by Author Laura Emerson

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Sam's Learning Journey in Brazil!

Our fabulous young leader Sam Ward-Hardy has received a Winston Churchill Fellowship grant to travel to Brazil and study traditional and contemporary percussion. At only 18 years old when he stepped on the plane, he is the youngest Churchill Fellow this year. We're incredibly proud of him, and although he's only been there 3 weeks, the experience and his learning journey has been robust, intense, exhausting, and exhilarating.

Despite there being only 24 hours in a day, he is blogging like an absolute champ! While he is away I will host all of his blogs as he documents and photographs his learning. Here goes –

 

Hello all this be the first of my blogs which I’ll be trying to do every week, so give it a read if you wondering what I’ve been up to.

WEEK 1

So that’s the first week done and dusted, it’s been amazing already and I still keep having moments of realising that I’ve still got so much more to come. So to sum up what I’ve been up to this week and the weekend that I arrived I could just say DRUMS! But I won’t.

So after a 12 hour flight from London to Rio I arrived in Rio to begin JP’s Rio Percussion course, I first met everyone in my apartment, but because this is Brazil I didn’t get rest and went straight to a Salgueiro gig which for my first proper experience of samba was intense to say the least. I was told that the samba schools have now also chosen there song for carnival and will be rehearsing it relentlessly until then, but what what I also saw was the whole community come together to see the band play and rehearse shouting the words for carnival.

I then spent a day chilling and seeing some of sights in Rio. On Monday the real work began and went to Fundição Progresso to work with Bloco Chinelo de Delo who play Roda de Samba which involves Tam Tam, Surdo, Pandeiro, Cuica, Caixa and Repique de Mão. Usually there is one of each and lots of improvisation but the founder and current leader Rodrigo has made a 100 person Bloco out of it with set patterns. Working with Rodrigo, Blade and Robertinho we studied the various rhythms. I liked what they were doing as instead of trying to create something completely new they innovated something old that already worked. I then went to Roda de Samba da Pedra do Sal where we saw the traditional version of what we had learnt. Seeing them play you got a sense that while a gig it was like a social event as the band sat round a dinner table and while there drums were mic’d up the vocals weren’t as everyone knew the words.

The next day I travelled to Cidade de Artes to work with DuRio. Members of this group come from groups like MonoBloco and are at the forefront of the contemporary percussion, samba, arranging and music scene in Rio. I worked with Leo Saad, Mestre Maurão, Igor Araújo and Feijão (beans). Learning some complicated grooves and arrangements and even a samba cover of Sweet Dreams. Next we assisted in JP’s own workshop for the group which was interesting as it was someone from the UK teaching Samba to Brazilians. I also learnt Brazilians love olive oil and will cover any food even pizza in it.

On the Wednesday I did a workshop with Rio Maracatu who were the first Maracatu group outside of Recife, we learnt the rhythms of Estrele Brilhante and Porto Rico, then we learnt how they are taking it forward and interpreting it. We also learnt the different instruments such as alfia, gongae, caixa and shekere. For me it was a great day as I love Maracatu and got to jam with people who love it aswell. I then went out to a restaurant a had some food, sharing loads of lamb between three of us.

Now the Thursday was truly incredible, travelling to Bangú I went to work with Mocidade who are one of the most famous Samba schools in the world having introduced the Repinique and the classic samba break that every band now uses that was created by Mestre Andre. I met the directors of the band and the current Mestre Dudu. I then worked for most of the day with the super strict teacher Eugenio who drilled three of us on the course on repinique. Then the whole bateria was put together as one which was awesome. They then showed us the many rhythms of the repinique which are used across Brazil. We then visited the Ivisom drum shop/ factory which was like a giant candy store. Then I got to see and play with the Mocidade youth band who were phenomenal players and leaders. Afterwards I witnessed the powerhouse that is the Mocidade Bateria and I was blown away but the tightness of the group, the sheer force behind the sound and the melodies of the drums. I especially liked this day as I saw how integral these bands are to their communities, the young people and how important music and carnival is to them. Furthermore seeing a young Mestre like Dudu, the young leaders and players in Mocidade was awesome as the band is quite traditional (all their Mestre’s come from within the band so the sound stays relatively the same) but is pushed forward by the younger generation.

The Friday I travelled to Madureira to visit Casa do Jongo which was a very chill day compared to Thursday. Learning about the history of Jongo and the organisation itself who run classes (like a school) on Jongo, Samba, Afro Brazilian rhythms, English, Capoeira etc for the young people in the area which again is critical for the surrounding community and the survival of Jongo. I learnt the rhythms of Jongo which are played on congas and then I learnt a couple of the songs. I then got to witness a Candomble performance which was to say the least intense and sent shivers all over my body. Then I had some of the food which they had prepared for the group (twas delicious). I must say aswell the people we worked with that day were some of the most kind, understanding and gentle people I’ve met. Then to finish off the week and start the weekend I went to see Jorge ben Jor and that was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, not only music and dancing wise (both excellent by the way) just how everyone again new every word, how even though he turned up an hour late no one cared and night was still great.

But I didn’t stop at the weekend, on the Saturday went to see the amazing samba school Tijuca, even learnt some samba dance from a very kind Brazilian woman and a guy I met called Pablo. I also saw the inclusivity and genuine kindness that is held within these groups as the band gave centre stage to a young man with Down’s syndrome, showing him respect along with letting him have the time of his life singing the songs and actually directing a section of the band. On the Sunday I finally had some time to chill and recover.

All in all my first week has been amazing and I’m so excited for 5 months more!

 

 

WEEK 2

Another week gone and so many memories and stories. So far I’m already getting a sense that Brazil in 110% most of the time and it’s exhausting but fun at the same time.

So on the Monday I went to Portela’s quadra which was super nice and got straight down to learning their take on samba. I again went for repinique learning from Mkhael who is only 17 but helps direct the youth band and is one of the lead repinique players in Portela. This again was really nice as young people were an important aspect but were also treat as adults. If you didn’t know it was my birthday on Monday aswell so I got a surprise happy birthday from our teachers and they even gave me a present (drum head). I then watched the band rehearse and saw their absolutely relentless caixa‘s and breaks. In some of the breaks I also heard influences of Candomble rhythms, showing me that the religion effects the music all over Brazil.

The next day myself and some others had a casual hike all the way up to Christ the Redeemer which was tiring but awe inspiring. Then as soon as I got back I did a workshop with the repinique beast Gabriel Policarpo, having my mind melted with syncopation and my hands aching after he taught some repinique. I will also say he was one of the best facilitators that I’ve worked with which was a pleasant surprise. I then also stayed back to join in a community band type thing which demonstrated to me while yes it’s a different country and culture but in terms of playing most Brazilians are very similar to us and it’s only because we mostly see professional Brazilian musicians that we sometimes think all Brazilians must be fantastic musically.

On the Wednesday I then had the absolute privilege and honour to work with the legend Marcus Suzano who is a absolutely incredible pandeiro player and the founder of a tradition in terms of how he plays pandeiro. A real highlight. I then travelled to see a band called Razões Africanas which included some of the people from Casa de Jongo who I had worked with last week. Also Wednesday and Tuesday I spent both workshops in Maracatu Brasil which is a wonderful arts centre that as a candy shop/ drum shop and is a factory of churning of raw musicianship.

Thursday included travelling to Vila Isabel’s quadra which was definitely the nicest one I’ve been to. Then met our teachers and Macao Branco (which translates to white monkey) who was the happiest man I’ve ever met and it was lovely to have a teacher who was so excited to share his passion, also I should he is the youngest Mestre at the moment only been 31 and carnival 2019 will be his first carnival. In the session I learnt how to play Caixa en Cima which was really difficult learning curve that I definitely need to practise. I ended the day with a massive steak which was soooooooooo good!

The Friday was a sad day because if you didn’t know up till this point I had been on JP Percussions course to Brazil and Friday was the last day of it, I’d recommend the course a million times and it was so lovely nice to have it as my first stop in Brazil. The last workshop was with Mestre Marrao, JP himself and Gabriel Lopes and was the start of their Bossas tour. The lesson involved learning long breaks/ arrangements and was like a memory test. Also learnt a bit a Marrao who during his time as Mestre has only ever dropped below 39.9 out of 40 once which is pretty insane. The rest of the day involved food, goodbyes and drink of course.

The Saturday was kinda scary as I checked into the airport and began the next stage of my trip, flying to São Paulo I met with my friends Bigato and Thalita. We drove to Campinas. There I went straight to a group called Centro Cultural, where we met my teacher in Maracatu Rumenig Dantas and Capoeira Mestre Motta. He took me to see how he has pushed Capoeira where he lives to try and help young people and the effects are showing because after 10 years some of his students are now teaching and the government added a Capoeira circle into the local park. I then had the honour of been able to witness and take part in a ceremony. Then I was invited to a late night party with the cultural group which was lovely as I got to play music and get to know some of the members and teachers.

Sunday was more chill, waking up early I was taken to Estação Cultural which is a cultural centre based out of an old railway station putting on activities like Capoeira and Judo, I got to meet the managers and also meet young lad who has been doing capoeira since he was 1. We then made our way back to the Centro Cultural where I was greeted by a capoeira performance and then invited to join in, getting to see capoeira first hand which made me just tired from watching it. I also got to learn more about Mestre Motta and how it is difficult to have capoeira as a job and to have it as a profession but he is one of the few who do. I was then treat to a delicious meal made by the people in the centre. I also got to meet Thalita’s mum who thinks I’m a giant.

All in all this week has been exciting, challenging, scary, awe inspiring and life changing. Meeting some lovely people, seeing some incredible players and getting to know some truly inspirational people.

 

 

WEEK 3

Another 7 days have gone but I’ve gained so many memories in return. A pretty intense week, pushed my body (especially my hands- so many drumming injuries) and my mind. I will admit it has been tough both physically and emotionally but it has been so worth it.

So Monday started with waking up super early and travelling to Campines University where we met Bigato Contra Mestre Fernando, who demonstrated early that he was a beast of Berimbau! He had in a way 3 thumbs with the third one been his little finger which held the Berimbau. The first session was hard as I had to learn how to properly handle the instrument then learnt some basic rhythms and exercises. Later in the day I attended one of his classes which was held outside the university. I was definitely broken after that one session and I have a new appreciation for people who do Capoeira.

The Tuesday and Wednesday we relatively the same, woke up early both days and had some intense Berimbau sessions with Fernando learning some new rhythms like Roda de Samba. I also got the chance to meet some members of the local Maracatu band, the god mother to Mestre Chacons daughter and some of Bitgatos friends and students. Even saw some Forró at a bar called Bar Dos Gringos.

The Thursday day involved me helping Fernando to make a Berimbau, I learnt how difficult it is to make what seems like such a simple instrument. Literally making it from a small stick of a tree we shaved it, cut it down, carved it, wrapped wire around it and cut the cabaça. It was a really interesting day. At night I was then treated to a Roda de Capoeria, seeing it in action took my breath away. I even got to play Berimbau however I did nearly get crushed by two guys in their game! I got to see a professor of Capoeira called Folaa and it was memezrisung to see quite a big guy move so gracefully and fast. I witnessed how the music played an important role in Capoeira by creating a trance like state in the participants and changing the speed/ intensity of the games. However while yes they were fighting I always saw them smiling and laughing with each other which was incredible since they were all just beating each other up.

The Friday I had my last Berimbau lesson, re visiting all of the rhythms I had learnt over the past week and even learnt some complex variations however I was most astonished with how far I had come from Monday. I then said my goodbyes to Fernando, the other people from the Capoeria group and the people we stayed with in Campines and may or may not have bought a Berimbau... I then travelled back to Americana where we practically went straight to a gig with Centro Culturals Maracatu band Estação Quilombo at a festival of some sorts. Seeing their Capoeira group in action and finally getting another Maracatu fix and seeing some truly exceptional players. I a,so got to meet the organisers of another culture centre. I then celebrated with the band and chatted with some of the young people all night via google translate. Some big news was that I am now the adopted son of the wife of Mestre Motta and my new name is Sam Motta.

The Saturday was a long, hard but fun day full of Maracatu. Working with a key leaders of Encanto do Pina, Deivson who also not only goes around the country teaching but also works with many other groups and young people teaching afroexe, samba reggae, samba etc. It was really nice to learn another style of Maracatu and learn some beautiful songs. While yes most of these songs I did not know I was able to get by however I do now owe Davidson 6 beers for my mistakes when playing. I then said my final goodbyes to my second family and went back to Bigato’s friends Leo’s house which was so nice! Having a pool, BBQ, a cat and 3 dogs!! They described it as heaven and it certainly lived up to its namesake.

Finally the Sunday, I slept so well and fully rested my body after the week. Having time in the pool and eating some food from the BBQ, it was such a lovely day and all the more worth it after the mad week it has been. Plus Leo is a great cook so had some delicious food. Then made my way to São Paulo itself where me and Bigato are now staying, getting ready for the next week.

Overall this week has been tough but I’ve loved every second, I’ve learnt so much already and met some lovely people who I will keep in touch with I’m sure. I’d also like to thank Bigato for a great first week and I wouldn’t rather travel with anyone else.