Bridging the sacred and the secular in samba
I’m happy to (finally) be making a new post, following my group’s performance at the World Festival of Sacred Music. In the two months leading up to the performance on October 6, I was incredibly busy working out arrangements of traditionally “secular” sambas to incorporate the sacred rhythms of candomblé. My apprenticeship with Mestre Amen Santo was instrumental in helping me to musically connect the sacred and the secular aspects of samba into a theatre performance that included 12 musicians and 3 dancers.
Samba Society, an 11-member traditional “roots” samba group that I formed in early 2009, does not usually play a repertoire that could be considered “sacred” and I was questioned on several occasions as to why our group was playing in such a festival. Several friends, Brazilians no less, were somewhat surprised that I would be presenting a samba performance. However, samba (often deemed to be the national music of Brazil) is deeply rooted in the spirituality of its Afro-Brazilian heritage.
For the Festival, I wanted to curate a special set of music and dance that would demonstrate this inherent spirituality of samba by choosing songs with themes related to the candomblé tradition. After consulting with Mestre Amen, I felt confident that I would be able to present a show that was reverent and respectful. The musicians that I worked with, along with the additional dancers interpreting the sacred rhythms, helped to create a beautiful show that took place at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park.
I was also fortunate to be able to bring the renowned composer Moacyr Luz to perform an opening set of his compositions. Though he is a popular samba composer, his music also visits themes of spirituality, especially with regards to the cosmology of African-influenced religions of Brazil.
With this performance, which I intend to present to the public once again, I wanted to present samba as more spiritual in nature, far beyond the common stereotype of the carnivalesque that is so often attributed to the tradition.
The following video is the opening set of Act 2, following Moacyr’s opening set. In keeping with the festival’s theme of being environmentally conscious and “Water is Rising,” I wanted especially to invoke the powerful deity of the ocean, Iemanjá, and the keeper of the forests, Ochóssi.
Performers:Beto González / director / vocals / percussionSimon Carroll / percussion / drums Bobby Easton / percussionMitchell Long / cavaco / guitar/ vocals Keith Lungwitz / percussionDana Maman / percussion / vocals Mauro Monteiro / vocals Kátia Moraes / vocalsEmina Shimanuki / vocals Kana Shimanuki / vocals Colin Walker / 7-string guitarplus very special guestsMestre Amen Santo / percussion / vocals Gisella Ferreira / dancerRachel Hernández / dancerShelby Williams-González / dancer