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Category Archives: Art


One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain…


Boom-ba! Boom! Dum-dum-dum-da! Boom! I can hardly keep from wiggling. Most of us can’t, and it’s not entirely from the sugared treats we’ve all been eating on the plaza (yea, I saw you!). The second Boi Malhadinho group is sambando down the street, and I am absolutely amused. If I could pick a “walking soundtrack”–like a track that would play while I walked down the street in certain moods–this would be my pick for “playful.” Actually, for just plain happy.

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Get my comrade some earplugs and I think he’d be walking happy too.

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Here it comes and there it goes!! Floats like a butterfly but stings like a… you get it. Ali’s not the only thing so graceful yet delivered with a powerful punch…

It’s no secret that the world’s largest party boisterously belongs to Brazil. For the longest time, I’d been curious about Carnaval, as any fan of Brazilian culture is, and after spending nearly a year here, I somehow just couldn’t let myself go home without catching the party. Thus I did what I could to stay to catch this marvelous festa, in the cidade maravilhosa.

If you know me well, you know how much I adore Halloween. Adore. Just the idea of costumes and fantasias makes me giddy with childish glee. So, imagine the excitement at finding Carnaval to be one big costume party!! Que legal!! If I had known (and I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me), I would have packed more than just my pirate eyepatch.

This pre-Lenten festival has roots in Portuguese and other European traditions, and takes a different form in all different regions of Brazil, and indeed South America. But you’ll have to go somewhere else for a history lesson. To imagine my first “Carnaval da Rua” experience in Rio, picture this: Imagine a giant (US) Halloween party gets a rockin’ percussion section from a big marching band (with our without matching attire or formal training), and then hits the streets while sometimes even a samba group sings from atop a truck loaded down with speakers rolls close behind. With or without said truck, the beats move through the streets, and so does the costumed galera around it. Don’t even think for a moment you are going to stay put and watch. This is a full participation event. We move en masse through the streets, sambando, pegando mais uma geladinha, and trying to not run into any trees or light posts in our merry-making. This, my friends, is a bloco da rua, a “block party” or Carnaval street party. There is much more to this festival than just the passarela of the Sambadromo.

Street blocos are popular in southern Brazil, but in the north, you’ll find Salvador (and Bahia at large) will rock out all night to trio elétricos, or gigantic trucks loaded up with speakers and a platform atop for a band, dj, or both. You then follow the truck–read: the party–from one end of the town to the other, all night. (*I’ve always loved this idea, creating a party in the street, open to anyone, and if that weren’t enough, let’s move it! Caraca! That’s brilliant.)  Bahian superstar Carlinhos Brown explains, “We play, not for money, but to celebrate happiness. Our carnival is a street carnival. It is for everyone, not just for those with money.”

So from 9am (yes, we were quite ambitious most days…) until late night, we hopped from bloco to bloco, dancing and reveling in the goofy parties around us. After coming back to Luiza’s apartment, we would make a snack and then watch the big samba schools desfilar on screen at the Sambadromo…which is where, my friends, I will go during my next Carnaval experience. Until then, I’ll just samba in my living room. Ah, Carnaval….why did you have to end?!

It often happens when you work at a job you love that you feel as if you are not even working at all. It happens even more when you work at a language youth camp.

The month of January flew by, as I worked and played, sang songs and taught lessons to Brazilian youth in the interior of Sao Paulo. I’ve worked with the same organization, but in Spanish, and this reminded me of what fun it is to teach your own language, especially when you can make dinner announcements on all the ways to use the phrase “S’up?” (And yes, there are many). Like an even more intense extension of what I was doing before in Quissama, this was pop-culture at its finest, coming out in all the funniest forms.

I wrote a blues song (the best I have written), my favorite verses about the goofy, talented kids, like the thirteen year old who was playing the blues riffs to accompany my song. Incredible. But what actually left a far bigger impression was my colleagues, their backgrounds and hobbies, where we all came from and where we were going. Linguists and musicians, mountain-climbers and actors, we all had a lot to share, and three weeks of immersion camp garnered three weeks of more ideas. Man, I have places to go!

I think “fortune” is relative—at least it is for me—but certainly not when it is right in front of you, and very real at that. I spent last month in total bliss, reveling in the magic of equal energies, of people who inspire as much as they allow themselves to be inspired.

Some of my former students hide behind their classroom Christmas tree, an ingenious invention by their teacher. I especially loved the ornaments. Merry Christmas.

Guitar Lesson

I took a guitar to my class in Machadinha the other week–as much a special surprise as an incentive for good behavior. We´ve had more than a lot of trouble with the kindergarten class. We won´t get into the “hows” and “whys” here, but we´ll just say there are a lot of contributing factors to an agitated  classroom. So, we thought we´d try an experiment–after all, I´ve been learning a lot on the guitar lately, and find myself always looking to play. Borrowed guitar in tow, I went to school hoping for the best.

Miraculous. With just the prospect of a new surprise, the kids behaved at a slightly less-crazed level, but when we ended the last half hour with my improvised renditions of “Mr. Sun,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Old MacDonald,” the change was inspiring. For the moment, they all wanted to participate, and all sang along. Perhaps the first time I´ve ever seen full-group participation. When my children´s songs ran out, I fell back on the MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) stuff I´d picked up…like Jota Quest, Vanessa da Mata, and the like. My heart could have burst at the moment they all belted out the chorus to “Boa Sorte”: Tudo que quer me dar…é demais…é pessado, não há paz… If I hadn´t been playing I would have hugged them all right there.

For being so good they all got a turn at holding and “playing” the guitar–what a treat! I´m convinced, that at the end of the day, they are just children. Maybe we are all crianças. That, to me, is the power of music.

 Quissa(wo)man saves innocent bystander from the evil QuissaMAL

Quissa(wo)man saves innocent bystander from the evil QuissaMAL

 When danger–or Halloween–calls, there is no better duo for the  job than…Quissa(wo)MAN and QuissaMAL, Quissamã´s  very own superheroine/villain combo!

Shaking up the town a little bit, and saving the  late night crowd from just another regular  ol´night in the praça

 

The Halloween galera..

I was drawing a cow on the board in a Pre-K class last week to demonstrate the activity we were about to do, when a tiny, high-pitched voice exclaimed: Tia Rebecca sabe desenhar!! Olha! Ela desenha direitinha! (“Teacher Rebecca knows how to draw! Look she draws well!”) With my back turned, I snickered to myself, Never expected five-year-olds to appreciate my art degree…
Then, from nowhere, started the chant: rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca, REBECCA! REBECCA! REBECCA!
I turned around to see little fists pumping the air (and not at each other for a change!), chanting my name… I could have died laughing, and all for the sake of a cow.

Quissama_Junina

Celebrating São João with a quadrilha party. Two girls watch the action from the best row. Quissamã, June 2009

Ah, June. There is a “quadrilhas” party happening tonight, right down the block, a tipical June party celebrating our favorite saints Anthony, George, and a few more chaps I forgot. With a soundtrack of forró, and sertaneja music. Now, just imagine all the little kids dressed up in plaid shirts or “country” dresses, with fake beards or freckles painted on, kinda like Halloween, but where all the kids on the block insist on being farmers. The best part is when different classes start doing really cute square dance presentations while all the adults watch or eat churrasco and other tipical northeastern foods from the festival stands, under a canopy of bright colored bandeirinhas, or little flags. Each school has its own party like this, inviting families to participate in carnival games and food, and tonight’s festa was the “big one” put on by the city hall, in my neighborhood, near the cemetary. The music went on til late in the night, but there weren’t any neighbor complaints…

I like people-watching, live music, and different, atypical foods, so clearly this is a place for me. What? It’s a three-day festa? Even better! Most people won’t show up until 10 or 11,like me today, when the forró band starts. Here we go, to the madrugada!

The music world is incredibly fluid nowadays, as we have beautiful things like the internet, MPR, and music lovers in all corners of the globe. So why should I be surprised  that after moving to Brazil, I find myself just two hours from the “biggest (and best) Jazz and Blues Fest” in Brazil.  What? I just came from the Midwest, home of Chicago blues and my high school jazz band. Never considered that there would be a following here, but then again, a lot of things surprise me in this way.

So, taking advantage of a feriada (of course), meandered down to Rio das Ostras for a few days of live music outdoors, along the beach-laden stretch of the city. Totally, totally worth it. I saw the likes of Ari Borger, mad pianist, and Coco Montoya, who I think played with Eric Clapton once upon a time. The best show, by far, was a Brazilian “Big Time Orchestra”, throwing down some deep swing tunes and some awesome jazzy covers of old pop songs like “Pretty Woman” and others I was too euphoric to remember. It was raining earlier that night, as it had the night before, and it was when we had just taken the plastic lawn chairs off our heads that the reverie of great music and 8th grade gym class swing dance lessons combined in a brilliant mesh of energy, and I danced for the next two hours straight.

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Jason Miles–In the Spirit of Miles Davis combined jazz riffs with DJ Logic’s old-school hip-hop beats. So cool.

It didn’t hurt that I was in good company, having met some quality cariocas, paulistas, and mineiros, at the hostel, and we all were in it for a really good time. Still can’t believe that I happened upon such a lovely surprise such as this, in an unlikely corner of the world. Long live the music.

Rio das Ostras_Jazz1

Muito BOM!! Nossa galera de maloucos, e a moda do fim de semana…