‘World Cup Wallace’: Meet Brazilian football’s unofficial drummer

Doha, Qatar – Since 1986, nothing has stopped Brazilian unofficial World Cup drummer Wallace Leite from attending the most prestigious football event in the world.

Age, injuries, family obligations, nothing has stopped the Brazilian and his drum from the World Cup.

The 60-year-old from Sao Paulo has been to the last 10 World Cups and has tirelessly carried and played his Surdao (Brazilian drum) at every match with the Canarinha – “little canaries” as the Brazilian team is affectionately known for their bright yellow team jersey.

“It’s a natural high,” Leite said of drumming and the World Cup. “It’s like I’ve found the source of happiness,” he told Al Jazeera, decked out in the same outfit, with hues of Brazil’s national flag that he’s worn during all of his team’s matches at the Qatar tournament.

He prays that the outfit will bring good luck to his side.

For Leite, it’s all about the “positive response” he gets from the hordes of fans who gather around him when he plays the Surdao, in what he calls his “perfect place.”

“There are no problems, no politics, everyone just supports Brazil,” he said.

Wallace Leite celebrates the Brazilian team’s 3-1 victory against Peru in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [File: Leo Correa/AP Photo]

His favorite instrument is the Surdao, a 7 kg Brazilian drum which he has played at every World Cup match since the 1990 tournament in Italy. Earlier, Leite said he had used a smaller type of percussion drum, although the pitch was “too high” to his liking.

The Surdao helps to “keep the rhythm together”.

“I feel like I can move and hype so many more people [the Surdao],” he adds.

With a slim figure of 79 kg (174 lb) and 177 cm (5 feet, nine inches) in height, he admits that beating a big drum during month-long World Cup tournaments takes a physical toll.

“I have had several injuries including pain in my arms, shoulders and of course neck. After the tournament I get a massage or some therapy,” says Leite, whose day job in the United States where he lives is as a computer hardware expert. “Many people say: isn’t it all so difficult? And I say yes, it’s hard, but the satisfaction is greater.

“It’s just wow,” he adds as a look of wonder comes over his face as he thinks back to his time playing dozens of stadiums to crowds over the decades.

Wallace Leite In Qatar
Leite (right) in Doha, Qatar with his Surdao, an instrument he has used in every World Cup match since Italy’s 1990 tournament [Courtesy of Wallace Leite]

‘I feel very special’

Leite, also known as Wallace Das Copa (World Cup Wallace) by his fans, said people regularly approach him for photos, interviews and even autographs during the tournaments.

“It’s not like I’m a celebrity, but it does make me feel very special.”

Residents of countries hosting the World Cup have often invited him to their homes for meals or taken him to tourist attractions, such as Kruger National Park for a safari in South Africa, a visit to the Kremlin in Moscow and camel riding in Qatar. .

Wallace Leite In Russia, 2018
Leite says he has been playing percussion drums since he was 11 years old [Courtesy of Wallace Leite]

“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. It’s a blessing,” said the 60-year-old proudly.

When asked what his favorite host country has been, he diplomatically replies: “All of them”.

“Every country has so much to offer in terms of friendly people, beautiful places to visit. it’s hard to choose,” he said.

His fondest World Cup memories are, he said, “probably Mexico”.

According to Leite, the Mexican “people fell in love” with Brazil’s soccer team in 1970 when the World Cup was held there. The team included football legends such as Pele, and the Mexican public was mesmerized by the team’s unique creative style of play. Brazil would win the trophy in Mexico beating Italy 4–1 in the final, with Pele scoring four goals in the tournament.

Wallace Leite In Mexico In 1986
‘World Cup Wallace’ plays the drums in Turin, Italy during the 1990 World Cup, in which Brazil was eliminated by Argentina in the round of 16 [Courtesy of Wallace Leite]

When he arrived in Mexico for his first World Cup in 1986, he said the Mexicans “hugged” him as if he were one of them.

“I felt at home in Mexico. Oh my god people were so nice. I haven’t spent any money. People would pay for anything,” he shared.

“I went to restaurants where they played mariachi music and they said ‘let’s stop doing mariachi, we want to hear Brazilian samba’. People danced and sang in the streets all day long. The interactions I had with people, that was a great feeling.”

Can Brazil take home a sixth World Cup?

Leite said he “definitely hopes” this will be the year the most coveted trophy in football returns to South America.

Annoyed, he says, “It’s been 20 years since we won.” Brazil last won the World Cup – their fifth – in 2002 in Japan.

Wallace Leite On Lusail Boulevard In Doha, Qatar [Courtesy Of Wallace Leite]
Leite wears a ghutra (left) on Lusail Boulevard in Doha, Qatar [Courtesy of Wallace Leite]

For the first few tournaments, Leite said his wife Carmen, who works in the fashion industry and is also from Sao Paulo, would accompany all matches. “She sang with me, danced in the street,” he noted.

However, as time passed, the drummer said that Carmen would not come as often.

“It just wasn’t her thing… like it is for me. It became routine for her.” Leite, who said he prepares, arranges his costumes and creates new music weeks before the tournament starts, urges Carmen to spend more time with her and his two adult daughters.

“When the time comes (before 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 sees himself drumming at World Cup tournaments, he said he had no “time frame”.

“Only God knows,” he adds. “As long as I can move, have good health, shout and play my instrument, I will continue to do it.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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