Monday, September 12, 2011

More posts coming....

Just a quick explanation as to why there've been no posts recently. First, I've been completely swamped with my cross-country move, moving into my new place, and of course my new job doing marine biology at the New England Aquarium. The second reason is much more exciting, though: I'm finally making progress on my book. Books, actually; I'm writing two simultaneously (well, three, actually, but trying to focus on two). It's going incredibly well and I'm churning out a chapter almost every evening, but the downside is that I haven't had time to keep up the blog.

But I've still got some stuff I'd love to post - updates on Afrobrazil, my trip to Germany for the Bloco X rehearsal, some updates from Rio, and my completely nirvana experience at California Brazil Camp.

But for now I'm pretty busy on the Bay of Fundy, working my rather bizarre project to try to collect respiratory vapor from North Atlantic right whales. Suffice to say it is a military-funded research project involving twenty 2-gallon containers of Hawaiian Fruit Punch, 40 yards of puffy white bridal veil, several pairs of nylon stockings, and a 32' carbon-fiber pole on a 28' boat that is insanely motoring into excited courtship groups of 6 or more right whales at a time, every one of which is bigger than our boat and every one of which is rolling around like a maniac at the surface.

(In a nutshell, when a friend at camp asked me "How close do you get to the whales?" my answer was "I have to jump out of the way" and I was not exaggerating. in fact... special thanks to the adult female yesterday who, just as she was about to roll directly into our boat, gave us a careful look with one eye and thoughtfully tucked her right pectoral flipper to her side rather than bash us off the boat with it as had been about to happen. Or maybe she was just trying to protect her flipper, I don't know. Anyway, thanks, and thanks for the two blow samples too, sweetie, we love you, you're beautiful!)

But we were stuck onshore today by high wind, and will be fogged in for probably 2 or 3 days coming up, so I'm hoping to get some blog posts up soon. Plus get some time on pandeiro again, freshly inspired by Brian Rice's class at camp.

In the meantime, happy drumming to all.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


So, a couple months back I'd stumbled across a friend who does some Brazilian percussion in Boston. I went to a sweet bossa-nova type gig of theirs, sat in a bit (and had a great time), and afterwards, he and the guitarist both told me I needed to check out a group called Afrobrazil.

At this point they both got a sort of religious-convert, wide-eyed look in their eyes. They kept repeating "You HAVE to check out Afrobrazil. It is going to BLOW YOUR MIND. They are AMAZING. You absolutely HAVE to check them out." They both kept saying the leader of this Afrobrazil group was some kind of amazing, incredible, awesome dude, best player ever, best leader ever, coolest repertoire ever, etc. etc.

Privately I was thinking "yeah, yeah, I've seen a lot of groups before" and "Is this going to be one of those Cult-of-Personality things?" The kind of group where everybody worships a Big Dude, and the Big Dude is always front-and-center with the solos, and the group website has just a giant photo of the Big Dude, and Big Dude takes all the gig money and nobody else ever gets paid. Sometimes you have to pay a hefty sum just to be in the glorious presence of the Big Dude for a couple hours per week. I know a few groups like that, and (unless it's somebody truly phenomenal) I'm usually not interested in that kind of thing.

So a few weeks later I finally managed to track down the group. They rehearse on Tuesday nights, someplace in Allston. So Tuesday night rolls around, I motor on over there in my ice-encrusted Forester, blundering my way through Boston's infamous 7-way intersections, and the twisting, turning streets that keep changing their names every three blocks, and the gigantic snowdrifts blocking your view on every corner. Finally managed to find the right street, managed to park my car (by driving it up at an angle onto the 4-foot-tall snowdrift that was covering all the parking spaces), found the street number I was looking for. It was a gorgeous new building with a gigantic "BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC" sign over the front.

Berklee College of Music? What was I doing at a Berklee building? (note to foreign readers: this is different from Berkeley the research university, which is in California. Berklee is in Boston and does music only; it is one of the top music schools in the USA.)

I walked in to a huge lobby full of drums. Down a hallway to the right were dozens and dozens of tiny, closet-sized, sound-proofed rehearsal rooms, all in a row, many in use by Berklee students practicing diligently. Down the same hallway to the left were a set of four or five larger rooms, each one big enough for a small band, and each equipped with a drumset and sound system. (Several groups were rehearsing - I could just barely hear their beautiful music drifting out through the double-airlock soundproofing doors.) And at the end of the hallway, past another double door for soundproofing: a bright, beautiful big hall for ensemble rehearsals. With stacks of surdos, repiniques, caixas, a box of sticks and straps, and a big box of earplugs. Plus a grand piano and a full set of concert tympani, just in case we needed them.

Afrobrazil turns out to be a "student club" of the Berklee College of Music. And that means Afrobrazil gets (a) free rehearsal space, (b) free drums, (c) maybe 4/5 of the group is Berklee students, and, THAT means, the group has a ridiculously high average level of chops. Pretty much everybody seems to be either a drumset major or a percussion major. Brand-new people drift in at every rehearsal, and the brand-new people can immediately pick up a caixa or a timbal and just start ripping it up. Everybody's got good time. Everybody can pick up any pattern in a few minutes. Everybody can solo. Everybody can read music.

So, the Big Dude turns out to be a Bahian guy named Marcus Santos. During Feb and March he was in and out a lot touring, and then when he was back, I was in Brazil; so one thing and another, we kept missing each other. Then last Wednesday at a little show in the Berklee cafeteria, a big friendly-looking guy I'd never seen before stepped forward and did a phenomenal timbal solo. Like... a TRULY beautiful timbal solo. I've seen a hell of a lot of great timbal playing, and this guy was GOOD. What I really liked about his playing was not the flash or the specific riffs, but that it was so well played. Superb clarity - no muddiness at all, no fuzz, every hit absolutely perfectly placed - and impeccable technique, with the basses, slaps and tones all incredibly bassy, slappy and toney, respectively. None of that blurred, half-djembe/half-conga technique that you see a lot on timbal in the US.

"Who's THAT guy?" I asked somebody, and of course it turned out to be Marcus.

He turned out to be truly friendly - always smiling, and giving big, ebullient bear-hug greetings to everybody. Then last night he led rehearsal, and it turns out he's also got a really cool leading style. He hits that hard-to-attain balance of being very cheerful and encouraging and fun, while also simultaneously pushing the group to play better, better, better. (Kind of reminded me of Brian Davis actually.) He pushed us so hard we stayed 45 minutes late drilling a new maracatu piece over and over and over. So, my two friends were right - this really IS a great group, and the leader is a Big Dude in the very best way. (oh, and, rehearsals are free, and gigs are paid. Yeah!)

The one thing I am going to have to adjust to is that this is emphatically not a traditional group. That is, Afrobrazil's real aim is to do original compositions, NOT to play traditional genres. As Marcus said last night (paraphrasing:) "We don't play samba, we don't play samba-reggae, we don't play baiao, we don't play maracatu. What we play are original compositions that are drawn somewhat from those genres, but we're not trying to play those genres exactly."

That said, though, it seems to me that Afrobrazil's actually got a quite traditional Olodum/Timbalada foundation. Their instrument lineup is pretty much straight Olodum: there's a couple fundos at the back (first and second surdos), then a very strong lineup of thirds who all do very flash choreographies; then a big line of caixas, and another big line of repiques. Then a couple of red-hot players on timbal. (That's Timbalada influence of course. Olodum didn't originally have timbal, but does have a few now.) Surdos are short and are slung low from a double waist strap, caixas are mostly parallel to the ground and are played pretty square, repiques are all 8" and played with plastic rods, the third surdo is mostly called "cortador" (cutter) or "dobrado" (doubler), and is played with two mallets. (Almost all the thirds even played the samba with two mallets, in fact - giving the samba a very samba-reggae feel.) The group doesn't have hand-and-stick repique at all, and in fact when they need to do a repique samba call, rather than do it on repique they do it on timbal - but playing the timbal with hand-and-stick as if it were a repique! Even though they've got repiques right there! (Worked surprisingly well actually.) All that's very Olodum ish, right?

(Also, just to complete the picture, there are a couple other people on stray other stuff like bell for maracatu, triangle for baiao, and ganza. The ganza player, btw, totally kicks ass. I ended up watching him for a large chunk of the Wed show.)

Anyway, all in all it seems very Olodum/Timbalada influenced. Yet they do not play classic Olodum or Timbalada style. They do use a pretty common Olodum-derived break in their samba-reggae... but shifted by one beat. ("AND FOUR" rather than "AND THREE".) They use a really classic Timbalada entrada (the one from Toque de Timbaleiro) ... but changed at the end. They use a really classic Rio repique samba call... but played on timbal, like I said, and with the bateria starting the clave two beats early. (Uh-oh.) (Hands up, all of you who know why I am saying "uh oh" about that...) They don't really do Rio-style samba at all, in fact - they only do 1 samba piece, and it's very Bahian in flavor, very slow and groovy, sort of like Ile Aiye's "antigo" style circa late 70s. (It's so different from the Rio samba that I usually play that I didn't even recognize it as a samba till we got two minutes into it.)

So the whole group's this fascinating mix of top level chops, with elements of traditionality, but all in a nontraditional context that sort of floats around Brazilian genres without really BEING those genres. Overall... SUPER cool repertoire. Their thirds have some especially amazing patterns - long loopy things that cycle through three or four variations, all with groovy, showy choreography. The group's got some rhythms I haven't even seen any other US groups tackle - a galope, for example. AND, they've got a couple pieces where most of band scatters to the sides, and all the surdos come dancing forward and take center stage! Rah surdos! I seriously love a group that features the surdos like that.

It'll be a bit of an adjustment for me to go Bahian style instead of my usual Rio style, but I'm excited about it. (Except for that two-counts-early thing in the samba....) They are really going to push me! And I'm thrilled to have found them.

Now I gotta go plow through my rehearsal recordings and write out that maracatu....

Some updates

Oops, I totally forgot I left my blog on such a dismal sad note. Leaving Portland, right. Well, it's three months on now and I've gotten so much cheerier, and with so much stuff going on, that I just forgot to update the blog! So here's some updates:

- MAJOR changes going on back in Portland. Maybe I left at the right time! The Lions have been scaled back and don't rehease weekly any more; they still exist, and drum and dance classes are still running, but the drumming side of it is only being called together now and then, for focused rehearsals for certain big gigs. So of course all the Lions players (plus ex-Lions and other assorted drummers) are missing the weekly rehearsals, so they are putting together a new group, and that means going through all the inevitable turmoil - meetings, committees, surveys, endless rounds of emails and soul-searching and arguing and apologizing, and more meetings and surveys and emails, and STILL MORE SURVEYS, AND ENDLESS EMAILS ABOUT THE SURVEYS, jesus effin c, and YET MORE EMAILS, and discussions about names and rehearsal space and goals and whatnot. All of this is normal, of course, and it's all part of the process. I'm simultaneously glad I'm gone, and wishing I could be there to contribute to what comes next. Anyway, the new group (still unnamed I think) seems to be coming together ... at least, the endless flow of emails has stopped, which probabaly means things are settling down to some kind of normal weekly flow. Certainly there's a tremendous amount of samba skill in Portland, and a couple of excellent leader types, and the new group's got the potential to be great.

Still miss the Lions though. My time as a Lion was really the defining element of the last five years of my life. (I was just recently going through my housing history of the last five years, and discovered I started playing with the Lions way back in 2006. Hey! I've been a Lion for five years, who knew!)

- And then I managed to get to Rio for three weeks for Carnaval. (See the riostories blog.) This was a tiny trip for me; I buzzed in only two days before Carnaval started, so was not able to play with escolas. But that wasn't my goal this time. I really just wanted to play with Banga, see the parades, and most of all see all my friends! Anyway, Rio was fantastic as always, with the real highpoint being playing with Bangalafumenga in both their Carnaval parade and their last big Lapa show of the ressaca-do-Carnaval (the "hangover-of-Carnaval", the weekend after Ash Wednesday). I was on repique again this year, actually remembered pretty much all of the repique patterns, knew many more of the songs and felt MUCH more confident and relaxed. I could see Pedro, the repique leader, gearing up several times to remind me of pattern changes in certain songs, then looking very relieved when it turned out I already knew them. He actually blew me kisses a couple times when I nailed some of the trickier transitions. The Lapa show was particularly awesome... god, we played the roof off that building, and the crowd was just euphoric. (And just fyi, the new Magalenha arrangement kicks ass.)

Also managed to snatch some time with my Cubango crowd - Daniel, Dora, Mestre Jonas, Humberto and some of my other buds - out in Niteroi at a crazy little bloco. Daniel drove me all the way out there, and then Humberto took the trouble to escort me clear back across the bridge all the way to the Sambodromo later that night, bless the both of them. Saw Monobloco and Rio Maracatu too, and went to just about all the escola parades of Grupo de Acesso and Grupo Especial, made some great new friends, went about 100 hours with about 6 hrs sleep, then got sick, then went and lay on the beach for a week, all the usual.

- Just fyi, Dudu Fuentes is returning to California Brazil Camp for WEEK 2 ONLY. I think (but am not sure) that he'll be doing a full class of his own to teach Banga repertoire (i.e. not samba). So sign up now and get your tickets! Me, I'm desperately hoping that my August whale fieldwork in the Bay of Fundy goes so amazingly smoothly that I can bolt away for a week to California. But I won't know till the last second (depends on the weather in the Bay of Fundy and on how many boat days we get). Fingers crossed!

- And I've got my ticket to go to Bloco X! It's coming up in just a few weeks! In Germany, at Bad Orb, on the first weekend of May. CAN'T WAIT. God, it's so nice to be closer to Europe. I'm going to London first to see some samba friends there, then to the Max Planck Institute for some biology stuff, then to Bloco X. I'm working really hard on tamborim for this, practicing every day. I hope I will be up to Bloco X standards on tamborim by the time I go - though, given their level of skill, maybe not. If not, I'll have to haul a caixa all over Europe again, and I really am sick of traveling with a caixa. It is way past time to switch to a smaller drum. So, me and the tamborim, we are becoming best buds at last.

- But the big news is that I found a REALLY cool afrobrazilian group here in Boston. They're called Afrobrazil. See next post.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Leaving Portland

I haven't been doing any blog writing since mid fall. Starting in early October I've been in an intense grind of laptop-based writing - first a sea turtle grant, then a series of textbook jobs, then two whale grants. The sea turtle grant turned out beautifully but also gave me tendonitis in my right hand, which became persistent enough that I decided I wouldn't do any other writing, beyond that which was absolutely required. And no drumming.

Actually though the other reason I haven't been writing is that I've been kind of bummed. About leaving Portland. Just didn't want to write about it.

My teaching job in Portland ended way back in December 2009. There's not really that many jobs around in Portland for endangered-species biologists, so for all of 2010 I've just been burning through savings. The savings are gone - I was just about down to zero - and I'd finally got an awesome new job starting in January in Boston. So in October and November I wrote my sea turtle grant (for the new job) and started preparing for my cross-country move to Boston.

Kind of fun packing up, actually. Jettisoning everything. I'd just watched a friend do a Seattle-to-Maine move, and watching her shell out $5000 for the cross-country moving truck convinced me that I would be better off just getting rid of everything. So I sold/discarded/scanned all of my cds, photos, all my paper files, all but one box of books (The Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Windward Road, a copy of my mom's PhD thesis, a copy of mine, and not much else.) I sold all my camping equipment, more than half my clothes, and half my shoes. I sold or gave away my dumbeks, frame drums, the beautiful zabumba, three huge surdos, my white-rim caixa, a tan-tan, a fine shekere.... I gave away my fabulous Samba Gata black-feather headdress (to a great young player who'd joined our group recently). On and on it went. Toss, sell, toss, sell. I even finally repaired my strange, beautiful, cracked, hand-carved timbal, the one that was damaged in transport way back in my very first trip to Salvador. I spent a couple hours one afternoon gluing the cracks, hammering the bottom hoop back on, drilling in new bolts to keep the hoop secure. The whole drum pulled back together amazingly and actually started to sound good. (It went to a mom who bought it as a birthday present for her capoeira-addicted son - a fellow who's not really a serious drummer but who wanted something beautiful, something from Salvador, something unique, just so he could have something to practice some capoeira patterns on. The perfect home for that timbal.)

One by one all the drums left, off to their new homes, or packed up. It felt good, actually, to clear it out. Enough already with the hoarding of multiple things that I never play. Do I really need five surdos? Three timbals? Four shekeres? Three caixas? I mean, seriously.

I stored a few things I just couldn't bear to part with: The two alfaias from the brilliant maker Recife. My favorite timbal that Kaboduka picked out for me in Salvador. The wonderful 16" skin-head surdo that I played in my first season at Banga. My 2010 Cubango costume, which took up an entire crate, and which I'd sworn I would give away... but somehow I just didn't.

December arrived. Two days before my departure date. I packed up my car as a trial run; would it all fit? No, it turned out. I shipped a couple boxes. I decided I had to leave the repique behind. It just wouldn't fit. Maybe I'll get it shipped later.

In the end I took: One caixa, my favorite choro pandeiro, my best shekere, and my tamborim, frigideira, and a chocalho. A small selection of mallets and sticks and just two straps. And, in an odd moment of Boston Irish sentimentality, my Irish bodhran that I haven't touched in years.

On December 4th I started driving. Three thousand miles in mid-winter and across a half dozen mountain passes, stopping in almost every city to see friends and family. Through Snoqualmie Pass over the Cascades, past vast eastern Washington, then seemingly a year crossing the snowy Rockies in Montana - possibly the most beautiful state in the nation in winter? - and then the vast, endless, flat white plains of North Dakota, past the mysterious huge North Dakota billboards that just say "BE POLITE" and "BE KIND". Christmas in Chicago. Then suddenly in the dense ugly East Coast toll roads, past the grim Great Lakes industrial areas, shooting through New York State, and suddenly in Massachusetts.

I pulled in to Boston on December 30th, moved into a new house on January 1 (a place I'd signed a year lease on without meeting my housemates nor seeing the place in person), and immediately threw myself into my new job - setting up a new marine biology lab at the New England Aquarium. The first two weeks were a ceaseless whirlwind of grant-writing; twelve-hour work days and scampering home through the blizzards, with not enough warm-weather clothes (oh... subzero... I just forgot what it FEELS like, subzero temperatures. I forgot how it bites the inside of your lungs.) One of my new housemates flaked out almost instantly, storming out of house discussions and moving out, but the other three turn out to be amazing, and the house is incredible.

It has been terrifically surreal and strange to be flung back into this snowy, wintry, beautiful city from my childhood. This rich, vibrant, city, with its ten thousand squirrely, wiggly streets that change names and directions every block; its amazing history (I trot through the old City Hall, under the old gilded colonial lion & unicorn statues, and over the paving stone that marks the site of the Boston Massacre, every morning on my way to work); working on the beautiful waterfront, with the sun rising every morning over the sailboats just outside my office window. Excellent clam chowder and lobster rolls in every one of the eight Irish pubs that stand side-by-side in the three blocks around my work. Walking past world-class hospitals, colleges and universities on almost every other block (there are fifty-two major colleges and universities just in the metro area alone).

But what's surreal is that I'm not playing samba. Instead I'm back in a full-time lab job - the same kind of job I had before Brazil - the kind of job that I ran away from, five years ago, to go play music in Brazil. Suddenly it seems I'm back where I started, writing grants again, buying pipettors and vortexers and stirring hotplates again, planning fieldwork again, setting up a lab again.... On the plus side, I love the job, the city, my incredibly fun new housemates, my house, my rapidly-gentrifying-but-still-very-Hispanic neighborhood. And I definitely love having family nearby. But on the minus side - No Lions. No Gatas. No Axe Dide. No Portland. My wonderful circle of musician friends has been torn away.

I can't shake the eerie feeling that I'd imagined the entire last five years... all my Brazil visits, all my gigs with all my West Coast bands, all my Lions history. All my friends. Best circle of friends I ever had. I wake up at night periodically, sometimes just baffled and disoriented about where I am - what city am I in? what country? what bed is this? - and sometimes almost shuddering at the sense of something disappearing out of my life, something lost. Half awake and half dreaming, but aware that something is fluttering away, getting just out of reach, something important.

A new TV show called "Portlandia" has just started up on cable tv - a comedy about Portland, Oregon! The place "where young people go to retire", "where you can put a bird on something and call it art." I watched an episode last week, and the characters were referring constantly to Portland landmarks and streets - Hawthorne, Burnside, Powell's - and each time, I'd think "Oh, that's about a mile away to the southeast, isn't it?" and ten seconds later would come the slow, puzzled thought: "No, it's not a mile to the southeast. It's three thousands miles to the west." (The first time this happened, I started to choke up.) Later in the episode I thought "Portland is just such a cool city. I'm so proud to be a Portlandian!", and again, the delayed, slow, stumbling thought "I'm not a Portlandian any more. I don't live in Portland any more."

I'm still on the Lions email lists and keep getting emails referring to new rehearsal locations, recent meetings, big restructuring discussions (about which more later). It's so frustrating to get these scattered, out-of-context, puzzling emails, knowing major changes are going on in the Portland samba scene and wishing I could be a part of it. I've been here a month and a half and haven't even put my caixa back together yet! For three weeks it was frozen into the rooftop carrier of my car, actually; I finally chipped the thing open and got the caixa pieces out, but now it's just sitting in pieces all over the floor.

I put a picture of a lion up on my wall by my mirror. (It's a painting by one of my Portland artist housemates.) To remind me of what I am. Or of what I want to be, I guess. Of what I must not lose.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bloco X at the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon

I just got an email from Bloco X, inviting me to their annual samba bash at the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon on October 31.

They will have a "rehearsal" on October 30th.

And you know what that means! The phrase "Bloco X rehearsal" is, as far as I can tell, code for "massive samba party".

I can't go this year... but next year... you know, living on the East Coast is definitely going to have some perks. Europe will be so much closer. Still not cheap, exactly, but being 5 hours and a few hundred bucks closer is definitely going to help.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Batucaxé calls down the storm gods

I have to write a little bit about Batucaxe before too much more time slips by. So, what happened was, I flew to Tucson last week on my magic JetBlue ticket to visit a dear dear dear dear dear friend from my college days. One of those life-long friends who is at the very core of your heart. Her name's Susan.

When we were college roommates, neither of us knew the first thing about Brazil - or at least I didn't - my conception of Brazil was about as accurate as shown in this map (this is the famous "map of Europe as seen by Americans"):

(Later Susan & I went to Europe together - my first trip to Europe - that was when I discovered that there some little countries in between France and Germany, which right there makes me vastly more knowledgeable than 99% of Americans. Anyway.) So, the point is, neither Susan nor I had been the least bit into Brazil when we'd known each other in the long-ago past. Fast-forward to 2010 - guess what, Susan now turns out to have joined a Brazilian drum-and-dance group! Obviously there's some kind of parallel evolution going on here. Anyway, so last week when we saw each other for the first time in something like 8 years, in between all the laughing and hugs and rounds of brownie-baking, she says, hey, you want to come see a couple of rehearsals of this amazing Brazilian dance group that I've joined? Of course I said HELL YEAH. But I had no idea what kind of group it might be. When people invite you to see their local group, you never quite know if it's going to turn out to be a fluff group or a heavy-duty group, you know? Nothing against the fluff groups, they're lots of fun too; they've all got their place in the cosmos. But you just never know what kind of thing it's going to be. Will it be a fluff group, or a heavy-duty group?

So anyway, the group she'd joined turned out to be Batucaxé.

I have to back up here and set the stage. So, the last couple years that I've been going to Brazil Camp, I'm always totally exhausted by the time the samba-reggae class rolls around. It's always the last class of the day, and I typically am tired and overwhelmed, and brain is overflowing, and tamborim patterns are leaking out of my ears, and simply cannot take in any new drum patterns at that point in the day. But the last couple years, there have been these two amazing guys in the timbal class. Really awesome players who always remembered all the breaks, always playing about ten times stronger than anybody else, and, best of all, super friendly and helpful. I quickly discovered that the best place to stand, if you're in the timbal section at camp, is right next to these two guys, or better still right between them, because they're the kind of super-friendly guys who will try to play extra-clearly next to you if they notice that you've haven't quite got the pattern yet. Kind of coaxing you along with big friendly looks and then giving you a great big encouraging smile when you do finally get it. I remember last year feeling especially grateful to the two of them. I was sort of vaguely thinking that one was named Cliff Something and the other fellow was named, in my mind anyway, Guy-With-The-Cool-Hat.

You can guess what's coming - I'm lying around at the Batucaxe rehearsal when who should walk in? Cliff Something (Berrien) and Guy with the Cool Hat! (who turns out to have another name entirely - Kenya Masala.) I jumped up in total shock - oh my god! It's Cliff and Guy with the Cool Hat! The two timbal gods from camp! I couldn't get over it. And it turns out Cliff is the overall director of Batucaxe, and Kenya is one of the sub-directors. I'm sure they must have told me at some point at camp that they were from Tucson, but I'd just never put it all together and realized that THAT'S the group that Susan was dancing with.

Next a really cool surdo guy who I remember from camp, Alfie, also turns up, and a several other familiar CBC faces (one of whom says when she sees me "Oh my god! It's the Dudu Chick!" - guess I've acquired my own weird CBC moniker) Such a pleasure, and such a surprise, to find so many familiar friendly faces.

So. Batucaxé. First off. These cats are ORGANIZED. Awesome rehearsal hall with good dance floor and mirrors. (In an industrial area so they can often go outside and do sectionals, outside in the street, without having to worry about noise-ordinance issues.) Roomy side closets for drum storage, packed completely full of some insane number of surdos (looked like at least 10?), plus caixas, plus repiques. The drums all match. Stands for the caixas. Huge plastic crates neatly labeled "STRAPS, STICKS, MALLETS " "BELLS" "CHOCALHOS" and chock full of exactly what their labels said (wow.... what a concept... the labels were correct). Big bin of earplugs free for the taking. Four full racks of... steel pans! - and just for one song, Aquarela do Brasil. (I don't mean four steel pans; I mean four RACKS of steel pans) Twelve samba dancers! Insanely cool choreography! Twenty-five drummers! A full line of timbals! Four dun-dun dancers, with their own drums! A full set of actual alfaias! A podium for the director to stand up on so everybody could see him! Assistant directors! Smooth hand-over of control! Efficient use of rehearsal time! Drummers paying attention! (wow... how do they do that?) A surdo director (this was Alfie) who was cuing the newer surdo players through everything (thus sparing the overall director from having to spend all his time doing surdo-cuing). A full sound system - big blue-light Mackies and microphones and all. Singers who could actually sing! Songs. MELODY. People leaping! Dancing! Shouting! Singing!

Batucaxé started playing, and a huge roll of thunder burst through the sky. The drums came pounding in on an awesome West African rhythm, and a low throaty growl started to rumble through the entire building - was it an echo from the drums? No, it wasn't just the drums. Something else was going on. The growl got louder and louder and louder, becoming a roar, a throaty, rumbling, huge-voiced roar. Were there lions outside, or a herd of elephants maybe? Perhaps a herd of dinosaurs was attacking the building? Lights started flickering on and off. Batucaxé kept on playing. I ran outside and found that the building was being pummeled by a thick, heavy barrage of pea-sized hailstones (this in Tucson, Arizona, where temps had been running 100F.) I ran back inside, excitedly showing a handful of icy hailstones to the surdo players; and Batucaxé kept on playing, with the massive growls of thunder and the drumming roar of the hail, and the flickering lights, and the cracks and flashes of lightning from outside. I thought, this probably happens every time Batucaxé plays; because they were playing with enough wild energy, and groove, and drive, and heart, and swing, to call down the honest-to-goodness storm gods.

So here's the deal on Batucaxé: They are not a fluff group. They are a Heavy-Duty Group.

Now the geeky drum notes. A couple of things that really caught my eye. Well, the organization, definitely - especially, the place to store the surdos and the presence of a good sound system really got me thinking. (Lions have been kind of hampered by the lack of storage space and the fact that we shift between two different rehearsal places - our Sunday place and our Monday place - so we're always hauling surdos all over Portland, so, nobody ever wants to drag a sound system too.)

Second. Huge diversity in repertoire. West African, a 6/8 thingy, Timbalada pieces, samba-reggae, afrosamba, a genuine maracatu (with alfaias), Rio-style samba, and a bunch of other stuff too. Samba was only a small part of their repertoire; most of the rep was a huge variety of other kinds of rhythms. It gave their repertoire a lot of texture and different flavors.

Third. Songs! Melody! Batucaxé has singers. Now the cool thing is, it was just a singer - a good singer- and the drums. No cavaquinho (though apparently they do often have one, just not at this particular rehearsal, but Cliff confirmed that they will often do tunes with just singer + drums.) The point is, a cavaquinho is great if you have one, but you shouldn't let lack of a cavaquinho prevent you from ever doing any songs. If you have a really good singer, then singer + drums is very, very, very effective at holding audience interest, much more than just drums alone. Even if it's just one Olodum song, or one Timbalada song (Toque de Timbaleiro is a perfect example of this kind of thing, and in fact Batucaxé sings that). Or, say, one piece that you start with a bitty little singy intro - like, for example, Cliff singing a cool little chant, and the whole bateria singing it back, then a massive and eardrum-destroying BOOM, and the bateria enters. Creative stuff like that, putting in a bit o' singing here & there, is so effective at texturing your sound and holding audience interest.

Fourth. I just really dug that they do Aquarela do Brasil on steel pans. So pretty! Then the bateria comes in; very cool. I've always had a soft spot for that song. I know it's an oldie but boy is it a goodie. Samba de exaltação. That one really made me dance.

The Germans are already here

Just spent a whole day today actually writing my sea turtle grant, which is already looking pretty spiff. Recall that this turtle grant (massively complicated to write, requiring physical proximity to a university library, and due Nov 11) is the reason I am in the US right now instead of in Brazil.

Coincidentally I just got a bunch of Facebook messages from four different Rio friends who don't even really know each other - they all just happened to write to me on the same day. Christiana, Andrezza, Dudu (the wonderful Banga musician who taught at camp), and Daniel (the great caixa player from Cubango who so kindly took me under his wing, when I first showed up there as a lone stray gringa last year). I haven't heard from most of these folks in months, and suddenly all these messages coincidentally pile in one after another on the very same day! And they said:

"where are you??"

"where are you????"

"where are you? Sergio just got here and Dennis is coming next week. You're the only one missing!"

"Where are you? All the Germans are here already!" [at Cubango rehearsal]

To which I can only reply:

lucky Sergio!
lucky Dennis!
lucky lucky lucky lucky Germans

aiii.... I just have to keep thinking of the little turtles....turtles, turtles, turtles, cute little turtles, turtles in trouble, turtles that need help, turtles! Stop thinking about Rio. Think about TURTLES.

Here's a little guy who was saved by our program:

Here's a nice story about our turtle program.

one more photo to convince myself some things might be more important than going to Rio. This poor little guy had the bad luck to be caught in the BP oil spill, and no, he's not breathing any more.

We're not working directly on the BP-oiled turtles (who turn out to be caught in a lot of complicated legal paperwork anyway, poor things). But a lot of the Kemp's were in that area, during the spill, so it's expected the species took a blow this year, which makes it just that much more important to try to save each of the little guys that washes up in Cape Cod. OK, back to the turtle grant-writing. Cubango will still be there next year, right? Right? Right?