2020 has been a difficult year for us all – especially those of us working in the Arts. The COVID-19 restrictions have made life very difficult for the last nine months, and we can only hope that the New Year brings some respite.
However, it’s not all bad news, and at the very end of the year, things are looking up for us at Masamba.
During the week, we had two piece of positive news, both of which will help us trade our way back to sustainability.
We have just been informed that the Arts Council, under the Arts Participation – Capacity Building Support Scheme – 2020 have awarded us €14,426.00. Though great news, it is a little less than we applied for, so we will need to decide carefully what we spend the money on. It will definitely upgrade our office capacities, and hopefully, stretch to getting a makeover for the Masamba website.
Also, we had applied to both strands of the RTE Does Comic Relief fund, namely the ‘Demand for Digital’ stream, for which we were awarded €2779.73, and the ‘Adapt and Respond’ scheme for which we have been awarded €2913.28.
The materials and projects we had applied for under all three schemes will dovetail together nicely, to support us to generate some online learning resources, and overhaul our website to make it more marketing orientated, which will hopefully generate more business.
Also, we should give a shout out to Dublin City Council, and the North East Inner City, who booked us for some performance work, between Hallowe’en and the ‘Concert on your Doorstep’ projects. Not only was the cash very welcome, but working for Dublin City Council also ensured that the events were well-run and followed the safety guidelines. It was also a tonic to get out and do some playing in the community, as it remained us of why we all got involved in samba in the first place.
So, 2020 was a tough year, but not all bad. Roll on 2021!
8 months ago, just before St. Patrick’s Day, the first restrictions resulting from COVID-19 were announced, effectively shutting down Masamba, along with most of the arts and entertainment industries. We have had a stop-start existence then (mainly stopped), but regardless of the restrictions, we have continued working to the best of our abilities. Here are the latest updates.
A few weeks back, we recommenced work in St. James’s Primary School, delivering 8 sessions each day with children aged between 5 and 13 years of age. The school is following the guidelines on keeping children in small pods, with no interaction between pods, and strict hygiene for both tutors and instruments. We have successfully negotiated a way of delivering percussion sessions in these circumstances. It is a compromise, but everyone is happy to be back playing music and having fun.
We are also starting a project with Loreto College, Crumlin, whereby we will deliver workshops with their music staff, so that they can deliver percussion classes to their students. Music staff in the school have chosen percussion, as it is a safer methodology than, for example, choral work. This is potentially great news for us. Loreto College has a long, and proud history of music-making, and we are sure we can work with them to deliver a top-quality drumming option in the school.
It’s not all plain sailing…
Even with these exciting projects, Masamba is operating severely under capacity at the moment. We will need to increase the amount of workshops and performances we do to remain financially viable. Our government has made serious efforts to support industries that have been damaged by their policies in reaction to COVID-19. So far, none of them have been suitable to our needs. We’d rather trade our way out our current troubles, but if we are prevented from working, then funding will be necessary to keep the good ship Masamba on the high seas.
This week we began the process of returning to rehearsals and workshops in a safe environment. When the initial COVID-19 restrictions came into being just before St. Patrick’s Day, we were frustrated to be losing out on one of the busiest times of year for us. Back then, none of us could know that six months later, we would still be in a position where there are no gigs and no workshops, and no clear picture of when things will get back to normal.
That’s not to say that Masamba has been inactive in all that time. We had a huge backlog of administration and policy work to get through. One positive outcome that we could take the time to catch up with this important work. We also took the opportunity to carry out the most extensive process of instrument maintenance we’ve done in manys a year.
It was important to stay busy, but it was staying busy carrying out work that doesn’t generate any income. Despite continued funding under the Community Services Programme, we still need to be earning something to survive.
Also, as time went on, we realised that we were missing out on the human interactions of working and playing with a diverse selection of wonderful people. Admin, policy and maintenance work is all energy out, but we get NO ENERGY BACK!
This week, things are finally starting to move again. We have figured out a way to make rehearsals work in the short term, with a lot of co-operation from Barry at Jigsaw. Likewise, we had a walk-though in the DCC Sports Centre on Marrowbone Lane this morning. Following this, we are confident we can safely deliver sessions with our youth project, although numbers will have to remain limited for the moment.
We have also been in contact with some of our ‘regular’ schools, and it we’ve negotiated a safe way back into schools work. Through a mixture of working in outdoor spaces, working in classrooms with a revised set of instruments, and of course, regular sanitising of instruments we can deliver drumming workshops in most settings.
There is still a long journey ahead before we get back to ‘normal’. I put ‘normal’ in inverted commas, because I believe that what we will end up with is a blend between what we used to do, and some of the current ‘new’ ways of working. Most importantly, we will be back working with, and for, real people in real communities. That has to be a good thing!
As our economy starts to re-open, and some of us are getting back to work, news is mixed for us at Masamba Samba School.
On the positive side, it looks like the schools will be re-opening in September, which might mean that we can get back to our many teaching projects. It was disappointing that the lockdown was called when we were facing into a really busy time with workshops, but hopefully, we can pick up where we left off.
Performances are another matter. It is hard to see howdy public shows will be allowed for the remainder of 2020. This is not only disappointing because we enjoy the opportunity to perform live, but it will also have a financial impact, and make life very difficult.
On the plus side, we have had a couple of positive results on the funding front:
We have been awarded a Business Continuity Voucher from the Dublin City Local Enterprise Office, to the value of €2,500. This voucher will facilitate us to work with a marketing consultant to design a promotional strategy, which will hopefully accelerate our re-entry into the ‘marketplace’ – i.e. get us some extra teaching work in.
We were also successful in getting the maximum grant of €500 from the Civic Theatre Artist Emergency Relief Fund. It may not be a huge amount of money, but anything that assists cashflow is vitally important at this time.
There has been an impetus to simply ‘Bunker down’ until the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, as this would be a way of saving money. We don’t agree. We have remained busy throughout the lockdown, as has been detailed in earlier posts to this site. Since our last blog, we have completed the following:
The drafting and adoption of a Music Tutor’s Code of Practice, which confirms our commitment to providing a quality learning environment in all that we do. This in turn has brought out other aspects of policy that need to be updated. We are planning to carry out a complete overhaul of our organisational handbook, which currently weighs in at 124 pages, before the end of July – fun times ahead;-)
On the policy front, we are also developing a ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’, which is a statutory requirement for all companies, and which should be completed in advance of any direct teaching or performance work taking place. We have received some training on this, through our association with a network of community services managers, but as the government guidelines are changing rapidly at the moment, it remains unclear what the final document should look like. Hopefully, there will be some definitive information for our sector soon.
We’re delighted to have received this framed top, from our good friend Ken Dawson who passed away in 2013. Ken joined Masamba when he moved to Ireland from Canada, and quickly became a dedicated member, and contributed greatly to the craic! We were devastated when Ken was taken from us, and this project has been on our agenda for some time. Many thanks to Micheal Breathnach at the Oat Gallery in Ballinasloe for taking on the work – as they like to say across the water, GOOD JOB!!!!
Also, we had some stickers made for tagging instruments and also possibly to hand out to kids in workshops. Lots of work to finalise details with the printers, but now that they’ve been done once, it will be easy to repeat them.
We have also been forging ahead with our project to put our new customised drum skins onto our instruments, and also to complete the final drum wraps. Both Contemporanea and Horizon Digital Print have put in some sterling work in creating these items for us, so we owe it to them to show them off to all in sundry.
Initial Feedback to Connor Rousseau’s video about Masamba’s work in the community, entitled ‘A Child’s Heart Sings to the Beat of a Drum’ has been extremely positive, and we are hoping to spread the word, and maybe get it attached to a few websites and maybe even a TV broadcast. The documentary can be found on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/B4QQbGwhjas
Masamba’s continued operations are only possible with the generous support of the Community Services Programme, an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Affairs.
Masamba Samba School releases documentary video about their music projects in disadvantaged communities.
While the performance side of Masamba is loud, colourful and well-documented, the organisation’s work in the community is less well known.
“We deliver over 400 music workshops each year, mainly with children in disadvantaged communities…” says Masamba’s Manager, Simeon Smith ‘…but due to child protection and GDPR issues, we rarely have an opportunity to document this work.’
Towards the end of 2019, Masamba teamed up with long-time collaborators Champlain College, to host film student Connor Rousseau. Connor engaged in the project of documenting Masamba’s work enthusiastically, visiting every aspect of the group’s work, and shooting many hours of video footage.
This week, the first product of this partnership is being released. Entitled ‘A Young Heart Sings to the Beat of a Drum’, this short documentary details Masamba’s work in the community, with a specific focus on one of their long-term projects with St. James’s Primary School, in Basin View, Dublin 8.
‘A Young Heart Sings to the Beat of a Drum’ is a sensitive and thought-provoking insight into an innovative music project, taking place in the shadow of the famous Guinness Storehouse.
Despite the fact that all of our performances and workshops have been cancelled, we still have plenty to do here in the Masamba camp.
Graham and Greg have been working away generating some new workshop materials. Music files, videos, photos and PDFs have been flying back and forth, along with the usual amount of banter, and we should have some great new elements for our teaching projects, once the current restrictions have been lifted.
We also managed to hold a Board meeting using Zoom, which was a new experience for most of us. As well as catching up, and taking care of the regular business, we used the meeting to adopt a new Vulnerable Adults Safeguarding Policy, which is something we’ve aspired to for several months. As our work in the community sector comes under ever greater scrutiny, policies such as this one, along with Child Protection and Health & Safety policies will soon be essential to being acceptable to funders and to take on government contracts.
One other important piece of work was organising our monthly payments run. We are pleased to report that, despite the current financial difficulties created by having no income to speak of, we have paid all of our artists up to date for services rendered. It is a very difficult time for performance artists at the moment, and most of us have almost no work on the horizon. Therefore, we felt it is very important to make sure that we paid anyone with invoices in with us as a priority. Likewise, we must express our thanks to our clients, most of whom have paid promptly, and given us the cashflow achieve this task.
Away from the desk, and despite travel restrictions, we’ve managed to get some physical work done as well. Ironically, no sooner had the COVID 19 restrictions been implemented, than lots of things arrived at the office by courier!
Firstly, a new professional quality marquee arrived from Poptents. Our thinking in getting the marquee made, is that we are often tasked with playing outdoor shows out in the wilds, with no shelter. Having our own marquee allows us to take on these gigs with a little more comfort. We had placed an order for this several weeks before the pandemic hit, but as we were getting it customised with our logos, it took a little time to prepare. Unfortunately, it will take at least two people to set it up, so until we are out of isolation, we can’t show you any photos.
Likewise, we had ordered some new swimsuits to reinvigorate some of our dancers’ costumes. Like most things ordered from the U.S. they took literally weeks to arrive, and arrived after the COVID 19 shutdown, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to see them in action.
As many of you will know, we at Masamba Samba School have had a long and extremely positive relationship with the Contemporanea instrument factory in Sao Paulo. Roberto Guariglia and his team of master builders have done so much for us over the years that we would need an entirely new website just to list it all. We love Contemporanea drums, and use them for both our performance work (because they sound amazing) and education work (because they are as tough as nails!).
Our most recent project with Contemporanea was to design some customised drum heads that would incorporate our special 25th anniversary logo. Perfectionists as always, Contemporanea’s staff sent several different ideas over for us to approve, and finally in February, we settled on a design that incorporated elements of the Irish and Brazilian flags along with our logo. As well as designing and producing these amazing drum skins free of charge, Roberto even paid for the shipping – now, that’s support!
Frustratingly, they sat in the van for a couple of weeks, before we realised that our rehearsal space is within the 2K travel limit, and so we could at least start to get them onto the gigging drums. This was such a satisfying project, because at the end there were some clear visible results. As you’ll see from the photos, the drums now look amazing, especially when teamed up with the wraps we had made by our friends in Horizon Digital Print.
So, despite the restrictions, we have been able to get some work done. Community Arts has always been about innovation and ingenuity, so in that way, COVID 19 is just another challenge to be surmounted.
STAY SAFE EVERYONE!
Masamba’s continued operations are only possible with the generous support of the Community Services Programme, an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Affairs.
Like many in the Arts community, the COVID 19 closures and cancellations have hit us hard.
Usually, the St. Patrick’s Day period is one of intense activity for us, and a real chance to earn some valuable funds. This year that was all cancelled quite late in the day, and as the closures were island-wide, there were no opportunities to find other gigs.
Masamba relies on funding from 4 sources to keep the doors open, and the projects running:
Performances – all cancelled until further notice
Workshops – all schools and youth clubs are closed until further notice
Band Subs – as rehearsals are off, there are no subs coming in.
Grants – Most of our grants are project-related. As most of our activities are on hold at the moment, we can neither spend grant funding on running costs, or apply for new funding until we know more about the true timescale of the COVID 19 related closures.
One huge positive is that we have been in contact with our core funders, the Community Services Programme (an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Development, and managed by Pobal). Pobal staff have assured us that our funding from them is safe for the immediate to mid-term, which is a huge relief all around.
We are aware that many of our colleagues in the music business have absolutely no sources of income at the moment, and nothing in the diary for a long time to come, so we realise how lucky we are to have some support from the government for the foreseeable future.
Masamba’s Finance Sub Committee met last week, and worked out a strategy to minimise outgoings, and a programme of internal projects that will keep us active for the next few weeks at least. All of these projects are essential, and some of them had been long-fingered previously, due to the pressures of workshops and gigs. It is a rare opportunity to get some of these jobs done, and they will all stand to us when things come back to normal.
Some of the projects we are working on right now include:
Creating staff notation for all our workshop pieces, which we can share as a resource to teachers and youth workers in the future. We are looking at combining the notation with other workshop resources we have generated to make a ‘Masamba Workshop Manual’. This may even have wider applications than with the groups we work directly with, and we may have some big news in the near future about this project.
Generating a Vulnerable Adults Policy for Masamba. This is something we have wanted to do for quite a while. In addition, it is something that will probably be a required element of our overall governance and policy in a couple of years, so it is timely that we are getting to do some work on that at the moment.
We have been working with our great supporters and friends at Contemporanea Instrumentos Musicais in Sao Paulo to design some new custom drum skins for our drums. Completely by coincidence, we had recently finalised designs, and some colourful new drum heads, celebrating our 25th Anniversary. These drum skins are literally on their way from Brasil as I write. Once they arrive, it will take some time to put them onto the drums, and again, having the luxury of some quiet times, will allow us get that organised.
We are also in the process in developing the designs for a new form of hand drum, that will lend itself to use in a workshop environment with children. There is nothing radically new about the designs. It is more about taking the best elements of several different instruments and combining them into a practical, hardwearing instrument that will still sound as good as all the instruments made by our friends at Contemporanea. We firmly believe that educational instruments should not be ‘toys’ or cheap, poor-sounding imitations of the real thing. How can a student be motivated to learn to play well, if the sound they are producing is horrible?
We had also recently placed an order to get a custom professional-quality marquee produced to keep the rain off us at some of our outdoor gigs. This has been designed and made, but as yet, is still sitting in its packaging in the back of the van. We hope to get the opportunity to get it out and set up soon, so that we can photograph it and use it to get some new gigs booked in. In the meantime, we might have to organise a Masamba Barbecue to test out the marquee, as soon as the restrictions are lifted.
Also, on the image side of things, we have been working with our friends in Horizon Digital Print to get some new stickers printed that we can use to identify our instruments, storage boxes, etc. Jeff and his crew at Horizon always look after us, and we’re looking forward to seeing some results real soon.
Our Storage Facility, or ‘The Crypts’ as we like to call it, are always in need of tidying up and reorganising. Between the preparations for St. Patrick’s Day, and the fact that we were delivering workshops to over 600 children per week in early March, the Crypts need some TLC. As well as a general tidy up and reorganisation, we are using this opportunity to identify instruments that need repairs, and getting all that sorted as well.
The next few weeks will be difficult for Masamba Samba School. We hope and pray that this virus leaves us and our families unscathed, and that we can get back to some form of normality as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will stay busy, and try to maintain a positive outlook – sure, what else would ya be doing?
With most of the schools here closed for the mid-term break, we have a bit of space and time to do something a little different. Of course, being around for so long, and having worked in practically every community in Dublin, even new experiences often re-connect us with people we’ve met along the way.
This week, we started what will hopefully a long relationship with Dolphin House Homework Club, which is part of a community development in one of the most disadvantaged localities in Ireland. We tested the waters with three sessions between Dolphin House itself, and Fatima, all of which went very well. Some of the children we worked with are from schools in the local area, and we have worked with them before. This made life easier, and it was nice to connect with some of these children outside of their school environment. We briefly discussed returning to the area soon, to do a more involved project, which would be right up our street.
Being back in Fatima reminded me of one of my first forays into Community Music, when I brought a certain Mr. Damien Dempsey in to work with a rock band who rehearsed in the ground floor of the flats. They were really good musicians, great guys, but a little unsure of where to go next. Damien was fantastic with them, and we facilitated them to record an excellent demo of their own music, which I still have somewhere.
While the physical environment has changed, the community hasn’t, but as well as the multiple disadvantages they face, there is still a real interest in music making and a lot of inherent talent to go with it.
Today, we also moved some equipment into a small storage area provided for us by St. Catherine’s Sports Centre on Marrowbone Lane. This is where the Masamba Youth Project currently rehearses, and while the workshop space is great, the building is poorly laid out for anyone who needs to bring in a lot of equipment. Breda and her team came to the rescue and found us a small space, which not only means that we can concentrate more on making music, and less on moving gear, but also that we will be able to have a larger range of instruments available, which allows for us to work on a wider range of musical styles and technical skills. It may be only a corner, to some people, but to us, it is a real benefit.
We also located an abandoned “Comments Box’ on site, that we are going to refurbish and use for getting feedback from some of our client groups. As this will mainly be used with children, we’d like to brighten it up a bit, and make giving the feedback a little bit of a ‘ceremony’.
Tomorrow, we are changing gears a little and providing a workshop for the BEd3 students at DCU St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra. This is the primary teacher-training college in the country, and we have a long history of delivering workshops and performances on campus. We are hoping that this workshop will give the students the confidence to try some percussion when they start teaching in the classroom, but wither way, tomorrow will be a lot of Craic!
Our work in the community is supported by funding from the Community Services Programme, an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Development and administered by Pobal.
As we approach the end of the year, and indeed the decade, it’s only natural to take a look back over the previous 12 months, in order to celebrate the positives and hopefully learn from some of the negatives. Every year, it is the same – we assume that it has been a somewhat uneventful year, until we start going through the website and the diary, and suddenly realise how busy we have been.
Definitely one of the highlights of the year was the celebration of our 25thAnniversary at the Mansion House. Initially, we had very humble plans for the celebrations, but when we learned that we had been invited to the Mansion House by the lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, we decided to invest a little time and money into the event. We were delighted with the turn out on the day, and it was a chance to catch up with some old friends, and ex-members of the group, as well as a party for the current crew!
We were honoured to be joined by the Lord Mayor himself, and the Brazilian Ambassador to Ireland Eliane Zugaib. Also in attendance were several Dublin City Councillors, past and present, and the Arts Office for Dublin City, Ray Yeates, and representatives of several other partners and stakeholders.
Dudu Tucci Workshops
In tandem with the event in the Mansion House, we invited our most influential drumming mentor, Dudu Tucci, to visit Dublin and deliver two percussion workshops. Dudu, originally from Sao Paulo, but based in Berlin for many years, has been working with members of Masamba since 1996, and has visited Dublin many times to work with us. Dudu has been a great supporter of our work.
The idea of the workshops was to invite our ex-members to re-connect with us, through playing together and learning together – two of Masamba’s core aims. The dates for the workshops were dictated by the date given to us by the Lord Mayor’s office, so it didn’t suit everyone, but we were still impressed with the turnout. We also got to cover an impressive amount of material with some people who hadn’t played in years!
One very positive suggestion that came from these sessions was the idea of hosting a ‘low impact’ workshop for ex-members once a month, who would like to keep connected, but who don’t have the time to commit to weekly rehearsals. This is something that we would definitely like to follow up on next year.
In April, we hosted Mestre Maurao and Gabriel Lopes, as part of the Bossas 2019 tour This was a collaboration with the UK-based company JP Percussion, and saw Masamba taking care of all the logistics and some of the promotion for the project. The 2-day workshop was attended by over 40 percussionists, mostly from around Dublin. As well as members of our adult band, 2 of the more advanced members of our Youth Project attended the sessions and gave a very good account of themselves.
Marcos Feijao is an ex member of the famed Monobloco group from Rio, and is an accomplished drum set player, as well as a samba percussionist. Members of Masamba did some workshops with him in Rio back in 2017, and were very impressed. Feijao came to Dublin, immediately after our 25th Birthday celebrations. Coming as it did, so soon after our 25th Birthday celebrations, attendance was poor, and we barely broke even on the weekend. However, we did gain the basis of two new pieces of music, one of which is being rehearsed by the band at the moment.
In February, three members of Masamba visited Rio de Janeiro for two weeks, to witness the preparations for carnaval 2019. Most of this trip was spent at workshops or attending the open rehearsals of the most famous samba schools, where there is a great opportunity to see musicians in action up close. The trip was highly successful, and some of the material we saw being rehearsed has been incorporated into the Masamba set.
We also used the time to meet with Consul General in Sao Paulo, and the new Irish Ambassador to Brasil Sean Hoy, at a reception in Rio de Janeiro. At these meetings, we discussed the possibility of enhanced partnerships between Masamba and Brasilian samba schools, and the possibility of a collaborative project in the future.
In recent years, 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:
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! To fill this gap, we engaged with the Deep Riverrock ‘Thirst for Better’ campaign, and managed to raise a very impressive €600, which we can use to invest in these much-needed resources.More details can be found at: http://www.masamba.com/communityoutreach/retail-therapy/
Unfortunately, 2019 saw little progress in our search for premises, despite making many enquiries, and connections.
Now in our 2ndfull year of being ‘homeless’, we are learning about the difficulties and extra costs of operating out of four different spaces, one of which is in another county.
Membership numbers have failed to recover fully, which is the result of a complex set of factors, and our current location is definitely one of them.
Our ability to host visiting tutors and performing groups has been complicated by the need to source spaces to host workshops, etc. It has also added a significant cost to organizing projects.
Our Youth Project numbers are down to record lows, and we attribute this to being forced to move rehearsal space twice in two years. We are currently working in a DCC Sports Centre on Marrowbone Lane. It is a good facility, but the acoustics are bad, and we have no on-site storage space for instruments, which makes rehearsals more complicated, and also limits musically what we can work on at any given time.
Our current storage space in Skerries is absolutely full to capacity, with nowhere to gather instruments and costumes for large projects. We have nowhere to build or repair instruments. Space is so tight, that we sometimes have to prepare for events in the yard outside the building, if weather allows.
Overall, 2019 was a great year for Masamba, and as well as the highlights above, the year was full of laughs, social events, great gigs, great workshop groups, and a lot of great music!
Already, there are some exciting new opportunities on the horizon for 2020 and beyond, and if we can keep the current great team of people together, and maybe even add to it, we’ll be in good shape for whatever comes our way.
Happy New Year to all our friends, colleagues, suppliers and
Simeon of Masamba with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe at the Mansion House Dublin.
’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.
Dudu Tucci, September 2019
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, Paul McAuliffe, with the Brazilian Ambassador to Ireland, Her Excellency Eliana Zugaib.
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
Ambassador Zugaib addressing the assembled Masambaeiros.
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’
Dudu Tucci, leading Masamba members new and old in a performance at the Mansion House Dubli
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!