Singing Sadness Away: The “Meninas de Sinha”

The “Meninas de Sinha” is a singing group formed by working class afro-descendent women. They are  from the Aglomerado Vera Cruz, a favela in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais. Their age group ranges from 50 to 93.  The “Meninas de Sinha” was founded by Valdete da Silva Cordeiro in the late 80’s, after she noticed her female  neighbours  leaving the local Health Center with bags and boxes full of anti depressant. Valdete had a strong gut feeling that those women did not need to take drugs to numb them from life, but that they needed to look after themselves and improve their self-steam. She started by inviting the women she saw leaving the Health Center for chats. These chats first evolved into art crafts sessions and then into childhood playtime games and songs. Today, “Meninas de Sinha” have been performing all over Brazil and recorded CDs.

Interview Translation

Valdete da Silva Cordeiro: My name is Valdete da Silva Cordeiro, I am 69 years old and I live in the Aglomerado do Alto Vera Cruz.  I have been living here for  31 years. When I first arrived in the Aglomerado,  there were not utility services such as running water,  electricity or even public transport. There was nothing.  These women were leaving the Health Center with bags full of anti-depressants. I realized that they did not need to take that kind of medicine. That they needed to take better care of themselves and improve their self-steem.

Maria de Paula : My life was to stay at home. I did not like to see anyone and I would not go out for anything, except to get to the Health centre for sleeping pills.

Valdete da Silva Cordeiro: It  was hard at the beginning. They all had their household chores to do and  no time to look after themselves. But as I am very insistent, I carried on insisting until I managed to get them together for a chat.

Diva Altina : I never met my mother and my father abandoned me when I was 4 years old. I did not have a childhood. I used to spend my time at home just laying down on the floor crying, thinking that someone was coming to kill me. I did not like talking, I just wanted to cry because life was very hard when you have a lots of children. I have 12 children.

Dorvalina de Oliveira: I used to bite my nails until they would bleed. I was depressed enough to think about suicide.

Valdete da Silva Cordeiro: during our first meetings, we started with art crafts. But then I noticed that I was taking the women away from home to do more work. I was worried that they were still carrying on taking their medicines, they  still carried on without being able to sleep or eat.  I did not know what to do. Then we had a party here in  a school in Vera Cruz. There was a woman delivering a workshop on body expression for the elderly and pregnant women. I joined her class and realized that this was what I wanted to do with my group, because it works with the body and the mind. I spoke to the woman and managed to bring her to our meeting. The city administration agreed to paid her to teach us for 6 months.  After that she told me that I was ready to manage my own group. We used to meet 3 times a week . Once a week we would play childhood games. It was through these childhood games that they started getting better and talking about their childhood. Many of them did not have the chance to play while their were children. They started from this day.

The city administration then began calling us to perform in several places. One day I had a meeting with my group and said : “Guys,  lets rescue our childhood games, lets take them to the schools, day centres and street. Lets develop our work further” . They agreed and we started recording our songs. The first time we were called for a performance was 10 years ago during the opening of the Culture centre here in the Alto Vera Cluz. From this day, if you ask me how did we get to the point of performing all over Brazil, including performing with big stars such as Daniela Mercury and Jair Rodrigues, I would not know how to explain. We have been in governmental events, we have recorded CDs and even met the then Culture Minister, Gilberto Gil. And if you ask me how did we manage all this, I really would not know how to explain to you. All I know is that everything you do with love,  grows.

Diva Altina: Today I am happy, full of joy  and surrounded by this wonderful family. I consider Valdete as my mother. I never met my mother, so Valdete will have to cope with this role. And I consider all these  women as my sisters.

Ephigenia Romualdo: I enjoy the songs. Since I was a little girl I enjoyed singing. My father would play his guitar and I would sing along with him.

Valdete da Silva Cordeiro: Today these women are happy and full of joy. It is not that we are blissful. We do have our aches and pains, but when we start performing, the spirit of a child comes down taking charge of us, and  then nobody recalls any aches and pains. These are the “Meninas de Sinha”.

Meninas de Sinha Official Links

Meninas de Sinha on MySpace

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