Every summer for the past 17 years, there has been an incredible "anti-Carnival" event in northeastern Brazil during the pre-Lenten week of revelry that grips the rest of the country in a frenzy of excess. The "Encontre da Nova Consciencia," in the inland city of Campina Grande in the northern state of Paraiba, is a five-day multicultural interfaith gathering that promotes tolerance and world peace. Campina Grande is located in the "serto" (Portuguese for "backcountry"), an area that has long been known as a crossroads of art, culture, and religion.On Feb. 5, I played piano and performed at a school of music, accompanied by local guitarists and singers of immense talent. At the end of the meeting, Jorge, the music teacher, said, "Let's all sing together," and I was surprised to hear what they chose: John Lennon's "Imagine"! I asked them, "Do you know what those words mean?" and they said, "Yes, of course!" It was one of the most charming moments of my .life to hear "No hell below us/Above us only sky" sung by a roomful of people in a Brazilian accent. That song-and freethought-are truly international.I gave Romrio and singer Sandra Bel an idea for their first freethought song. Driving around the country, I noticed that although the poor barely have enough resources to put milk on the table, they all seem to have plenty of money for Carnival, the lottery, beer and church. (It's nice that "cerveja" (beer) and "igreja" (church) happen to rhyme in Portuguese.) Maybe soon we will be hearing an irreverent forrostyle song from nonbelievers south of the equator!
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