from the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro.
Around 7:00 am Samuel informed the violin teacher about the situation in the community. His class was scheduled for 9 am and he usually takes about 40 minutes on the way. The young man feared that the shooting would not stop for the next few hours. “The teacher said that I could arrive at any time, when I could leave the house”, says Samuel.
“It’s normal not to leave the house because of a shooting. Like it or not, we’ve kind of gotten used to the violence. That’s the truth. Accustomed or not, this is part of our reality,” says the young man.
The noise of gunfire ceased around 9:20 am. “I called the teacher and said I would arrive quickly. He told me to take it easy and calm,” says Samuel.
The young man went down towards a bus stop. On his back, he carried the violin in a case, which had a carrying handle. “I always carried it on my back so that my hands were free,” says the young man.
When he got to the bus stop, in an area near the community, Samuel heard the shooting resume. “It was very strong, it looked like they were using various types of weapons and grenades. Everyone bent down,” he says. He was on the sidewalk and didn’t even have time to duck either.
“It was all very fast. I stopped and turned to the side, took a step forward and heard a very loud shot behind me. There was no time to bend down or run. Samuel.
The young man looked back and saw that no shots seemed to have hit the building next to him. “People started running towards me to help me. I started to get desperate, I thought I was shot and I didn’t feel it because I was hot blooded. I took off my shirt and saw that nothing had happened to me,” he says.
He looked at the violin case and found the shot hole. “I opened (the case) and saw the violin all broken, the bullet was inside. It was an absurd despair,” he says.
If he hadn’t taken a step forward at the time of the shooting or if he hadn’t had his violin on his back, Samuel believes he would have been hit by the bullet.
“The shot could have hit my rib. I could have died. It was nerve-racking. One second you’re alive and the next you could be dead. There’s a movie in your head. You’re freaked out about it,” says the young man.
The numbers of recent years are totally unfavorable to young black people like Samuel. The Atlas of Violence 2020 points out that between 2009 and 2019, the number of blacks who were victims of homicide grew by 1.6% (increased from 33,929 victims in 2009 to 34,466 in 2019). Registrations among non-black people, on the other hand, had a reduction of 33% in the same period (from 15,249 in 2009 to 10,217 in 2019).
The risk increases when you are young. From 2009 to 2019, there were 623,439 homicide victims in Brazil, with 53% of this total being people aged between 15 and 29 years.
‘I want to become a professional musician’
After the scare of almost becoming a tragic stat of homicide victims, Samuel had another concern: how to fix the violin hit by the bullet.
The instrument that Samuel carried that day was borrowed, because the violin he used in classes, which belongs to the social project, was undergoing maintenance.
“I was desperate because the violin was not mine, much less the project. The week before, I had a test in the orchestra to assess whether the student was evolving and, as the violin I was using had released a piece, I had to get another one borrowed,” he says.
“This violin I was on the day of the shooting was from a luthier (specialist in string instruments), who lent it to me because of the test I had. I took the test in the orchestra and passed it. On that day (August 20th), I would go to class and then return the violin”, says the young man.
Samuel could not afford the cost of a new violin to deliver to the luthier. His only source of income is the scholarship he receives at the orchestra, which helps him to spend on transportation and food.
With the help of those responsible for Social Action for Music in Brazil, he created an online kit with the objective of raising R$8,000 to help him pay for the violin hit by the stray bullet (about R$4,000). The remainder of the amount will be to help with the maintenance of the instrument and also to support the young person’s future expenses with the music.
Until the afternoon of Tuesday (14), the young man had already collected R$5.9 thousand, donated by 54 people. “I was very happy with the support I received,” he says.
In addition to the cow, Samuel was also helped by violinist Alessandro Borgomanero, who learned of the case of the missing bullet and donated a violin to Samuel. But the instrument must remain with the young man only if he continues in the music. If you leave the area, you must return the item to the social project so that other students can use it.
But Samuel must continue with the violin he received, as he doesn’t think about giving up the music. The young man should finish high school soon, “for not having paid attention to school in the past”, and he already has plans to enter university. “I want to become a professional musician and make a living from it,” he says.