We often hear about the causes that celebrities take on—often out of a genuine sense that they are in a position to make a difference; sometimes it is just for publicity. But in Latin America’s largest country, one woman has dazzled the world with her talent while working behind the scenes to make a difference for her people.
Daniela Mercury has been a sensation in Brazil since her debut in 1989, and sings to large and boisterous crowds whenever she tours abroad. We had the “hopefully-more-than-once-in-a-lifetime” experience of following her musical trios when we visited Salvador da Bahia this year for its mesmerizing Carnaval. You cannot pigeon-hole Mercury’s energizing music into one or two genres. She is constantly all over the map, blending axé, samba-reggae, electronica, pop . . . though dare I say the most rewarding are her virtual duets with Carmen Miranda, the often-misunderstood diva who passed away unexpectedly over a half-century ago. Mercury is not only proud to be Bahian: she is Bahia.
Daniela Mercury, courtesy Lian Calvo Serrano
But where Mercury really makes a difference is in her advocacy for the arts and for those who have fallen on hard times. And while travel to far-off lands to highlight her charitable work could attract favorable press, she focuses on her home—when she could go to Portuguese-speaking countries including Angola, Mozambique, São Tome and Principe, or East Timor. Leveraging her influence from her stint as an ambassador for UNICEF, Mercury has channeled that experience into her Sun of Freedom Institute (Instituto Sol da Liberdade). The Institute runs educational and development programs for children who live in economically challenged regions. Its teachers and advocates design programs that empower children, giving them the opportunity to appreciate their culture, be proud of their identity, and at the same time, promote human rights, peace and ethics.
One of the Institute’s projects is the Caravan of Music (Caravana da Música), which Mercury launched in August 2007. Traveling from town to town in crowded and far-off rural villages of Brazil, the project brings together teachers and specialists in education, music, dance, popular culture, and visual arts, while working with school administrators to establish art into students’ curricula. Mercury’s dedication to this and other projects have assisted 10,000 students and 1,000 teachers across Brazilian public schools.
Manacapuru floating houses
Most recently, Mercury took the Caravana da Música to Manacapuru, a town of 83,000 in the state of Amazonas in northwestern Brazil. Her schedule in this remote region of Brazil was typical of her activities as the Caravana hits the road. She met with indigenous community leaders, including the Sahu Apé and Kambeba (the latter of which only have 350 members spread across 4 villages); monitored the various cultural programs that the Caravana supports, one of which is the Ciranda dance troupe; and spent time with those who live along the Manacapuru River, where most of the locals live off of subsistence fishing.
How does Mercury accomplish all this while she maintains a demanding professional schedule, which often takes her internationally? Watch this video, Nobra Vagabondo (Noble Bum), and it is easy to understand why: her ability to work and blend with her diverse people is surely part of her success.
For 18 months, this site has devoted itself to finding solutions to how we can work for a better planet. We are not just about clean energy or toxic clean-up; we truly believe that honoring one’s culture and loving our short lives is part of the mix. Daniela Mercury is one reason, and we will be highlighting her more during what site stated on January 1:the first year of the Decade of Brazil.
Special thanks to Lian Calvo Serrano for contributing to this article. Photos courtesy of Axzeiro.com, Lian Calvo Serrano, and Panoramio.com.