Happy Birthday to Us!

There has been massive excitement in the Masamba camp over the last few weeks, as our 25thBirthday Celebrations draw closer.

Masamba was formed following the highly innovative and successful ‘Big Bang Festival’ at the City Arts Centre in 1994. Samba percussion was the runaway star of the show, and it was immediately decided that a series of samba drumming workshops would be run at the Centre, led by Colin Blakey. This group eventually morphed into Masamba Samba School.

No-one involved in those early days could have foreseen that Masamba would still be going 25 years later, employing 3 people full-time, and working with literally thousands of people each year. But, that’s where we ended up, and it seems a celebration is in order!

As you all know, Masamba never does anything by half measures, especially when it comes to having a party. Masamba also has a long experience of working alongside Dublin City Council on a multiplicity of projects, and in recognition of that fact, The Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe, has invited us to the Mansion House for a special birthday celebration. This is a rare honour, and we are very proud to have been invited to such an auspicious and historic space.

Dudu Tucci, with his Afoxé Loni Project in Berlin.

In addition, we are hosting a special one-off workshop with our long-time mentor Dudu Tucci. Dudu was the first Brazilian musician we worked with, having met him first in Manchester in 1996. Over the years, we have brought Dudu to Dublin several times, and Masamba members have also travelled to work with him in the UK and Berlin, most notably for the Afoxé Loni project. This workshop is an opportunity for both current and past members of Masamba to learn and perform together – given that so many members have gone on to play in, and even create, other bands, this will be a kind of a Samba Supergroup!

 

Masamba New T-Shirt design, 2019.

The birthday celebrations have also given us the impetus to get a few other little jobs done. We came up with a new logo design, which will be used on T-shirts, for drum wraps and eventually, for some new drum skins. We took delivery of the T-shirts yesterday, and they look and feel great. Our friends at Horizon Digital Print turned around some really nice drum wraps for us, at very short notice. We fitted them yesterday, and they make the drums look brand new!

Our drums look amazing with the new wraps in them!

 

We all know that ‘birthday cakes are so much fun to eat’, and what would a birthday party be, without a stonking big cake? Decorated with a combination of old and new logos, the cake type is ‘rocky road’, which perhaps represents the often-difficult road, Masamba has had to travel – things haven’t always been easy over the last 25 years, but they’ve usually been a lot of fun! 

Thanks to Una for making us this fantastic cake!!

 

 

Posted in Collaborations, Community, Gigs | Leave a comment

Retail Therapy

With the schools all closed, we at Masamba are allowed some time to gather our thoughts and prepare for the next season.

Some of you will be aware that we have been involved in the Deep River Rock ‘Thirst For Better‘ programme, whereby charities such as ourselves, can raise funding to support their activities. The aim of our involvement in Thirst for Better has been to build up a stock of instruments, specifically for use with Early Years learners, i.e. children between the age of 0 and 6. We have increasingly being asked to work with junior and senior infants classes in schools, and we became aware that our regular workshop materials were not quite suitable for these younger age groups. 

To deliver a better service for these younger ‘customers’, we decided to take a three-pronged approach:

(i) Engage in training to work specifically with this age group – we have been lucky enough in this regard, in that the four Dublin local authorities have teamed up, to investigate and resource this work, under the banner ‘Exploring and Thinking‘. We have been involved in some excellent training and discussion groups under this initiative, and it has allowed us to clarify our thinking about what might work with Early Years musicians, and generated some really good contacts that we can rely on for information and support.

(ii) Develop a curriculum, specifically targeted at young learners. This is a process of taking elements of the training, combining them with elements of the workshops we already deliver, and creating all new percussion-based activities that Early Years learners can both interact with and enjoy. Our current aim is to develop 8 week blocks of activities for both junior and senior infants groups, and we are currently about 50% though this process.

(iii) Build a bank of instruments that we can use to deliver sessions with Early Years learners. Masamba has always had a policy of only using professional-level instruments for our workshops, and through our partnerships with several instrument companies, especially Contemporanea Instrumenton Musicais and the provision of funding through agencies such as the Arts Council/Music Network Instrument Capital Scheme, we have been fortunate enough to build up a great stock of workshop instruments which we can use with both children and adults. However, some of these instruments are not suitable for use by very young children, some had to have a re-think. We have identified a selection of instruments that young children can hold, grip, play and enjoy! 

Needless to say, all of these things cost money, and money is always in short supply. The Deep RiverRock ‘Thirst for Better’ initiative allowed us to create a small, but growing fund to buy these instruments, and eventually be able to deliver classes with up to 30 children, whereby everyone gets hands on experience with real musical instruments.

So far, we have raised a little over €500 of our €1,000 target, and we have roughly one month to go. Without jumping the gun, we know that we will have a budget, so in order to be in a position to roll out this programme for September 2019, we decided to go ahead and buy some ‘tester’ instruments, that we can use to finalise our choice as to what is most suitable set of gear we can provide within a limited budget. So this week, we got our first few bits and pieces to road test – after a long year of teaching, a bit of ‘retail therapy’ feels good!

As mentioned above, there is still time to support us with our #thirstforbetter campaign. Buy a bottle of Deep Riverrock, strip off the label, and input the code at our page here:

https://thirstforbetter.ie/masamba-samba-school

 

 

Posted in Community/Outreach, Drums, Education, Funding/Support, Youth Music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to the Holidays!

What a brilliant week!

The end of the school year is always a strange time for us at Masamba, as all normal activities cease, and all sorts of challenging and fun projects present themselves. Some of our existing projects are finishing up, which might mean school shows or performances at open days. Also, new schools get in touch, which might want to experiment with something new as an end of year treat for students. Either way, it’s all a welcome break from the regular term work, which at this stage of the year, can get a little monotonous!

This week, we had the opportunity to work with a new school in the form of Greystones Community National School, which is currently based in a complex of portacabins on the grounds of Greystones Rugby Club. It is a new school, with classes from Junior Infants to 2ndclass, and growing every year. It is run by a dynamic team, with several very active parents. It is also in receipt of funding and supports from the Arts Council, as part of the new Creative Schools Programme, which is where we came in. Creative Schools is an exciting new initiative, which we hope will vastly increase access to all art forms for the school children of Ireland. On Monday and Tuesday, we delivered seven workshops to a total of 180 students. On Thursday, we revisited the school to deliver an interactive performance, revisiting some of the ideas we introduced in the workshops, and throwing in some new ideas for good measure. It was 45 minutes of pure magic, and a lot of laughs!

In addition,  on Wednesday, we revisited our home-from-home in Scoil Iosagain, where we are five weeks into a six week programme, which will culminate in a school show next week. This year, we are working with 5 groups, totalling about 100 students in all, and the pressure is now on to button up the pieces of music each group will play in the show. All the groups are working hard, and no doubt we will have a great time next Wednesday, along with lashings of cake!

On the band side, we played at the official launch of Pride 2019 on Tuesday. This was a great event for many reasons, but for us what made it extra special was playing in the historic General Post Office on O’Connell Street. This building has huge significance in recent Irish history, and it was great to get to see if from ‘behind the scenes’. The launch itself was a big success, and we have been offered several opportunities to play at the Pride parade as a result – however, we have already been booked for months;-)

 

Tomorrow (Saturday), we are revisiting the Phoenix Park, and our friends at Athletics Ireland, to play at the Irish Runner 5 Mile Run. We are performing at our usual spot at the junction of Furze Road and Ordinance Road – if we’d known we were going to play there so many times this year, we could have built a little grandstand;-)

Next week is no less varied, as we complete our project in Scoil Iosagain, and spend a couple of days in another new school – Dublin 7 Educate Together. This is another school I receipt of Creative Schools support from the Arts Council, and will offer us an opportunity to work with highly experienced community musician Thomas Johnston – all good!

Finally, next week gives us an opportunity to return to a school we have done a lot of work in over the years – Scoil Treasa Naofa on Donore Avenue. before we worked in Scoil Iosagain, before we worked in St. James’s Primary School, almost before the dawn of time itself, we worked in Scoil Treasa Naofa, so it will be great to get back! We are delivering a half day there with the 5thand 6th classes, supported by our Dublin City Council Arts Office grant, and of course our Community Services Funding, which supports all of our work. It will be great to get back to this super little school and to make some new friends!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Community/Education, Community/Outreach, Education, Youth Music | Leave a comment

Brazil Adventures 2019

Masamba first ventured to the home of Samba in 1999, with six member of the group completing a month-long excursion, taking in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and Olinda. Needless to say, we were hooked, and 20 years later, Masamba members are still visiting Rio to see the very best of the music we love, and to enjoy the amazing spirit of the Brazilian people.

Five of the six Masamba members who made the first trip to Brazil in 1999, out busking in Dublin to get the money together, and assisted by Anna O’Donnell.
From left to right: Anna O’Donnell, Terry O’Reilly, Sarah Walker, Aoife Kane, Michael Appourchaux, and Simeon Smith.

 

 

This year, we undertook a relatively straightforward trip, taking in just Sao Paulo and Rio – straightforward, but very busy! Over 20 years, two things had happened. Firstly, the availability of information in the media and particularly on the internet has vastly increased. Between the Rio Show section of the O Globo newspaper, and the excellent Samba Beats website run by our good friend Gabriel Lopes, it is now much easier to find out what’s happening, when and where. However, with that said, things can be very fluid on the samba scene, and things don’t always happen as advertised – a certain amount of patience and flexibility is required, in order to keep the blood pressure down.

We chose the timing of the trip to purposely miss carnaval itself. There are primarily three reasons for this: Firstly, everything gets much more expensive in the big cities during carnaval. In Rio, for example, most of the hotels increase their booking fees several-fold, and in addition, many of them only want to take block bookings for the entire five days of carnaval. The main parades in the Sambadrome are also an expensive night out, although we would still recommend that everyone should try to witness the spectacle and excitement of the Grupo Especial parades at least once in their lives!

Secondly, street crime increases during carnaval. Perhaps it is because some of those who don’t have money feel it even more when everyone else is celebrating, or maybe it’s because there are so many rich tourists in town. Either way, you have to have your wits about you, and carry as little cash as possible when out and about on the streets.

However, the main reason for us going early, is that it is easier to get up close and personal with the samba schools, either at their weekly ensaio geral (general rehearsal), or their ensaio na rua (street rehearsals). Here, we get the opportunities to actually see musicians up close and learn some of the elaborate phrasings and breaks they play – something you can’t see from 100 feet away in the sambadrome. Also, and this is very important for us, we get to connect with the amazing energy of the people in the samba schools, whether it is being roped in to dance, or as simple as a musician or dancer waving to you!

Rei Momo (King of Carnaval) and his princesses make an appearance at the Sao Clemente rehearsals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This brings me to another thing we really noticed on this trip, but were aware of all along. Most of our Brazilian musician friends think that we are STONE MAD, going out to the favelas to visit the samba schools. Some of them, self-professed Carioca da Gema (think a Rio version of a Cockney), will happily admit that they have never been to these neighbourhoods, and never want to go to them either! Don’t get me wrong, these areas can be dangerous, and it may have been the case that we’ve heard gunshots, or felt uncomfortable the odd time, but to get to the real spirit of samba, we have to get to the communities where the samba schools are based.

 

Sao Paulo

Myself and Julie jumped a quick flight down to Sao Paulo, and though it was a short visit, not even two full days, there was a lot to be done. Our primary focus in Sao Paulo was to re-connect with our friends and supporters in the Contemporanea Instrument company. Contemporanea have endorsed Masamba’s work for many years, and we are always made feel more than welcome at this famous factory.

The factory becomes somewhat of a pilgrimage for many percussionists, especially in carnaval season, and while we were there, we were lucky enough to meet two amazing percussionists: local player Luan Barbosa and Steven Brezet, one of the percussionists with the world-renowned Snarky Puppy. Needless to say, a percussion jam ensued throughout the factory, with everything and anything being pressed into action! At lunch afterwards, kindly hosted by Roberto from Contemporanea, the possibility of all sorts of projects and collaborations were discussed – exciting stuff.

The ’work’ over for the day, it was time for some music. Since re-locating to Sao Paulo, Masamba member Julie Collins joined the well-known Bloco Me Lembra Que Eu Vou, directed by Silvanny Sivuca. I had seen Silvanny in action many years before, when she was part of an excellent local project – Meninos do Morumbi. Even back then, Silvanny already stuck out from the crowd as an excellent percussionist, and it’s great to see that her career trajectory has continued apace! The bloco itself is definitely one of the better ones musically. They rehearse regularly and there is an expectation of high musical standards. Similar to Masamba, they play several different styles of Afro Brazilian music, but unlike Masamba, everyone sticks to the same instrument for the entire rehearsal. This makes sense, as these blocos are mainly parade groups, so swapping around would be difficult. It was great to sit in on this rehearsal, and to see Julie doing so well, bopping about with her shaker in hand!

 

Silvanny Sivuca, leading a rehearsal of Bloco Me Lembra Que Eu Vou in Sao Paulo


The night got even better, when an old friend of mine, Fernanda Amaral, showed up to say hello. Fernanda is a dancer, choreographer and dance teacher, who used to be based in Cardiff and worked with us in the very early days, on a number of projects. Fernanda relocated to SP a few years back, and is doing really well, focusing a lot of her energies on working with people with special needs. It was a real treat to have the opportunity to catch up with Fernanda, and to chat about old, and potentially new, projects.

Just to put some icing on the cake, we relocated to a funky bar for our chat, where none other than Claudio Santana was playing in a Choro group with Deni Domenico and Matheus Motta from Choro Moço. Claudio visited Dublin to work with Masamba back in 2001 and we have always kept in touch since. We were lucky enough to catch up with Choro Moço when they visited Dublin in 2013 . Despite being in a bar 5,000 miles from home, we were like locals!

Our 2ndday in Sao Paulo was no less interesting, and could lead to some long-term developments for Masamba! In the morning, I had a meeting with Gill Hennebury from the Irish Consulate in Brazil. The meeting was primarily to describe the work Masamba has been doing in Dublin, and to express our desire to develop more links with the carnaval community in Brazil. We discussed how Masamba could make contact with local groups, and how exchanges might be funded. Clearly, nothing could be finalised on the day, but it is great to know that our government is supportive of our work.

In the afternoon, it was back to my buddies in Team Contemporanea. If the theme the day before was around performance, the second meeting was themed around education. Roberto had invited our old friend Ari Colares and a new contact Alua Nascimento to meet us. Over another amazing lunch, we discussed all things to do with teaching samba, whether it be with bands, young people, people with disabilities, or whatever. It was so positive to be able to share experiences with other educators, and also to see how much store that the Contemporanea company puts on educational work. We promised to keep in touch, and to share notes!

With that, it was out to the airport and back to Rio – less than 48 hours in Sao Paulo, but about a week’s worth of work and play squeezed into that – very much the Sampa way!

The Sao Paulo section was worth dealing with in such detail, as it was where a lot of the formal ‘business’ of the trip was done. In the interests of brevity, I will deal with the rest of the trip under several headings: Samba School Quadra rehearsals, street rehearsals, blocos, workshops, tourism and friends.

Quadra Rehearsals

As mentioned above, our main reason for travelling so far before the actual carnaval dates, is that it offers us the opportunity to go to what the samba schools refer to as ‘ensaio geral’ or ‘general rehearsal’. This is the centre point of the week for each samba school, and is a rehearsal, a live show, an information meeting, a fundraiser, and a social event all rolled into one. They are also great fun!

Depending on the samba school, and the set-up of their rehearsal space, it is sometimes possible to see the bateria or percussion section up close, but often, they are hidden away on a balcony, and it is impossible to see what they are doing.  The best schools in this respect are Portela and Viraduoro, who practice at ground level. The worst (that we have seen) are Mangueira and Salgueiro who are up very high, and impossible to see.

 

 

 

 

Warming up for Rehearsals at Portela.

An interesting development this year, is that these rehearsals have been spread out more over the week, which means that we can get to see more of them. For many years, the vast majority of the rehearsals happened on Saturday nights, and on our best ever night, we did manage to get in and out of three rehearsals, but it was far from ideal. This year, we got to see some schools we have never seen before and managed to get out to see something almost every night – great fun, but exhausting!

The Samba Beats website was very useful in letting us know what was happening, and knowing it’s author Gabriel personally, meant that we could also double-check anything that we weren’t sure about. Also, most samba schools have very active Instagram accounts, which are obviously in Portuguese, but often easy enough to figure out. For us, the plan was generally to agree the night before what we would like to do each day, and then spend an hour in the morning online, and double checking that everything was going ahead.

On this trip, we managed to see the following samba schools in their quadras: Sao Clemente, Portela, Unidos da Tijuca, and Imperatriz.

Our favourites were Portela and Imperatriz because of the welcoming atmosphere amongst musicians and others alike. This year, we managed to get to Portela three times over two weeks, and as mentioned above, Portela’s bateria rehearse at ground level, and there is an opportunity to get a spot close to all the drumming action. Over the three rehearsals, we went from regular spectators to having our photo taken with the Director of the Bateria, Mestre Nilo. Now, that’s a welcome!

Mestre Nilo of the famous Portela Samba School with members of Masamba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imperatriz has been a favourite of our for many years. Their quadra is relatively humble, when compared to some of the others, and they don’t get a whole lot of ‘gringos’ at their rehearsal, possibly as their neighbourhood is considered dangerous by some. All we can say is that every time we have been there, we have not only felt safe, but welcomed, and included in the craic. It has been known for Masamba members to be dragged into the dance sections, and not be seen for 30-40 minutes! Also, in the last couple of years, our good friend Mestre Maurao, has been involved in the bateria, which is great, but Imperatriz is one of those samba schools where you don’t have to have ‘personal contacts’ to be made feel welcome.

Julie and Mary are presented with the flag of Imperatriz – a real honour!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street Rehearsals

As Carnaval draws near, the samba schools like to get out on the street to practice their parading skills. All groups get at least one chance to practice in the Sambadrome over the weekends immediately before carnaval, but samba schools will also organise parades within their localities. I’m not sure whether they seek permission or not, but they definitely get out there, stop the traffic and go for it. Again, these parades are a great opportunity to see everything up close, and they are also great craic. Because they occur on the streets, they are free of charge, and the only potential downside is that there is less security.

Street rehearsals are a little more random than Quadra rehearsals, in that exact times can vary a lot, depending on the weather, and other variables, but that is not to say that they are not worth making the effort for, because once you get there, they are an amazing spectacle! A good tip here is to keep an eye on the Instagram accounts for the chosen samba school on the day of a street parade, as there will often be some traffic there that will confirm whether rehearsals are happening. This year, we managed to see Unidos do Tuiuti and Vila Isabel practice on the street. Vila Isabel was a real prize, as we have had a terrible history of missing their rehearsals in the past – we were starting to believe that they didn’t actually exist!

The excitement of carnaval on the street. Vila Isabel rehearsals 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street rehearsals are great fun, and we developed a strategy of heading to the front of the samba school, and letting it all pass by, before heading to the front again. This way, you get to see all the dance sections, as well as the musicians.

Sambadromo Rehearsals

We also swung by the Sambadromo one Saturday evening, to see Mocidade Independente do what is now as an ‘ensaio technical’ or technical rehearsal. This is where samba schools get an opportunity to rehearse in the sambadrome, which allows them to mirror as closely as possible, what it will be like on the big night. There are several key difference: The full sound system hasn’t been set up yet, so the dancers, and the audience, have to rely on a sound truck that accompanies the bateria. The performers don’t parade in costume, so things lines of sight, etc. have yet to be tested. Finally, there are no floats, as they are being kept back to be debuted at the main parade. There is also the logistical challenge of getting floats to and from the Sambadromo, but as many of the delays on the night of big parades are because of floats failing, this leaves some big worries for the organisers. The Sambadromo is open free to the public, and in some cases two or even three samba schools will parade in one night, so it is a cheap way of having a great night out. As many locals couldn’t possibly afford the high ticket prices to attend the official carnaval, the technical rehearsals are very popular, and if you want a good seat, you need to get there early, but don’t worry, there is always someone around to sell you a cold drink while you wait! Another benefit, is that these rehearsals ‘force’ the more distant samba schools to come into the city to practice. So, for example, the night we were there we got to see Mocidade, who’s base is quite far from the city centre in a neighbourhood called Padre Miguel. We have travelled to their quadra in the past, but it is the guts of an hour each way in a taxi, with taxi fare to match!

The main reason that we didn’t go to more of these sambadrome rehearsals, is that they clash with quadra rehearsals, but a serious samba devotee could go to the beginning of the sambadrome, and then head on to a quadra rehearsal.

 

Blocos

Blocos are another important representation of carnaval, and for many, represent the authentic street carnaval of Rio. A bloco can be almost any group of people who meet to celebrate carnaval together in the public space. It can be just musicians, just drummers, just dancers, people in a themed costume, people in random costumes, or any combination of these. There is no set route, no need to enter a competition, or even to tell people you are performing. The scene has grown a lot in the last few years, as more people seek to be part of the action, rather than a spectator. Some blocos are very professional with trained musicians and dancers, good costumes, themed banners, etc. Some blocos are less about the quality of the performance, but more about expressing a vibe. All have something to contribute to the excitement of carnaval, but in all fairness, some are worth travelling to see and some aren’t.

I already mentioned that Julie (our girl in Sao Paulo) plays chocalho with one of the top blocos in Sao Paulo, called Bloco Me Lembra Que Eu Vou. These guys rehearse a set for months before bringing it out onto the streets, and even though I only sat in on a rehearsal, it was obvious that they take it seriously, while also having  a lot of fun doing it.

In a quiet moment, I slipped off to catch a rehearsal of a bloco with a 15-year history, Volta Alice. The main reason for the visit was to see my old friend Gabriel Lopes, who directs the bateria there. The rehearsal was downtown in the narrow, crowded streets near the ferry port, and took a little bit of finding. Unlike the samba schools, blocos can be similar to the experience of a lot of Samba Bands in Ireland, in that it is a relaxed atmosphere that accepts all comers. There were clearly some good musicians there, but there were also a lot of people who probably only pick up an instrument for a couple of weeks around carnaval. After watching the rehearsal from the side-lines, Gabriel very kindly gave me his repinique and allowed me to join in – most of the material was familiar enough, and even some of the signals for grooves and breaks were recognisable, so it wasn’t too difficult.

Gabriel Lopes, leading a rehearsal of Bloco Volta Alice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it was not my focus to get to play in Brasil, I’m never going to turn down the chance to play a little samba in its natural habitat! Rehearsals over, Gabriel was kind enough to ask me along to see the bloco’s performance a few days later in the Laranjeiras neighbourhood. I dutifully showed up for a parade that started at 9am(!), and everyone was there, ready to go – amazing! After Gabriel go the band up and running, he handed the repinique over to me, which again was very generous of him, given that I had only attended one rehearsal. Musically, the parade wasn’t hard work, but physically, it was hard going playing in the Rio heat. The parade was at a slow pace, and every so often, beers would magically appear, but it was still HOT! I had no idea how long the parade was due to go on for, so I decided that I would play for an hour, and then duck out. It was just as much fun to grab a beer and watch the general madness of carnaval unfold around me – crazy costumes, old friends, new friendships, music, dancing, eating and drinking – all on the streets of a beautiful old neighbourhood.  

Workshops, Tourism & Friends

On previous trips, we have organised workshops ourselves, but as the group this year  was quite small, we chose not to. However, as more and more musicians flock to Rio at carnaval time, there is always the opportunity to sit in on ‘public’ workshops. Last trip, we discovered an amazing venue/Workshop space/social space/instrument shop called “Maracatu Brasil’, which has teamed up with our friends at Contemporanea to deliver regular percussion workshops. This year, we had the opportunity to catch up with Stephen Brezet and Ricardo Guerra, who delivered an amazing workshop in hand percussion, mixing African, Brazilian, and Cuban rhythms. As almost everyone in the audience was a percussionist, there were plenty who were more than willing able to join in, and soon the mother of all timba jams was kicking off!

 

Tourism

Rio being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, has no end of non-samba-related sights and sounds to savour. All of this year’s group had been to Rio at least once before, so there was no need to do the very obvious things such as visit the Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer, or the cable cars at Urca. We were looking for a couple of new experiences.

This year, we took a little dander down to visit the famed Cemitério de Sao Joao Batista. Visiting a graveyard may not sound too exciting, but as this one is in downtown Rio, many Brazilian legends are buried there – somewhat similar to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Annoyingly, there wasn’t a map or a guide to where all the most famous people were buried, but we did manage to find the graves of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carmen Miranda and Santos-Dumont. It wasn’t just about the celebrities either, some of the grave stones and monuments are works of art in themselves. Photographs are discouraged, but I couldn’t help but grab a few snaps of this wonderland dedicated to death!

Just some of the amazing gravestones at the Cemitério de Sao Joao Batista. Carmen Miranda’s Grave is the one on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another little ‘tourism’ stop was the Confeitaria Colombo, a spectacularly overwrought French style coffee salon in downtown Rio. It’s a bit like the Copacabana Palace in that it gives you an insight into what Rio must have been like in the 20s and 30s – the real heyday! It has to be said that the coffee was great, and service 2nd  to none, but the waiters doing the hard-sell on their souvenirs let it down a little.

The amazingly elaborate interior of the Confeitaria Colombo.

 

Finally, we decided one evening that we would take the plunge and go for the full churrascaria experience. A Churrascaria is a special type of Brazilian barbecue restaurant, that offers an all you can eat menu of the finest meats the country has to offer. It isn’t a cheap option, and we ended up going for one of the more expensive options, called Assador Rios (formally Porcao). It is right on the bay in Flemengo, and the website looked amazing, so off we went. It was amazing. Not just the food, but the ridiculously high level of service. There wasn’t a cheese board, there was a cheese TABLE in the place, and as promised the steak was amazing. There is no way that you could eat there every day, but as a once-off treat, it was well worth it.

Knives at the ready – now where’s that steak?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends

A recurring theme in this blog is the value we place on genuine people and genuine hospitality. As Masamba members have been visiting Brazil for 20 years now, and many Brazilian artists have come to work with us in Dublin, we have built up a network of friends throughout the country. A trip back to Brazil is always an opportunity to try to catch up with as many of them as possible, time allowing. Of course, most of our musician friends are very busy in the run-up to carnaval, so we don’t get offended if we don’t get to see everybody, but on this trip, amongst others, we got to meet with Fernanda Amaral, Ari Colares, Claudio Santana, Feijao, Leao, & the guys from Du Rio, Gabriel Lopes, Mestre Maurao, all the team at Contemporanea and Jorge & Patricia Allen. The last people mentioned are especially important, as it was the Allen family who helped make our first trip to Brazil a success, and thankfully, 20 years later, we are still in keeping touch and meeting up when we can!

 

Counting down to the Brazil trip 2020!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Brasil, Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bloody Brilliant Bossas!

Over the years, Masamba have been proud to welcome some of Brazil’s best drummers to Ireland to work with us. It is amazing to think that names such as Esteves da Silva, Dudu Tucci, Jonas d’Oliveira, Serrinha Raiz, Chris Quade Couto, John-Cristophe Jacquin, Jerome Boumendil, amongst others have travelled to this small island, and always found a welcome, and an attentive audience, keen to improve their skills.

This past weekend, we continued this practice of bringing the best of the best, in welcoming Mestre Maurao, Gabriel Lopes and JP Courtney to Dublin to deliver a weekend of brain-stretching breaks as part of the Bossas 2019 tour.

This event had been months in the planning, and we were delighted with a really healthy turnout of around 60 percussionists over the weekend, mostly from Dublin, but also representing Belfast, Tralee, Wexford, Sligo, the UK, and the original home of samba in Ireland – Drogheda!

The workshop took an innovative format, in that it concentrated mainly on learning some of the latest breaks from the Rio Samba Schools – literally breaks they had played at Carnaval only a few weeks ago!

However, interwoven with the breaks were lots of insights on technique, phrasing, details specific to each samba school, and a few jokes thrown in for good measure – it was very fast-paced, and I think we were all amazed by how much we got through over the weekend – 6 full Bossas from Vila Isabel, Beija Flor, Imperatriz, Mocidade (2) and Salgueiro – phew!

This fella’s not taking it seriously at all…

Hats off too, the the staff at the Clasac Centre in Clontarf. Clasac exists to promote traditional Irish arts, and in fairness to them, there was no budging them on moving or cancelling any of their regular classes. But, when they chose to accept the teaching of some Brazilian traditional music, they entered into the deal wholeheartedly, and were an absolute pleasure to work with! If only we could have a building like that for the samba community in Ireland!!

Personally, for some of us, it was great to see a third of the Monobloco group that toured Ireland in 2007 and 2008 back together again, wisecracking, smiling and sharing their love of samba music!

The weekend too was also a reminder of the great times we used to have at the Drogheda Samba Festival, which was always a good chance to get together, play some music and socialise.

Hopefully, we’ll get to do it all again before too long!

Many thanks to Karen Smyth and Aoife Kavanagh for sharing their photos. The Bossas Tour was organised by JP Percussion, Samba Beats and supported by the Contemporanea Music Company. The Irish Bossas Weekender was co-organised with Masamba Samba School, and part funded by Dublin City Council, the Arts Council/Music Network Instrument Capital Scheme, and the Arts Council Young Ensembles Scheme (who supported some members of the Masamba Youth Project to attend). Masamba’s Community Band is supported by the Community Services Programme, an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Affairs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some highlights from 2018…

End of 2018 blog

As we approach the end of another year, and with the benefit of a few day’s rest, it is fitting to look back at the year gone by.

It was definitely a year of ups and downs, which started very much on a downer. For the second time in three years, we had to vacate our rehearsal space. Our landlord, a well-known financial advisor, ex-board member and minor celebrity, let greed get the better of him, and decided to break our lease at the earliest opportunity. The main reason for moving into the Bow Lane West premises, was to gain security of tenure, and to develop an arts and community facility that would support the wider community, as well as ourselves, but it wasn’t to be – in this space at least.

Google keeps track of everything! A lot of people like the picture of our mural from Bow Lane West.

Ironically, we got two pieces of news regarding the property last week. The first was from Google to tell us that the photo on google maps of the front of our building had set a record number of views, as it featured the amazing mural we put on there with the skills and patience of artist Will St. Leger, who worked with members of the Masamba Youth Project to design and paint the mural. The second is that the space hasn’t be rented out to anyone else, so in his hurry to get us out, the financial genius cost himself at least €15,000 – oh well….

While the move cost us time and money, the other real negative was that we are now operating out of four different locations, just to keep the show on the road. This does require some extra time and a lot of planning. At first, it led to a drop-off in numbers at rehearsals, to the point where we even had to cancel a couple of rehearsals, for the first time in years. However, things are now starting to settle down, and becoming more normalised, and in the meantime, we are still on the lookout for a more suitable base of operations – maybe in 2019…..

Our newest recruit Graham Dunne continued his on the job training, and got to the point where he can lead a workshop by himself, if needs be. Graham has also been working away to develop some cavaquinho skills, and we are hoping to be in a position to offer basic cavaquinho workshops in the near future. It will be great to start work on the melodic side of samba, after all these years of just focusing on percussion.

We only really started to use our new van properly in early 2018, after a long search for affordable insurance, and again, it has really come into its own. The fact that we are operating out of four different buildings, in two different counties, would be impossible without the van. Also, we can now confidently quote for work right throughout the country, as we are no longer relying on third-party transport providers. In 2017, as well as working extensively in the Dublin area, we managed to visit Dundalk, Greystones, Carnew, Dunmore East, Cootehill, Monaghan Town, Clongowes Wood College, Limerick, Dunshaughlin, Trim, Ashbourne. The van also greatly facilitated our building move, although we still needed at least four runs in a box van, to get everything sorted – that’s the downside of gathering costumes, instruments, and huge amounts of admin over 20 years!

On the training front, we were delighted to host Serrinha Raiz and Chris Quade Couto for a three-day visit to Ireland in September. The first day was given over to some work with members of our youth project, with the remaining two days dedicated to working with adult samba drummers from all around the country. Chris and Serrinha bring a great balance of skills, knowledge, passion and fun to all of their workshops. We were delighted with the outcome of all the sessions, and feedback from all the participants was extremely positive. 

The other highlight of 2018, was our involvement in the Deep River Rock, ‘Thirst For Better’ campaign. This is a scheme whereby codes are printed on the labels of River Rock water bottles, and each time one is submitted beside our name, we get 20c. Doreen came into het own here, getting us loads of labels from the canteen in the GPO, and Ciara has been tireless on the social media front to promote our campaign. We can report, that at the end of 2018, we currently leading with just short of €400 raised. We will be using the funds raised through this campaign to purchase some new instruments, specifically for use with early years students. We are getting more and more requests to work with this age group, and we are currently working very hard to put together some new games and activities better suited to this age group. The addition of these instruments will assist us to get this process started.

Plans for 2019  

Already, we have at least 30 workshops booked in for January, as well as a couple of interesting gigs on the horizon, but this time of the year, also allows for some longer-term planning. Some of the plans we have for 2019 include:

Our first beginners course in two years, beginning at the end of January

The aforementioned workshops with early years students will begin in mid-January, so we are desperately gathering instruments, and working on workshop plans for that.

A small group of Masamba members travelling to Rio in February 2019, to do some research ahead of carnaval.

We will be hosting the Irish leg of the Bossas 2019 tour, which will see samba experts Mestre Maurao, Gabriel Lopes and JP Courtney delivering a weekend of workshop in Dublin

We are talking with the Brazilian community about organising a carnaval event for the children of Brazilians living in Dublin (and their friends).

Finally (for now), Masamba will celebrate our 25thyear in continuous operation in 2019. We have already kicked around a couple of ideas as to how we can celebrate this milestone, so keep an eye on the website, for further updates.

Credits:

Masamba Community Services Programme is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and managed by Pobal.

The mural in Bow Lane West was part funded by a grant from the Dublin Bus Community Spirit Iniative, City of Dublin Youth Service Board and MRCB paints, as well as some of our own earnings.

The purchase of the van was grant aided under the Dormant Accounts Fund, managed by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Horizon Digital Print provided the decals free of charge.

Chris and Serrinha’s visit was part funded by the Arts Council, Dublin City Council, and our own earnings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Van-tastic Year


In November 2017, we took delivery of our first ever dedicated Masamba vehicle, in the form of a little Peugeot Expert. It was end of a long process of funding applications and after applying to several different agencies, it was the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs through the Dormant Accounts fund, that saw our need and granted the cash to get us on the road.

One year on, and our little van has changed our lives!

Even though we bought the van in November, it was January before we were fully able to utilise it, as we quickly found that Irish insurance companies have little interest in charities. We were quoted over €6000 to put the van on the road! Luckily, the guys at the Intersure brokerage in Drogheda hunted around and managed to get us a much more realistic price.

Since then, there has been no looking back! We were already in the process of moving out of our HQ in Bow Lane West, and the van was immediately in use every day, both supporting that process, and out doing the regular activities of workshops and gigs. In fact, the van was so busy, that it literally took us months to get it back into the dealership to get some of the non-standard features such as high-security locks and reversing sensors fitted.

Also, we must say a big thank-you to Jeff and the guys at Horizon Digital Print for creating amazing decals for us 100% free of charge.

Over the year, we have travelled to Dunmore East, Drogheda, Dundalk, Clones, Limerick, Newbridge, Ashbourne, Trim, Carnew, Greystones, Belfast, and to every nook and cranny of Dublin and its immediate surroundings. Not all of this work would have been possible without the van.

In addition, as we have yet to find premises that combines all of our activities, we are currently operating out of four different buildings, between North Strand (office), Mountjoy Square (rehearsals), the Liberties (Youth Project) and Skerries (storage) – without the van, it would be impossible to operate at the moment.

Thanks again to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Horizon Digital Print and Mongey Plunkett Motors, for making a long-held dream a reality.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Berlin, Candomblé and ufa FABRIK

Last weekend, I travelled back to Berlin to participate in a  three day course in Candomblé percussion with  my friend and mentor Dudu Tucci.

I was first introduced to Candomblé percussion back in 1999, but at the time, I didn’t have the technical playing skills to appreciate it. In addition, at that time, I felt that it was inappropriate to perform music from a religion that I had nothing to do with, or being more pragmatic: why learn how to play something that I would never be called on to perform in public?

Time moved on, and I came to learn that most of the secular rhythms we play in Masamba,  especially arrangements we learned from Dudu over the years, owed a debt to this for of music, and that developing a working knowledge of the music could be an invaluable tool in helping me understand the music better, and in composing new pieces.

As always, Dudu was an excellent host, and the course was pitched at a level that was challenging, but never so much so that I wasn’t motivated to keep going. We covered several toques from the Orixas, and got a little bit into playing technique too, so the course ticked all the boxes for me.

In previous years, a course like this would have taken place in Dudu’s legendary Percussion Arts Centre (PAC) in Kreuzberg, but as with so many other arts facilities, the entire block has been sold out from under them. Masamba has suffered a similar fate recently, and we know how difficult a move can be – emotionally, physically, and from a business perspective.

Dudu has relocated to a smaller facility called PAC NORD, but this course was delivered at the famous UFA FABRIK arts centre in the Tempelhof district of Berlin. Dudu has been working with the team here since the 1980s, and so I enjoyed a special level of access to the facility, and got to meet and chat with a number of staff members while I was there.

I had a long chat with UFA FABRIK veteran, and leader of local samba group Terra Brasilis, Manni Spaniol. He explained the history of how the facility was formed, and how it is run today. The current complex houses 3 indoor venues an outdoor performance area, workshop spaces for percussion and dance, a primary school, a petting zoo, children’s playground, a café/bar, a bakery, a whole foods store, and an accommodation block. In addition many of the workers at the centre live on site in a housing block. The programme is a mix of internally-devised programmes, most of which involve elements of the local community, and external touring shows, who just need a venue.

As well as my own studies, I stayed in the accommodation block, ate in the cafe, shopped in the whole food store, and attended a jazz gig on the Saturday night – all of which were delivered to a very professional level, and with a friendly and positive spirit – there is an infectious feeling of family throughout the complex that’s hard to resist!

So, the weekend ended up having double the expected benefits – I had a great weekend of drumming and learning, and I discovered an amazing arts facility, that definitely got me thinking about what the next Masamba facility might look like!

The trip to Berlin was supported by a grant from the Irish Recorded Music Organisation (IMRO) 

 

Posted in Education, Funding/Support, Music, Training | Leave a comment

Back to School

Over the last couple of weeks, social media was awash with photos of children in their uniforms, setting off for their first day in school. It is that time of year again, and for us at Masamba, it signals a change in focus too.

As the schools get settled in, we start to get calls about workshops. Some are from schools we have worked in for years, and in those cases, it can be a fairly straightforward process, of agreeing a date. We are also talking to some new schools, and in these cases, a lot more work has to be done to agree times, dates, locations, class sizes, etc. Every project is different, and every school needs a bespoke service – all part of the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We at Masamba are going back to school too. This weekend, we welcome master drummers Serrinha Raiz and Chris Quade Couto to Dublin, to teach us old dogs a few new tricks. We will be joined by colleagues from several other bands from around Ireland, and we have a beautiful space to work in in the Clasac Centre, so the weekend should be educational, inspirational and FUN!

 

 

Posted in Education, Training | Leave a comment

Back in the Community

August is usually a pretty quiet month for us here at Masamba. Most of the educational institutions and youth projects we work with are shut for the month, or operating a reduced service. As many people are on holidays, there is also a reduction in festival activity, so August is usually a chance to take it easy, catch up with paperwork, and start getting set up for the new school year.

However, this month, we have had the opportunity to go back to our roots, and re-visit some of the communities we have worked in over the years.

We began the month with a trip back to the Liberties to play at a local event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the building of the houses in the Carmans Hall/Spitafields/Hanover Street/Ash Street area. It was a simple parade up and down the street for us, but there was a great sense of community, some great banter, and there was cake in abundance!! 

Back strutting our stuff around the streets of the Liberties, August 2018. Photo: Suzanne Behan Photography.

Last weekend, we revisited Naomh Fionbarra’s GAA club in Cabra, to participate in a local community parade there. Masamba has been involved in activities in this area for at least 15 years, starting with our involvement in the campaign to get a proper building for the Gaelscoil in the area. While it was great see that modern building built and in use, there is still plenty of work to do to make Cabra a better place to live and work. However, again, we found some really good community spirit and a great example of how the GAA does so much more than just organise sports in a local community.

Masamba strike a pose in Cabra. Two band members unfortunately brought the wrong costumes with them….

This coming Saturday (August 18th), we are joining the Festival of the Nations in Mountjoy Square. This is a new event for us, but it is right in keeping with celebrating the cultural diversity of Dublin City, and supporting the work of those that seek to break down the racism and discrimination that still exists in some quarters.

What’s also great about this event, is that it is very close to our new rehearsal space at Jigsaw in Belvedere Court. We always try to establish links with the local community wherever we rehearse or deliver workshops, so the Festival of the Nations will give us an opportunity to start that process.

We will be doing a short ‘Parade of the Nations’ around Mountjoy Square at 1pm, and there is lots more on offer with a full programme up until 6pm – and it’s all FREE!!

Finally, we also took some time out on Saturday in Cabra to do a little recording for a campaign, organised by Deep RiverRock, to support local community projects like ours. It may generate some income for the band, which would be very welcome indeed!

 

 

 

 

The campaign is called ‘Thirst For Better’ and will rely on members of the public redeeming codes found on bottles of Deep RiverRock water. There are further details about the project here: https://www.deepriverrock.ie/thirstforbetter/masamba-samba-school  Please support us if you can!

Posted in Community, Community/Education, Gigs, Youth Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment