April 2003

A Taste of Brazil in Chicago

Many have come and gone, but some have stayed and Chicago is
becoming more and more an option for Brazilians. The
city now has two new Brazilian restaurants and three supermarkets
catering to Brazilian customers. Add to this two samba groups,
a dance group and two Brazilian radio programs.

Paulinho Garcia

When we talk about Brazilians in the USA no one would think of Chicago. Brazilian culture and presence has been around for many decades mostly in New York, New Jersey, Boston and Los Angeles and lately has grown extensively in Miami and San Francisco, but Chicago with its cold winter and geographic situation didn't seem to appeal to most Brazilians. What many don't know is that even though the Brazilian presence may be smaller here than in the aforementioned cities the culture and the rhythms of Brazil are not.

When I came to Chicago in 1979 there was the Brazilian Club and already many Brazilian musicians such as: Breno Sauer's band Made in Brazil (that later became Som Brazil), which I was part as a bass player for 13 years, the late Manfredo Fest who lived and played in town, Geraldo de Oliveira and Dedé Sampaio (both who have recorded with many famous Brazilian and American musicians).

For many years the Brazilian Cultural Fest (owned by Gleidy and Adjamir da Silva) promoted one of the largest and best organized Carnaval parties in the US, featuring its own 20 piece band a la Rio's Canecão, directed by yours truly, plus costumes, dancers and percussionists brought direct from Rio's samba school Mangueira just for the events, which were attended by more than 1500 foliões Brazilians and Brazil lovers.

Many have come and gone, but some have stayed and Chicago is becoming more and more an option for Brazilians. For example, there is a noticeable increase in big star concerts throughout the year by private promoters and the city of Chicago's department of cultural affairs always includes many Brazilian acts in its world music festival. We also have two new restaurants (Fogo de Chão and Boi na Brasa) and three supermarkets catering to Brazilian customers (Brazil Legal, Pepe's and El Mercado).

Besides, we have two samba groups (Chicago Samba, with weekly samba parties, and Samba de Roda) and a dance group, Samba 1 Dance Group, led by Shirley Vieira. Shirley brings rich costumes direct from Rio's Carnaval champion samba school Beija-Flor to parade in many events throughout the year. Shirley also teaches samba dance while I teach Brazilian guitar and voice at the Old Town School of Music, a very respected and known music school, which also brings Brazilian acts to Chicago.

Add to this two Brazilian radio programs: Sounds of Brazil with Scott Adams and Tropical with Marshal Vente. Our ambassador/consul general Alexandre Addor is a tremendous supporter of Brazilian culture. He is always present at all Brazilian events, big or small.

I came to Chicago 24 years ago to stay for one or two years and play jazz. I fell in love with the city and the city seems to love me in return. My Brazilian sounds are well received by the public and the critics. No false modesty here. Howard Reich, jazz critic for the Chicago Tribune, wrote about me: ..."Paulinho Garcia ought to be considered a local treasure"… and today, 24 years later and 11 CDs recorded, I travel the world representing not just Brazil but also Chicago, the place I call home.

A new Brazilian cultural center is being formed by new, young immigrants and recently we had the chance to see live Brazilian boxing at its best when our Acelino "Popó" Freitas knocked out Mexican boxer Juan Carlos "Ranchero" Ramirez in the 4th round. Newly formed also is the promotion group Brasil Via Chicago, which last year brought the samba group Molejo and helped promoting a show with Daniela Mercury.

In my travels I have found Brazilians everywhere and we all look alike, act alike, laugh and cry alike, complain and criticize alike, but whether we are in the thousands like in New York or Miami or under 100 as in Bangkok, Thailand, one of the most important feature of the Brazilian is that we bring happiness to wherever we are. If you're heading this way please stop by, who knows you might even opt to join our steadily growing Brazilian community.

Paulinho Garcia is a recording artist and guitar/vocalist. He was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and has adopted Chicago as his home town since 1979. He most recently toured 14 cities of Japan for the Fujitsu Jazz Festival. More about his work and person can be found at  He can be reached at 

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