RIO DE JANEIRO - You might not expect to find a hotel in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas - the local name for the city's shantytowns. The success story of “The Maze,” though located in one of the poorest parts of the city, it has been named one of the best places to hear live jazz music in the world.
Nearly everywhere you go in Rio de Janeiro, you’re always close to an informal settlement, or favela.
More than 11 million Brazilians live in these poor communities, famous for the colorful - but often dangerously constructed - buildings, dense population, and in some cases, the drug trade and associated crime.
In hotels, brochures advertise favela tours, next to pamphlets for helicopter rides and boat excursions.
But one man has gone far beyond treating Rio’s favelas as just a tourist adventure: 35 years ago, Bob Nadkarni moved in.
Welcome to The Maze.
It started as a quiet art studio for the British expatriate. Slowly, he expanded the space and ultimately opened his sprawling home, with one of the best views of Rio de Janeiro, to friends and family.
“It’s not just a house, it’s a work of art. It’s a sculpture people live in and find their way through. It’s called The Maze because it’s a place people come to lose themselves and find themselves,” he said.
Nadkarni was instrumental in helping clean up the Tavares Bastos favela, where The Maze is located. For years, he said, it was run by gangs and drug lords. He convinced the controversial favela pacification police to set up shop - permanently.
In 2005, The Maze became a hotel.
“As my wife said, all my friends treat me as a hotel anyway, and I thought, ‘you know, I am a hotel!’ So I built a few more rooms and opened it up and got this going,” he explained.
In recent years, the guesthouse has developed a reputation as a world-renowned jazz club. DownBeat Magazine, an influential music publication, lists it as one of the “best jazz venues” in the world.
Nadkarni said the now-famous “Jazz Night,” the first Friday of every month, started small. “We had a party with a few friends of mine playing jazz, 12 people here, and they all liked it so much they suggested we do it again. So they all brought three friends the next month, and then it was 40 people. It became geometric, and now I don’t ever get less than 500 people at a jazz night,” he said.
The Maze has raised its prices, trying to keep the attendance manageable - but people still flock in.
For Nadkarni, that’s just what he wants. “I get a house full of all kinds of people. I get a lot of artists and poets and writers and filmmakers and musicians here," he explained. "It’s a place where people meet and exchange ideas and bounce off each other.”
The morning after Jazz Night, life at The Maze is quiet again. The space is empty and the people are gone - but the gorgeous, panoramic views remain.
And Nadkarni’s wife helps their daughter with her homework - in the same spot that was packed with people and alive with music just hours before.