Back in Brazil
(from January 6, 2011)
I suppose this all started with my father’s side of the family being from the West Indies and hearing calypso music in the house growing up, and was then catapulted to the point of no return by my involvement in Montreal’s Salsa music scene and my good fortune to have spent some quality time with Hammond B-3 guru and groove master Dr. Lonnie Smith … as this blog evolves I will go into much greater detail about those experiences …
So here I am in Rio de Janeiro, for the 3rd time in as many years. I’ve come to accept that I will never get a higher rush for the rest of my life (unaided by narcotics of course, but we won’t go there …) than the first time I set foot in the cidade maravilhosa … for about 10 years leading up to that moment in January of 2009, I was gradually becoming more and more captivated by samba in general, and samba school “bateria” in particular … 200+ drummers parading together, prodded along by a truck covered in speakers blasting the theme samba song (Samba Enredo) … I gravitated toward the tamborim – because the parts are among the most musically varied in a samba bateria, and of course also because it’s REALLY LOUD!!
At a certain point it became an obsession – I absolutely HAD to participate in Rio’s carnaval parade in the bateria of a samba school playing tamborim, dressed in an outrageous feathered costume, if it were the last thing I ever did in life … this is one of those things that you either understand, or you don’t.
The samba, whether slow & sensual or fast and fiery, has a very unique and infectious swing to it – the beat is not evenly divided and it feels like it will all fall apart any second … of course it doesn’t, but as you try to make sense of it all, it will pull you in deeper and deeper … and you will realize that there is no other rhythm anywhere that sounds and feels exactly like this …
(Ana Costa at Carioca da Gema, my favorite small samba club):
So on that beautiful sunny afternoon in January 2009, after taking the red-eye flight I groggily stumbled out of my Ipanema hostel and made my way to Praça General Osório … a brass and percussion band, which I later found out was the famous Banda de Ipanema, was playing in the square … small children, grannies, and everyone in between were dancing and singing, were so full of joy … and it hit me hard at that moment that I had finally made it to Brazil … there was nowhere else on earth I could possibly be … and I proceeded to cry my eyes out for the entire two weeks I spent in Rio because the music is really that powerful … and also for the entire 15 hours home on the plane at the end of the trip because it was pure agony to leave.
Being the travel nut that I am I used to have a rule that I would visit a new place I had never been to before at least once a year. I had that going for a good 11 or 12 years … but now I’m willing to toss that one right out the window just to get to be in Rio de Janeiro as much as possible. So come January 2010, I found myself back here again, except that time it just felt normal. At that point I realized what it must be like to have a substance abuse problem … that the extreme chemical high you crave is no longer possible, but you have to keep supplying whatever it is that your body is screaming for just to feel NORMAL. I now feel very normal in Rio de Janeiro. If I didn’t manage to make it here every year I’m sure I’d be a miserable wreck. [2014 note: now I live here!]
As I said, I’ve come to accept that I will never feel the way I did in January 2009 ever again, simply because to me there really is nowhere on earth as exciting as Rio de Janeiro, and one can never re-create that magic first moment of discovery. However, I am on a quest that started 10 years before that, one that may never truly end (because I’m sure I’ll want to do it over and over and over again), so now finally in January 2011, 2 months before Carnaval, I am gearing up to realize this dream of playing tamborim in the parade with a real samba school bateria!!
Here’s an example of what I am hoping to have the honour of being a part of:
(Bateria da Grande Rio, 2009 – two good friends of mine Maninho and Negin were in this bateria; they have been constantly encouraging me to go for it ever since, so I thank them very much for that!)
Tomorrow I will attempt to purchase some sort of camera and video recorder so I can document this experience and share it with you … stay tuned!