Above all other things, above the beach and the bikinis and the beach bodies, Brazil has come to mean music to me. Brazil has an incredible variety of different styles of music and I love it all: samba, samba rock, funk, sertanejo, axé, forró, pagoda, MPB. Thursday night I attended a live performance of a samba/ samba rock band. Dancing with my Colombian friend was helpful because he knew how to transform salsa steps into samba steps. Every time I moved my hips he said, “That’s salsa,” and next demonstrated “This is samba.”
After the samba rock band, a samba school performed. Rio de Janeiro made samba schools famous with its Sambodromo, the stadium where it holds Carnaval every year. Other cities, like Floripa, have copied it with their own samba schools and local Carnavals. Carnaval samba and “normal” samba, the samba that people dance in samba clubs, have little in common other than the basic footwork. Carnaval samba is characterized by the batukada, its frenzy of percussion that makes everyone listening want to dance, even if they don’t know how. As the drums beat an intense rhythm, my friend and I furiously moved our feet and the director jumped like a man possessed. The Carnaval beat is impossible to resist, your body moves without your volition.
The following night I met my friend at my favorite samba club, Varandas. A local band performs samba de raizes (“roots samba”) there twice a week. This time I finally started to get the basic steps down. I was pleased when a friend of mine told me that I was dancing well.
Saturday I attended a concert of Jorge Bens, samba rock legend. Most of his songs are from the 1960s and ’70s, but he’s still incredibly popular. My CouchSurfing hosts decided it was their duty to educate me the morning of the concert, and had me listen to several of his songs. The Brazilians I got a ride with continued my music education. By the time I saw Jorge Bens up on stage, I was singing along with the rest of the crowd, “Moro…no país tropical.” Now, every time my CouchSurfing host breaks out his guitar, I request songs by Jorge Bens.
The next day was a free concert at the beach by Zelía Duncan, a MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) singer. My friend described her as an artist of “doubtable quality.” Once I heard her songs, I had to agree. Still, I could feel the energy of the Brazilians in attendance who sang along with her songs.
On the way back home, we stopped by the main square of town to listen to the local samba school perform. It was the same group as Thursday night, but Sunday night the area was packed with people and Carnaval fever was in the air! I sang along like any local to their song, which tells the story of the Cuban Revolution. The fact that I knew the words surprised my friends. I explained that whenever I forgot a word I simply yelled out “Liberação,” “revolução,” or “igualdade” (liberation, revolution, and equality). They explained that, truth be told, regardless of their them, samba schools always used those same words (well, not revolution): “liberação,” “o povo,” “meu coração” (liberation, the people, and my heart). At that, they burst into a rousing reprisal of last year’s Carnaval song by the same samba school. I was astonished; they used almost the same words last year as this year.
On Tuesday, I returned to Varandas with my CS host and friends from his neighborhood. I greeted several people I had met during previous samba events around town. My integration into the local samba scene, far above and beyond anything my friends had achieved, astounded them. I danced with several of my friends that night and did surprisingly well. I finally felt like I could hold my own amongst the Floripa samba crowd. When my friend said flabbergasted, “I never though that a gringa could dance samba,” I retorted, “I’m not a gringa.” He corrected himself, “That’s right, you’re Brazilian.”
Finally, there was Wednesday night five-hour jam session of my CS hosts and the neighborhood boys. The guys sing everything from samba rock and MPB to American alternative music and rock to Brazilian funk and hip hop. I can’t decide whether my favorite moment of the night was them singing the samba classic by Jorge Bens “Mais de Nada” or my CS host crooning Britney Spear’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
It was beyond a doubt, a fantastic week of music, music, and music. A majority of my cultural learning takes the form of music appreciation. For me, whenever I reminisce about Floripa, the music is what will come to my mind.