February’s Somerville Arts Council Artist of the Month, Marcus Santos, first knew he wanted to make his passion for music his livelihood as a teenager in Brazil. He didn’t know what that would look like, but he followed his dreams all the way to Boston and now spends his days making music with Somerville High School students.
But the journey to a professional music career wasn’t easy. While it’s common for people from Santos’ area of Brazil to play instruments, his parents and school counselors encouraged him to take a more traditional career path. After going to school for business administration for a while, he decided it wasn’t right for him and jumped into pursuing music full-time. Santos meant what he said when he vowed to be the best musician he could be and so won a scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I always wanted to learn music of the world and I loved the diversity of Boston,” Santos said. Berklee asked him to participate in a students-only drum circle where he combined what he learned at school with the musical traditions of his home in Brazil and the experience has inspired his work.
After graduating from Berklee, Santos founded Grooversity (a combination of the words groove and diversity) that promotes music as an educational resource, entertainment and vehicle for social change. The program is now operational in 12 locations in three countries, including right here in Somerville.
“Each drumming community has to do something socially positive for the area,” Santos said. “It has to be linked to social change.”
In Somerville, the dual mission of the program is to ensure that kids are staying in school and to help kids who are just arriving in the country adjust to their new home. To facilitate these missions, Santos leads a world percussion ensemble in the mornings at the high school and then after school he takes some of the teens to Winter Hill so they can mentor middle schoolers.
Not everyone would have taken their musical talents and used them to help kids, but Santos said his work has evolved very naturally throughout the years.
“People think they’re going to be a rock star, but this is really rewarding,” Santos said of his work with the Somerville Public School System. He said that the city has three things that have helped him in his work here. Number one is his boss at the high school, Rick Saunders, who he says has passed on so much knowledge and inspiration.
Second on the list is Mayor Joe Curtatone. “He’s so awesome. He goes everywhere and supports everything,” Santos said. “He gets it, understands it and supports it.”
And third is the diversity of the city, which inspires his music and work.
Santos was deeply humbled when he discovered he had been named the Somerville Arts Council’s February Artist of the Month for all of these reasons.
“I should honor the city, it should be the other way around. I got so much from the mayor, my boss,” Santos said. “I’m a proud Somervillian.”
Of the recent growth that has happened in Somerville, Santos said, “we’re seeing right now what’s been in the works for a few years. The world is about to hear more about Somerville.”
After speaking with Santos, it’s clear that he’s right, especially if he has anything to do with it.
P.S. Read more about the Somerville Arts Council’s Artist of the Month program and the January artist.
Featured image courtesy of Grooversity.