As many of you will know, we recently re-located to a new rehearsal space on Bow Lane West, and it has created a lot of extra work for everyone in the band, but last week made it all worth it!
We were delighted to learn that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins was coming to officially open the building for us. Being honest, the date was probably a little sooner than we had hoped. This was because we had discovered a major drainage issue in the building, which required immediate remedial action, and turned the whole ground floor into a building site. On the plus side, it gave us all a big incentive to get cracking and tidy the place up.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough, we soon learned that the Brasilian Ambassador to Ireland, HE Alfonso Sena Cardoso and his wife Solange Escosteguy Cardoso had also agreed to join us on the day. Our Brasilian members were especially excited to learn that they would have an opportunity to show how they are representing their culture here in Ireland.
Several members of the group deserve special mention for coming in at weekends and evenings to paint, decorate, tidy and clean various aspects of the space. Even with the use of power washers, compressors and industrial vacuum cleaners, it was a ton of work, but some band members did it with a great level of energy and fun! I think it is fair to say that for some of us, the process has increased our sense of ownership, achievement and enjoyment of the big day!
Before we knew it, it was the 11th of March, and we were running around the building, doing the last little bits of tidying, with the President on his way!
The visit itself simply flew by. The President and his wife were so easy to get on with, so ready to ignore all the things that weren’t perfect and so ready with their praise of what was going well, that everyone’s nerves soon disappeared and we could really enjoy the day!
As soon as the Presidential party arrived, they were greeted by members of our youth project (mainly children from the local Scoil Treasa and St. James’ NS schools), who were playing a great version of Samba Rap! The President approved, and took time out to meet every band member and even pose for a group photo!
Then it was time for the formal meetings with the Ambassador and his wife, MaSamba’s band members and Board members. Our good buddy Seán Dwyer was on hand to take the official photos, and with a couple of other professional photographers there, and flashes going off all sides, it was like a Hollywood Red Carpet!
With the photos done, there was just time for a short tour of the building, where we had the opportunity to explain to the Presidential party the work that had been done to date, and our short and medium term plans for making the entire building into a functional arts space. This task was aided greatly by a series of excellent architectural renderings, created by architect Jésus Aguilar. Jésus had only a short time to turn our ideas into a representation of what the finished building might look like, and the results are amazing. You can see those images, and learn more about the process here: http://www.masamba.com/community/architects-destiny/
Then it was time for more performances, beginning with a demonstration of Gafeiera Dance, by Juliana Iglesias and Vinicius Abril. Gafieira is a form of couples dancing, based on the samba rhythm. It involves lots of death-defying drops and spins, as well as a lot of smiles, and everyone was enthralled by the performance.
Immediately following that, MaSamba’s adult band took to the stage, accompanied by dancers Kelly Baldonado and Diego Piazza. After a lot of deliberation, and knowing who our audience would be, we decided to play an arrangement of the Congo groove we had learned from Dudu Tucci many years ago.
As this piece is a street version of a rhythm with its roots in Candomblé, it represents our respect for the tradition, while also valuing innovation and creativity. As Dudu has been a constant mentor to us for many years, it was also nice to include one of his arrangements into the performance. The performance included some of MaSamba’s most experienced performers and also some of our newest members, which again symbolized what MaSamba is about. Even though I do say so myself, the performance was fantastic, and a great credit to all the hard work that goes into rehearsals every week.
There is a video of the drumming performance here: https://youtu.be/8PLM3BZX_rY
After a hearty round of applause or two, it was time for the formal speeches. Now, usually, when we hear the word speech, we think of a boring monologue, and desperately trying to look interested, but when the President of Ireland speaks, this is definitely not the case! The President had clearly done a lot of research and recollecting our previous encounters, because the speech was at once so specific to our experience, and at the same time connected to broader issues in community music, youth work, and the arts, that we could almost re-print it as our mission statement! As well as having the facts correct, the President displayed a real empathy for the work we are doing, and possibly the highlight of the speech was when he re-iterated his commitment to remain as the official Patron of MaSamba Samba School!
I had to unenviable task of following on with some remarks of my own, and I have to admit that I got quite emotional, especially when talking about all the hard work done by Masamba members, past and present, to get us to this point in our development. The formalities ended with us making a small presentation of a pandeiro to the President and a tamborim to Sabina Higgins. Both of these instruments had been hand-crafted in the Contemporanea factory in Sao Paulo, and sported customized drum skins representing the positive links between Ireland and Brasil. As with so many things on this special day, the Contemporanea guys worked really hard to design, build and ship these instruments in little more than a week!
With the formalities out of the way, it was time to eat, drink and socialise. We had decided that it would be great to have some authentic Brasilian food at the event, but at 11.30 in the morning, it was a little early for our favourite Brasilian Barbecue of picanha. Instead, we went for a selection of snack foods including coxinha, risoles, sandwiches, banana cake and fresh juices and guaraná. The President himself took time to compliment our chef J.P. Albuquerque and his assistant Luciano Yamanaka, and the general feedback was extremely positive – well more mumbled between the munching!
The President took time to speak to almost everyone in the room, in fact anyone who wanted to meet him did, and he graciously took time to take photos with everyone. Unfortunately, before we knew it, the time was us, and the President had to attend to his many other duties. Before getting into the car, both the President and Mrs. Higgins had more complimentary things to say about Masamba, and the reception they received.
Also, before they left, The Brasilian Ambassador to Ireland, HE Alfonso Sena Cardoso and his wife Solange Esscosteguy Cardoso took some time to compliment us again for what we have achieved so far from the home of samba, and to re-iterate their support for the work. We already have some ideas for future collaborations, but more about that in due course.
One could say that the visit of President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins was just one morning in the 21-year history of Masamba, but it means so much more to us. It is an endorsement of the work, and an opportunity for us to celebrate all the good times (and the sad times) that has made Masamba what it is today.
The immediate lead-up to the visit was an extremely busy time for us, especially as the building was still a building site for most of it, but this also demonstrated the tenacity and teamwork of Masamba members who pulled out the stops to make it all happen. Being pragmatic, the President’s visit forced us to do many things that we needed to do anyway, but just in a shorter timeframe.
The event also allowed us to show some aspects of Masamba, such as our links with the Brasilian community in Dublin, and of course, the youth section, which are sometimes overlooked or taken for granted. One of the funniest quotes was from Lee, a 12-year old boy from one of the schools we work in, who when asked about how the adult band performed, said – ‘I thought we were the only ones who did the drumming!’
The President’s visit was one amazing day, but will have positive reverberations for years to come. It is one of those milestone moments that will enter the folklore of the group, along with so many other great stories and acheivements. It was team effort, and at the risk of leaving someone out, we would like to thanks the following people, in no particular order:
The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins
The Brasilian Ambassador to Ireland, HE Alfonso Sena Cardoso and his wife Solange Esscosteguy Cardoso
Brenda Hession, Protocol Officer for the President’s Office
Sarah Martin, Communications Manager, Áras an Uachtaráin
Masamba Board Members: Karl Deeter (Chair), Derek Bolger (Treasurer), Brian Treacy, Ray Corcoran and Tara Deacy.
Masamba Band Members: Simon Edmondson (band leader), Sharon O’Reilly, Niamh O’Leary, Martin Lambe, Fiona Duffy, Aisling Twamley, Aga Bloch, Julie Collins, Doreen Maher, Ruth Ormiston, Brian Ramberg, and Mary Butler.
Dancers: Samba – Kelly Baldonado & Diego Piazza
Dancers: Gafieira – Juliana Iglesias & Vinicius Abril
Catering: Joao Paulo Pires de Albuquerque & Luciano Yamanaka
Photography: Sean Dwyer
Transportation: Martin Staines
MaSamba Cleaning and Decorating Crew: Simon Edmondson, Sharon O’Reilly, Niamh O’Leary, Martin Lambe, Fiona Duffy, Aisling Twamley, Aga Bloch, Julie Collins, Doreen Maher, Brian Ramberg, Mary Butler, Pavla Marie Josefsdóttir, Kelly Baldonado, JP Albuquerque.
Contemporanea Instrumentos Musicais
Mark Shaughnessy, Red Zebra
Noreen Byrne and all at St. James’s NS
Orfhlaith Melia and all at Scoil Treasa Naofa
To all our funders and supporters, particularly the Dept. of Social Protection’s Community Services Programme.