Davi Portugal, 11 years old, holds at arm’s length this instrument almost as big as him.
With each breath, her cheeks swell like tennis balls.
“I like the sound, it’s beautiful and it’s different from anything I’ve heard before,” the young Brazilian, who dreams of joining the Navy, told AFP.
With his 14-year-old brother Caio, he is part of the band at the Vieira Brum school in Sao Gonçalo, a poor suburb of Rio, where the bagpipes bring a touch of exoticism that attracts attention.
“The first time I saw someone play the bagpipes, it didn’t make me want to because I thought it was weird to have to put on a kilt. It looks like a skirt and there are prejudices in our country”, says Jhonny Mesquita, 32, conductor of the school brass band.
“But afterwards, I fell in love with this sound. When I learned the history of this instrument, what it represents for the Scottish people, it became a real passion”.
– “Pelé of the bagpipes” –
A passion which he was able to trace back to the source, during a two-week trip to Scotland in 2017.
In one video, he is seen in a stadium in Aberdeen, playing “Asa Branca”, a famous Brazilian tune, while juggling a soccer ball.
“I had a crazy success, for the local newspapers, I was The Pelé of the bagpipes”, proudly recounts this mestizo with close-cropped hair, who, like the other members of the group, wears a kilt with red, black and white stripes. , a black beret, a navy blue jacket and a leather game bag.
Jhonny Mesquita is a small celebrity in Sao Gonçalo: a music teacher in colleges, he played the bagpipes in TV shows and even at the prestigious Municipal Theater of Rio.
But what makes him the most proud is to see young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods taking an interest in music thanks to this very special instrument.
“The essence of our project is to occupy the minds of these young people so that they stay away from drugs and marginality,” he says.
Beyond the school brass band, he is also at the head of the Brasil-Escócia association (Brazil-Scotland), a collective of 18 bagpipe players who also perform “where people do not want to go”, particularly in penal institutions for minors.
– System D –
Jhonny Mesquita learned the bagpipes at the age of 15, at the Vieira Brum school, thanks to a soldier who played in a group of the Navy and decided to give lessons to college students.
Since then, he has taken over and trained new generations of Brazilians who proudly wear the kilt.
But as he is far from rolling in gold, it is with a good dose of resourcefulness that he meets the needs of his association.
“Most of the bagpipes were given to us, especially by foreign supporters. For the kilts, it is the mother of a member of the group who makes them”, explains Jhonny Mesquita.
The association was invited to a festival in July, in Belgium, a first for a Brazilian group, but unfortunately had to give up going there, the plane tickets being too expensive.
But the “Pelé of the bagpipes” consoles himself by seeing that this instrument has opened up new horizons for his students: “Young people who seemed deprived of a promising future have won scholarships, others play in the band Navy or Air Force”.
“It’s moving to see my son play. At the moment, he plays the tambourine, but he dreams of playing the bagpipes. He is very diligent and his grades have even improved in other subjects”, says Alice Cortes da Silva, a former student of the school, very proud to see her nine-year-old son join the marching band.