’25 years for any organisation to exist really is a huge achievement. For that to happen within a new community in Dublin, with all the changes that happen within those communities, is even more impressive. For that to happen within an arts context is even more impressive again!’
– Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, the Mansion House, September 14th 2019.
In 1994, Ireland was a very different place. Predominantly, the country was a monoculture – the economic boom was still a long way off, and there were few reasons for outsiders to want to settle in Ireland. In 1994, there were six Brazilians officially living in Ireland.
In addition, the World Wide Web was only invented in 1990, and widespread internet use was still a few years away, so learning about other cultures was a lot more difficult than it is today. However, in 1994, despite these obstacles, Masamba Samba School was created.
Masamba was formed following the highly innovative and successful ‘Big Bang Festival’ at the City Arts Centre in 1994. The Big Bang Festival featured African, Brasilian and Irish percussion, but excellent performances by the Drogheda Samba Band and Macumba (Scotland) made samba the star of the show! It was immediately decided that a series of samba drumming workshops would be run at the Centre, led by community musician Colin Blakey. This group was initially called the “City Arts Centre Samba Band’.
Very soon, this group became so popular with the staff and outsiders that it needed to become somewhat independent of the City Arts Centre. It had moved beyond being merely a teambuilding exercise for staff so, in keeping with the tenets of Community Arts, the band negotiated a deal with the City Arts Centre, whereby we would keep the instruments and have access to a rehearsal space, in return for doing a certain amount of performances or workshops for the centre each year. This somewhat independent group became MaSamba Samba School.
In 1996, another pivotal moment arrived in the form of Masamba members travelling to Manchester to attend a training event called the ‘Manchester Encontro’. The event featured a Brazilian master drummer and educator called Dudu Tucci. Dudu has had a huge and ongoing effect on Masamba’s music. His knowledge of the roots of Afro-Brazilian music, his huge technical skill, and a very clear method of teaching really impressed us, and we have invited Dudu to Ireland many times since to work with us.
In addition to Dudu Tucci, Masamba Samba School has a long history of bringing the best Brazilian percussionists to Ireland to deliver workshops and perform. The group has also organised several study visits to Brazil to experience the colour and excitement of carnival first-hand, all the time learning new techniques, and pieces of music.
In 2002, another important milestone in Masamba’s development was its inclusion in the Social Economy Programme, a social enterprise initiative managed by FÁS. This was the first mainstream funding the group achieved, and allowed the group to take on a Manager and two full-time music tutors. This programme was subsequently renamed the Community Services Programme, and is now managed by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Rural and Community Development. Masamba is still funded under this programme to this day.
Achieving this funding allowed for stability, forward planning, confidence and demanded enhanced financial management. To be included in the programme, Masamba also had to register as a company,
From humble beginnings as a teambuilding exercise in 1994, Masamba Samba School has grown to be a registered company, now employing 3 full-time workers, and managing a fantastic team of volunteers. In that time, the group has won awards at the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, performed in every county in Ireland and collaborated with some of stars of the music industry, including Kíla, Paddy Casey, Nitin Sawnhey and Kevin Godley. In addition, Masamba has a strong commitment to education, and delivers over 400 workshops each year, many for children living in disadvantaged communities.
In recognition of these achievements, Dublin’s Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe invited the group to the Mansion House in mid-September to celebrate our 25th Birthday. The event was a wonderful opportunity for Masamba members, past and present to meet, exchange stories and celebrate the many achievements of the group, big and small. While the event was primarily for the Masamba membership, we were also honoured to have amongst the guests:
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Paul McAuliffe
The Brazilian Ambassador to Ireland, Eliana Zugaib
Cllr, Tara Deacy
Cllr. Keith Connolly
Dublin City Council Arts Officer Ray Yeats
Grainne Lord, City of Dublin Youth Service
The Brazilian Ambassador had not prepared a speech, but did take the time to commend Masamba on its ‘Herculean effort in giving your free time to bring Brazilian and Irish people together’
But what would a celebration of a samba school be without some samba? As well as the formalities, we had also organised a weekend workshop with the aforementioned Dudu Tucci. This was a special event shared by both past and current members of Masamba and we were treated to a short performance of a brand new piece, learned literally that day, and directed by Dudu Tucci. This brought the formal celebrations to a close, but there was still cake to eat, and chats to be had. All in all, it was a lovely atmosphere, representing the best of community spirit in Ireland.
…and with that, the Masamba crew headed back onto the streets of Dublin – a very different city to when we began, but always a great city!
Photos: 1-5 Donal Moloney, 6 Miren Samper