Doha, Qatar — Since 1986, nothing has prevented unofficial World Cup drummer Wallace Leite from Brazil from taking part in the world’s most prestigious soccer event.
Age, injuries, family obligations, nothing prevented the Brazilian and his drum from the World Cup.
The 60-year-old from São Paulo took part in the last 10 World Championships and tirelessly wore his Surdao (Brazilian drum) and played with the Canarinha — “little Canary Islands,” as the Brazilian team is affectionately known because of their bright yellow team shirt.
“It’s a natural high,” said Leite about drumming and the World Cup. “It’s like I’ve found the source of happiness,” he told CNN Breaking News, wearing the same outfit with the colors of the Brazilian national flag that he wore at all of his team’s games at the tournament in Qatar.
He prays that the outfit brings him luck.
For Leite, it’s all about the “positive response” he receives from the hordes of fans that gather around him when he plays Surdao, in what he calls his “perfect place.”
“There are no problems, no politics, everyone is simply there and supports Brazil,” he said.
His preferred instrument is the Surdao, a 7 kg (15 lb) Brazilian drum that he has played at all World Cup games since the 1990 tournament in Italy. Previously, Leite said he used a smaller type of percussion drum even though the pitch was “too high” for his taste.
The Surdao helps to “keep the rhythm together.”
“I have the feeling that I can move and hype a lot more people with [the Surdao],” he adds.
He is slim at 79 kg (174 lb) and 177 cm (five feet, nine inches) and admits that beating a large drum at months-long World Cup tournaments takes a physical toll.
“I had multiple injuries, including injuries to my arms, shoulders and, of course, my neck. I get a massage after the tournament or after therapy,” said Leite, whose main job in the United States, where he lives, is a computer hardware expert. “A lot of people say, well, isn’t it all so hard? And I say yes, it is difficult, but the satisfaction is greater.
“It’s simply impressive,” he adds, as he recalls his time playing in front of crowds in dozens of stadiums over the last few decades.
“Feel very special”
Leite, also known as Wallace Das Copa (World Cup Wallace) by his fans, said that people regularly ask him for pictures, interviews and even autographs at tournaments.
“It’s not like I’m a star, but it makes me feel really special.”
Residents of the countries hosting the World Cup have often invited him home for dinner or took him to tourist attractions such as Kruger Park on a safari tour in South Africa, a visit to the Kremlin in Moscow, and camel rides in Qatar.
“I’ve made so many friends all over the world, learned so much about different cultures and customs, not everyone has the opportunity to do that. That is a blessing,” said the 60-year-old proudly.
When asked what his favorite host country was, he answers diplomatically: “All of them.”
“Every country has so much to offer in terms of nice people and beautiful places to visit. It’s hard to choose,” he said.
His fondest memories of the World Cup are, as he said, “probably Mexico.”
According to Leite, Mexican “people” fell in love with the Brazilian soccer team back in 1970 when the World Cup was held there. The team included soccer legends such as Pele, and Mexican audiences were fascinated by the team’s uniquely creative playing style. Brazil won the cup in Mexico and defeated Italy 4-1 in the final. Pele scored four goals in the tournament.
When he came to Mexico for his first World Cup in 1986, he said the Mexicans had “hugged” him as if he were one of them.
“I felt right at home in Mexico. Oh my god, the people were so nice. I haven’t spent any money. People would pay for anything,” he said.
“I went to restaurants that play mariachi music and they said, ‘Let’s stop with Mariachi, we want to hear Brazilian samba. ‘ People danced and sang on the streets at any time of day. The interactions I had with people felt great.”
Can Brazil bring home a sixth World Cup?
Leite said he “certainly” hopes this will be the year the most coveted trophy in soccer returns to South America.
Angered, he says, “It’s been 20 years since we won.” Brazil last won the World Cup in Japan in 2002 — the fifth.
At the first tournaments, Leite said that his wife Carmen, who works in the fashion industry and also from São Paulo, would accompany her to all games. “She sang with me, danced in the street,” he remarked.
Over time, however, the drummer said that Carmen would no longer come as often.
“It just wasn’t their thing… the way it is for me. It became routine for them.” Leiter, who said he spent weeks getting ready before the tournament started, organizing his costumes and making new music. Carmen urges him to spend more time with her and his two adult daughters.
“When the time comes (for the World Cup), she thinks I’m focusing too much on it… that I’m too crazy about it,” he said. “But overall, she supports me.”
When asked how long he would see himself in World Cup tournaments, he said he had no “time frame.”
“God only knows,” he adds. “As long as I can move, I’m healthy, I can scream and play my instrument, I’ll keep doing it.”