Casa do Mancha: resisting Vila Madalena’s decay
Vila Madalena started to change in the early 90s, when restaurants and stores entered the domain of family homes and left-wing botecos. I should know: I’m a local. Popularity is trashing the narrow streets, families are moving away, prices are way too high, Carnival season is the seventh circle of hell. But I grew up living here. Walking Vila’s streets, I recognise houses, graffiti, hidden passages. It is home.
In the 00s, transformation was in full blast. All sorts of art galleries, shops and bars invaded Madalena’s streets, transforming the area forever. But it was during the 2014 World Cup that things got out of control: Vila Madalena became a young adult who can’t hold the booze. It is São Paulo’s bohemian center, “one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world” according to National Geographic Traveller. It is Barcelona’s Ramblas, Dublin’s Temple Bar and Austin’s 6th Street district on my backyard.
Hype comes from the fact that Vila Madalena is a democratic area. It is a place where a traditional joint such as Bar das Empanadas (where underground filmmakers congregated during the dictatorship years) stands in front of an expensive 24H bakery. Where a fancy seafood restaurant shares the block with a reggae-themed saloon. People are crowding the streets because there’s something for everyone. Soccer fans are drinking chope, rich girls are sipping oysters and Champagne, families are having pastel at the morning feira, hipsters riding fixed gear bikes on their way to organic coffee.
Sounds cool, but it comes at a price: try to walk Rua Aspicuelta on any given Saturday night, and you’ll notice there’s way too much cars, people, garbage. The atmosphere is plastic, lifeless, way too loud. Bars try to emulate a bohemian lifestyle already lost. They all look the same.
Casa do Mancha (Mancha’s home) is a cool, colourful and welcoming ground-level house resisting the crowds outside. Lacking identification at the door, it is a place that proves the multiplicity of São Paulo. It was once Mancha’s home, literary. In 2005, he moved from Mato grosso and found a home in a small street in Vila Madalena’s heart. Soon it became the site of his audio-visual company. Nowadays, Casa is an entity. Managers Mancha and Tom mention the house as a third person, with needs and feelings of its own. Casa requests, they do.
Doors are open to public when there’s a motive, usually Brazilian bands playing for a small audience on weekends from seven to eleven PM. There’s no given address, and the place is hard to find. The best option to a newbie is to go with someone who’s been there before. One must knock on the door and may not get inside if it’s already crowded. It’s a small and welcoming place, where I and you must pay (cash only) to enter. Everyone can sit on the couch, have a drink, dance, use the sole bathroom, smoke in the front yard.
The time to arrive is around 8PM. Once inside, you’ll feel at a house party with people chatting around colourful cocktails in plastic glasses. The drinks are all cheap and delicious, with names like Macaulay and Tragédia. The mojito is my favourite, especially on a hot summer night. The small bar stands in the front yard, decorated with endless stickers and scribbles of bands who played there. Graffiti and posters and paintings are all over. There’s a living room with chairs, band equipment and a piano. Christmas lighting hangs on the walls.
I ask Mancha if he noticed any changes to the public coming to occasional indie shows at his place. “I can’t measure if changing happens because we’ve been doing this for some time, or if it comes from what’s happening in the neighbourhood.” Tom defines. “When we started Vila Madalena was already what it is today, a little decadent. But people who come here are not walking through the street and see a small bar and enter and sit down. Our gate is always closed.”
Mancha and Tom are the thirty-somethings lodgers personifying the multi-tasking professionals of this generation. On a daily basis, they embody roles of managers, mixologists, curators, accountants, decorators, musical producers, video directors. Their laid-back attitude doesn’t translate the importance Casa has in São Paulo’s music scene. The place is heir of Vila Madalena’s cultural identity, as needed as those came before: Jungle, Superbacana, Torre do Doutor Zero. The gigs happening here are the consequence of the duo’s production work, sure. But also of São Paulo’s lacking of spaces for authorial bands.
“Casa is a music producing company. And one of the things this company produces are parties,” says Mancha. “There was a moment when we had to understand what was going on, that there were bands in need of space”, explains Tom.
Bands like Hurtmold, Garotas Suecas and Holger keep playing on the plaid floor of the living room. It is the physical manifestation of the Casa’s intent of weighting artists in the same height of the crowd, to approximate musicians and public. They play in a down-to-earth, fun environment, where everyone is sipping drinks, smoking, dancing, chatting. “Most of the public is people who just enjoy the music, like us,” notes Mancha.
“One thing we understood is that who wants to, ends up discovering about it. Someone may ignore we exist, sure. But say someone’s a fan of [TV on the Radio guitarist and Mancha regular whenever in São Paulo] Kyp Malone. That person will hear that the guy is playing an extra gig in São Paulo. And will show up”.
When Casa decides to let the crowd in, people are notified via email. “We have a modest mailing list, with something like three hundred names, maybe four hundred, no more than that”, says Mancha. There’s no official website, but Facebook updates whenever something is about to happen. If you want, you’ll find your way.
Pictures: Rafael Roncato, all rights reserved.
Please note that this article was originally commissioned by an international magazine back in 2013 and never got published. That’s reason why pictures are slightly out of date.
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