Porto Rico Residency

During July we had some of the world class musicians from Nacao du Maracatu Porto Rico come over to teach us both how to make drums and perform on them. Not only was this a major event taking up a great deal of our time but it was also my first event as the Jack Drum Arts Apprentice. This is a relfection of my experiences and what I experienced and learned from them, not just as a performer but also as an artist and leader.

I had only been back from our trip to Brazil for a couple of months when I heard that we were going to be able to bring them over here to teach us more and help induct more members into our new Maracatu band with their amazing leading. I was excited as it would mean seeing them again but it was also my first major Project with Jack Drum since joining them as an apprentice. The first time I saw them was on Monday the 10th of July, we said our hellos and hugged but it was straight to work. We had already gathered the materials they said they needed as they were going to help us make new drums. We hoped to get straight into it but after spending hours trying to work the ply wood we had in different ways it became clear we could only bend it along the shorter edge, this meant much smaller drums. Despite this we began to work on them and had started the shells of a handful of drums. As we worked they would gather our attention before starting a new process, doing a couple among themselves as we watched so we could learn the processes. However that was all we could make today as we had to rehearse the playing of the drums. Around half of the performers were those that went to Brazil but the other half were made up of a mixture of new faces and our Samba Band. None of that seemed to matter as Rumeneg, the leader, began to explain what we needed to do. The only issue I could see arrising was that Rumeneg could not speak English and we could not Speak Portugese. This proved to be a none issue as Bigato, a masterful snare player, was also our translator and did so beautifully. Whenever we didn't understand they would go over it with different words and try to explain it differently but that didn't mean we ever got a break. We were always either playing or ready to play at a moments notice.

Next few days were very similar, the Drums were slowly being worked on with different young people coming in to practice making the drums and learn the skills required. They all seemed eager to learn and tried to find every opportinty to do so, despite much of the time we spend making the drums being during school time. With Rumeneg and Bigato explaining as myself and Jack Burton helped clarify as some of the terms for parts of the drums were difficult or impossible to translate and so we had to just explain and describe them in a little more detail. On the afternoons and evening we would rehearse, however we would focus on different aspects for the next few days. On tuesday we spent the entire rehearsal singing Loas or Songs and practising them again and again. A lot of people found the Loas quite difficult as they are in portugese and so they were difficult to sing as more then the sounds that made up each word. However by the end of Tuesday we were all sining fantastically and everyone knew most, if not all, of the lyrics. On wednesday we instead focused on the drumming, with little to no singing and repeating the Rhythms we learned on Monday and learning a few new ones to match some of the Loas we learned the day before, again some of the new rhythms proved tricky as they were more complicated and quite fast, but by the end of the day we had learned them near perfectly. On Thursday, our last rehearsal before Braziliza, we brought it all together and performed outside. Marching up and down the grass and forming into different shapes and widths, performing all the while. We didn't spend as long rehearsing, though, on Thursday as they said were we ready and that we would do more harm then good if we rehearsed any more after the intensive week.

On the Saturday we travelled down to Liverpool for Brazilica. After the long journey down we wasted no time in roping and tuning the drums. While Rumeneg taught some of us techniques on how to rope the drums as some members of the band were unable to arrive early enough during rehearsal to rope their own. As they always did they taught us through showing. Showing us all Initially what to do and then heading over to anyone struggling and showing them what to do over a small section before letting them finish by themselves. After we had roped the drums we moved straight on to a rehearsal, gathering a small crowd before eventually pausing for Lunch. After Lunch it was approaching the time to play and so we got ready and put on our hats. The Parade was going to start in thirty minutes, so we started drumming then and kept on drumming until we reached out starting position. We continued drumming until halfway through the parade where we spared five minutes for water, after which we continued playing until another thirty minutes after the Parade had finished. We had gather quite a crowd by the time we finished and had our ashe.

The next week we had a variety of performances and when we were not performing we were rehearsing. The drums quickly began to look like drums and people were slowly beginning to have more time to help as the schools were aproaching a close. On the following Monday, after Brazilica we found some time to work on the drums, starting work on the two rings that are used to tune the drums. We had soon done the first part of half a dozen such rings before we were out of time for the day. On the Wednesday we managed to do a couple of performances at St. Johns and King James secondary schools, which were met with a surprising level of enthusiasm and interest. On Thursday we did a Rehearsal with a bit of a twist, as Jack Drum’s normal Samba band were also scheduled to Rehearse we did a bit of a share, showing them Maracatu as they then showed us and Porto Rico their skills in Samba and we then had a good cultural talk about each others cultures where we learned a lot, those that did not come to Brazil with us learned a lot about the dire conditions Porto Rico live in, in their Favela, called Pina in Recife. On Saturday we took part in Newcastle Pride, performing at the back of the Parade and having a wonderful time. Many people stopped to listen to us as we played and Rumeneg took advantage of the underpasses, pausing so we could appreciate the acoustics that lay below. They worked to boost the sounds and create a wonderful reverb.

On the final week, work on the drums went up a gear as the schools closed for the summer. Suddenly we had a whole gaggle of people helping us out. We made sure to save some time to explain everything as we went and soon the more fiddly parts of the drums, that come toward the end, were being done with almost production line effeciency. On the Monday we rehearsed again, with much fervor and determination, with most of our performances done with we started to learn new Loas and Rhythms. As we extended our knowledge some people disappeared from time to time to sort things out. That was because today was Helen, my Boss’s, birthday and so as well as a rehearsal we planned with Porto Rico to sing Happy Birthday in Brazilian. While only some of us were privy to that plan, none of us were privy to the fact Rumeneg wanted us drumming at the same time. Despite this we all followed his lead with little to no error and made a truly memorable birthday for Helen, filled with music and dancing. At the end we had a longer Ashe, talking not just about the past two weeks (although a good length of time was spent talking about them) but also about the future and about how close we felt, almost like family. We ended with everyone being offered places to Stay in Recife if they ever visited and all of Porto Rico having a bed to stay in up here if they ever return. It was no surprise that after the rehearsal many of us, including Porto Rico, were invited to a small party to celebrate Helens birthday. Tuesday, today was a busy day. To start we all needed to be ready and up early for a performance in the market place in Crook. After a few minutes running about sorting everything we eventually headed down to the Market Place. What we did not know until we had arrived was that there was a funeral, beginning at 11am, in the church nearby. While we resolved to finish before then and merely do our usual mixture of sound, Rumeneg and Porto Rico had other ideas. As we were approaching 11am, perhaps 10:40, Rumeneg played a song we had not heard before. This song was the one they played to celebrate their dead and pass their energy on to the next life. As we played we waved our arms to the sky in the direction of the church. Directing the energy of the Drums toward it to help the spirit pass on and celebrate life and death. We then had to hurry over to play at Pathways, a home for people with severe disabilities where we had our own mini carnival, with a Chinese theme, following a dragon and being followed by a Chinese lion deity figure. We performed to the lord left tenant of Durham and the Mayor. We had a very enjoyable experience and ended the performance by having some of the Pathways residents that had been learning some of the Loas sing with us as we played quietly. It was a sensational experience and we listened to many speeches, all of them painting us in high praise. Wednesday was another rehearsal and we focused on our new material and learning it. Working hard to get it up to a reasonable level. The Drums were almost finished too, a mixture of Sawdust and glue being attached to the rims so that they would be a curved and blunt edge. Thursday was another performance. It was the first performance where we tried out the new material, capturing one on video for the rest of Porto Rico to see back in Recife. This song that we performed was fairly new to us and we had little chance to work with the words but Rumeneg told us we did a fantastic job and told us all how glad he was to have been able to work with us and be given this opportunity. This was the last performance of Baque de Ogum that would be lead by Rumeneg until some of us will later meet them in Noting Hill for the carnival. Because of this for some it was the last time they might ever see Porto Rico and so the Ashe was long and heartfelt. Thanking everyone again for everything. Everyone said something about someone else and everyone felt important in that moment. While I was sad to see them go I knew I would be meeting them again in Noting Hill. I will wait until then before asking for the coat I lent to Rumeneg back, since it is very cold to them that are used to the North East of Brazil not the North East of England.

It was a fantastic experience and they were wonderful to work with. Myself and Tom were generally at the front playing the Alfaia to show everyone how it was done. They generally chose to lead by showing and I felt I really grew during those three weeks, both as a performer and a fascilitator.

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