‘You don’t need to work so much because you won’t go far, after all, you’re of color’: Overcoming odds against blacks in Classical Music, Maestro Alba Souza conducts orchestras and will complete a Ph.D in Orchestra Direction

alba maestrina 1
alba maestrina 1

Alba Maestrina 1

Note from BW of Brazil: In yet another inspirational story of overcoming stereotypes and derogation, we present the story of a black woman who is succeeding in another field that is generally thought to be closed to Afro-Brazilians: Classical Music. Brazilian society accepts and actually expects that its black population excel and have prominence in popular music styles such as Samba, Hip Hop and Funk, blacks are often steered away from the more lucrative Brazilian Popular Music genre as well as classical styles such as Opera. As such, when black Brazilians pick up classical instruments, it often raises eyebrows or provokes comments that suggest this is not the right “place” for them. We also see this posture in the world of dance where Afro-Brazilians are expected to dance the Samba very well but to leave classical dance to those with whiter skin. Ballerina Ingrid Silva noticed this, and did singers Corona and Gaby Amarantos were faced when this prejudice when they were young, impressionable girls who just wanted to dance. Fortunately, these types of attitudes and setbacks in a number of genres thought to be “for whites only” aren’t holding back a number of talented people who are dedicated to blazing their own paths in spite of the odds. (On this same theme, be sure to see today’s previous article).

Maestro Alba: “You have a very beautiful story to be told”

‘You don’t need to work so much because you won’t go far, after all, you’re of color’

By Eliana Alves Santos Cruz of the Flor da Cor blog

Maestrina Alba (Maestro Alba)
Maestrina Alba (Maestro Alba)

With this phrase a professor told Alba Christina Bomfim Souza, a regency and orchestra practice professor at the Federal University of Piauí, that she didn’t need to care so much about improving her technique of playing the violoncello/cello, but with the batuta in her hands today she conducts orchestras for the world and more than that, conducts life itself establishing new paradigms and proving that the place of the woman is front of the symphony. Alba came in first place in the contest that made her professor of the University of Piauí and in third in another course for the Federal University of Pará.


“Piauí called me first. It’s funny that even having been first place in the contest, many people couldn’t see my technical competence. I say that we don’t have to kill a lion per day, but a lion each turn! Regency is a very peculiar area inside of music. It’s a political position and also diplomatic because the regent ends up being a type of spokesperson of the orchestra. It was in this way that I came to perceive that if I wanted to advance I would have to go the exterior (outside of Brazil). But these obstacles drive me to search for new opportunities.

Maestro Alba Bomfim conducting the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais
Maestro Alba Bomfim conducting the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais

Alba was the youngest of four sisters that, with me and my sister, formed a group of six black girlfriends since the beginning of the 1980s. She grew up and today has a resume that, as the saying goes, shows she “takes care of business”. A bachelor in Direction (2001) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, graduate (1995) and Master’s (2009) in Music at the University of Brasília. She won the Concurso Internacional de Jovens Regentes de Orquestra Eleazar de Carvalho (Eleazar de Carvalho International Contest of Young Orchestra Regents) of 2009, held in Forteleza (capital of  state of Ceará), was part of a grouping of cellists Sinfónica Jovem do Estado de São Paulo (Youth Symphony of the State of São Paulo), Filarmônica do Rio de Janeiro (Philharmonic of Rio de Janeiro), Sinfônica Nacional (National Symphony), Sinfônica Brasileira e Jovem e Camerata do Conservatório Brasileiro de Música (Brazilian Symphonic and Youth and Chamber of the Brazilian Conservatory of Music).

Currently she’s in Portugal, at the University if Aveiro under the guidance of Maestro Antônio Vassalo Lourenço in complete production for concluding her Ph.D, of which she will come out in 2018, in Orchestra Direction. She spoke of this still very little explored area by women and mainly by black women in Brazil.

Alba Maestrina 8

“In the beginning I suffered quite a bit. We know that in Brazil prejudice is veiled and the world of music is very closed and restricted. It’s still a very masculine universe, so the disbelief in me comes from two fronts, ie, for being black and for being a woman. If today I am here, a professor that teaches in the northeast, with a Master’s, doing a differentiated doctorate of which I will come out as Ph.D. is because I am sticking to a very heavy schedule.

The regent of an orchestra – just as conditioned in the collective imagination – is a mature white man with a history, often times that passes through generation in Classical music. But Alba is leaving her mark without caring about the labels. The profound and emotional sound of the cello opened the career doors of the carioca (native of Rio), the daughter of a military officer that went to live in Brasília and studied piano in the escola da quadra (school on the block). After years in the school, encouraged by her mother she signed up and was chosen to study at the Centro de Educação Profissional (Professional Education Center) – Escola de Música de Brasília (Music School of Brasília).

Alba Christina Bomfim Souza
Alba Christina Bomfim Souza

“I thought that I didn’t have a “base” for music. My parents always encouraged me and my sisters to study music, so I did have a base. We were a family like many of the middle class that, although having some things, lacked others and didn’t have (financial) conditions to have a piano at home. We are four daughters! I studied piano at school in the classroom. When I entered the Escola de Música de Brasília, I passed through all the instruments and there at 14 I chose the cello. It was when I started to practice the correct way of positioning myself with the instrument that the professor said that. Later I became his colleague as a professor of the same school and I discovered that he had depreciative words with many other girls. One because I was black, another because he thought I was too pretty, another because I was little fat…So it’s something that goes beyond the ethnic question. There’s a huge sexism in the realm,” she revealed.

Alba Maestrina 3

In Aveiro, Alba is researching how the orchestra conquests its audience. How it captures attention and then they get into communication and marketing studies; how to perform in the shaping of the public, which is related to the area of education; and how to thrill in the moment of exhibition, entering in this way into the terrain of scientific arts.

“This is my research, my intellectual production. More and more we will have everything together, everything integrated, in other words, theater, music, photography…Various artistic expressions in the same spectacular. My practical productions are the diverse works that we are performing to study each aspect of these. We have works directed toward children, the elderly, to the families. We also perform musicals from Broadway, popular musicals. We don’t just deal with a Western European Classical repertoire. As a researcher I say that popular music, specifically Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) is an enormous challenge. What is already was, what it is and what it can come to be. We have very sophisticated rhythms and sounds. Yes, the samba, the bossa nova and many other things that we have are sophisticated.

Mastero and coordinator of PELP, Alba Christina Bomfim Souza
Maestro and coordinator of PELP, Alba Christina Bomfim Souza

Brazil is Alba Christina’s objective. Her plans are to return home as soon as she concludes her work in Portugal. She wants to replicate what she learned and help mold other artists.

“In music you find the discourse of the limit of age, of hereditary, and many other myths. Compared to the Europeans, we started musical initiation really late for all the social and historical issues that we already know. For whoever is in the atmosphere of opportunities appear, but how do you get in? How do you get in this atmosphere? Among my various friends that started with me I can count on my fingers how many continued. I real accomplished because of the question of overcoming, but now that I am here, I ask myself how I’ll go further and I how I’ll multiply my experience, pass on everything that I learned and am learning. I have to be a multiplier. The orchestra team here is super small and manages much, ie, I can replicate this structure in Teresina or in any small place like Sobradinho (satellite city of Brasília), obviously respecting the local differences. This is the function of art. It’s going to all places and taking new meanings,” she explained.

Filarmônica das Beiras
Filarmônica das Beiras

In spite of the obstacles, the suspicions, judgments and labels, Alba encourages all those that think of one day following a path similar to hers.

Believe and work to accomplish, because you have a very beautiful history to be told. Don’t remain only in dreams, roll up your sleeves to make it happen, because we are winning and this is a path has no return. We look behind and at the prejudices suffered in order not to forget that this exists and that it’s in our path, in our history, but we can’t let them paralyze us. This is the biggest legacy that I want to leave for my nieces and nephews, for our children.

Silence in the audience because the show will begin!

Source: Flor da Cor

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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