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Sharing the Joy





Sharing the Joy

Although this year’s Carnaval that took place in June in San Francisco
is just a memory for some, for others who really care, the memories linger
on. Some people feel that, despite its multicultural identity, and even
after 18 years, San Francisco’s Carnaval is still searching for authenticity,
a certain central theme besides inclusiveness. This year the focus was
on the ecology of the Rain Forest—with participants appropriately dressed
to celebrate its flora and fauna—and it is good to have a theme, but, for
sure, it is still the samba that saves Carnaval, giving it its sense of
spectacle, glamour and, yes, sophistication.

By
Dawn A. Tyler

The Source
 
Olodum, Araketu, Timbalada, Ilê Ayê. Carnaval! It’s
not all bacchanal and masquerade, it is also inspiration: From the rituals
of Bahia and Rio, the gods of music are invoked, summoned to appear at
Carnaval in San Francisco. And it is in this spirit and the spirit of the
Carnaval tradition that some of the samba groups participate, such as Mara-Reggae
whose theme this year was "The Spirit Cannot Be Enslaved." Mara
is derived from maracatu, a processional dance form with characters
from the court: king, queen, lesser royals, court jester, musicians, and
umbrella carriers, all dressed in appropriate caricature to mock Portuguese
royalty. This also is the essence of Brazilian Carnaval.

C-a-r-n-a-v-a-l. It’s the Brazilian word that comes to
mind when you think of celebration: street parades, floats, dancing. And
Brazilians here are the heartbeat and soul of Carnaval, sharing their dances
and music with San Francisco and the world. Their spirit is inspiring and
becoming increasingly important in the Bay Area where thousands of Brazilians
live.

Ever since seeing the movie Orfeu Negro, Marcel Camus’s hauntingly
tragic 1959 film that intertwined the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice with
the Carnaval of Rio, and starring that enchantingly beautiful actress Marpessa
Dawn and the handsome, charismatic actor Breno Mello, I have had a mystical
love affair with mythic Brazil. Orfeu Negro meant to me the picturesque
beauty of Rio, the joyous explosions of life, music and dancing in hillside
favelas, the hypnotic drums of the baterias, and the pain,
when you reflect on the crushing poverty of these favelas; and to
Brasileiros, Carnaval seemed to have a certain urgency and importance.
Ever since seeing Orfeu Negro, Brazil has also been my reflection
pool on life— my manhã de Carnaval. On the morning after,
if you listen closely, in the same way that you can hear the sounds of
the sea on a silent seashore, you can hear the layers of samba rhythms
that underlie the poetic, soulful, philosophical laments—songs in Portuguese
that penetrate the soul and heart—and the words and what they mean.

The Week Before

Here in San Francisco, it is the Sunday before Carnaval, a two-day event
that begins with a street festival during the day on Saturday followed
by the Carnaval Ball that Saturday night at the Galleria, a beautiful performance
space, and culminates in a street parade the next day, Sunday. Featured
at the ball this year were the Brazilian All-Stars Big Band, directed by
Célia Malheiros with Liza Silva; samba groups Aquarela and Fogo
na Roupa and over 50 dancers and singers; and Sueldo Soares and Band from
Bahia, featuring Axé making a special guest appearance. "Carnaval
Meets Mardi Gras" was the theme and prizes included a trip to Rio and a
trip to New Orleans. But some clubs, like Bahia Cabana on Market Street,
start celebrating from Friday.

The genesis of Carnaval was the apparent need for San Franciscans to
express themselves in dance and music, so in 1979 there was an impromptu
festival in Precita Park in the upper Mission (Bernal Heights) in the Mission
District. What was just a neighborhood festival later became a street parade
from Mission Street to City Hall. This developed into the parade and the
festival, now confined exclusively to the Mission—still a predominantly
Latino neighborhood despite gentrification and the site of carnavals since
1985—but celebrated by thousands of people from all over the Bay Area.

There are two components to Carnaval San Francisco, as it is called:
the festival and parade. The festival is the celebration of food and music
under the pavilions and in the streets of the designated blocks of the
Mission. The parade starts at 24th and Bryant, continues along Mission,
then east on 14th to Harrison and then south for a block, where it disbands.
The community where Carnaval takes place is bounded by 24th and Bryant
on the South, Mission Street on the West, 14th Street on the North and
Harrison Street on the east.

On this foggy afternoon, the day of the Bay to Breakers, the world’s
biggest footrace, which starts at one end of the Bay and winds down to
the Pacific Ocean, where earlier some 75,000 "runners" had their own Carnaval,
some of whom were dressed as dancing fish or dalmatians, even as a human
dogsled racing team with people taking the place of dogs, and a band, Elvis
and His Hound Dogs, and what not. But for those who can feel it Carnaval
is in the air. It’s not the fervor of Rio nor Bahia; but it is chilly,
hilly San Francisco, with its multicultural Carnaval.

I arrive at Golden Gate Park to watch the samba group Mara-Reggae practice.
In this spot in the park, about 150 dancers of a full contingent of 175
comprising all races, ages, sizes, sexes and sexual orientations have congregated
to practice their choreography to get a feeling for the sensation of being
on the street, in an open space.

Brasileiro musician Wilson Low, a native of Minas Gerais, and
Rhonda Stagnaro, who teaches highly successful African-Brazilian rhythm
and motion classes, lead the group. As his name does not sound Brazilian,
I inquire of Wilson about his ancestry and he offers that his father is
Austrian, his mother Brazilian, that ancestry is impossible to trace in
Brazil because all documents and records of slavery were burned around
the time of emancipation when there was a land grab.

The Mara-Reggae choreography combines samba and reggae, and for Carnaval
includes the choreography of Blanche Brown, a teacher of Haitian dance
for 21 years and the director of Group Petit La Croix (and it is Petit
La Croix because it is Creole, Ms. Brown emphasizes). A San Franciscan
who has studied the Haitian Carnaval, the Ra Ra Carnaval that is celebrated
right after Lent, she has collaborated with Mara-Reggae on the dance sequences,
and this collaboration produces an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
As her dancers make circular motions with hips and skirts while others
punctuate the air waving what looks like stalks of wheat, Ms. Brown explains
that the Haitian Carnaval style is sensual and teasing.

Simultaneously, the Mara-Reggae dancers samba in their own formations
to the pulsating rhythms of the bateria. Rhonda Stagnaro, who is
married to Low and has been participating in Carnaval and Brazilian dance
for ten years, declares: "We put the accent on community, working together.
It’s about everybody," she says, as she encourages dancers to interact
with each other and with the audience. The dancers are divided into three
sections—the first representing Africa; the second Haiti and the slaves
being brought to the New World; and the third the Mara-Reggae theme "The
Spirit Cannot Be Enslaved."

A virtuoso at wielding two machetes in either hand as she dances, Ms.
Brown tells me that she and her troupe will perform again in this year’s
San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival doing the juba, a dance that
is done after the harvest. On remarking on how much of African culture
Haitians have retained, she mentions that she will be presenting dances
of the Fon and Mahi of Dahomey and the Ibo and Yoruba of Nigeria. On Sunday
in the parade she will be dressed as a peacock in red, yellow, green, black
and white. Other costumes will portray the sun, fire, water and earth.

I get comments from one of the four dance captains, Lisa Greenfield,
also of Group Petit La Croix, who speaks Brazilian Portuguese and will
be dancing with Mara-Reggae for the second year. Of American culture and
Carnaval she says, "[Dance] is one of those things that our culture does
not celebrate. It is a day to come together and enjoy." Lisa is a photographer
who was in Salvador, Bahia, last year to photograph the festival of Iansã,
which she says is equivalent to the religious festival of Santa Bárbara.

Cars stop, people get out to stare in awe at the spectacle on the grass.
People take pictures. The bateria plays nonstop for about an hour
and a half. And the King of Carnaval is here, Roger Dillahunty, an Arkansan
who lives in San Francisco, who is without his queen, Milanda Moor. They
won their titles at a contest in March at Cesar’s Latin Palace, the entertainment
mecca of the Mission. Roger says he will portray a colonial caricature,
a king who alternates his demeanor by being appropriately royal and then
unroyal as he mingles with his subjects. At this statement, he laughs heartily.
The original founder of CitiCentre Dance Theatre in Oakland, where he danced
from 1981-1988, Roger has been teaching modern jazz dance for 18 years
and has taught at UC Berkeley, Cal State-Hayward, at Third Wave Dance Studio
in San Francisco in the Mission for 12 years, and with the dance group
Rhythm & Motion for 15 years.

As I mingle with dancers and musicians and penetrate their conversations,
I overhear that Kevin Welch is building the floats, Adrianna Moreno is
the group’s singer, and Rosa Williams, a nurse and dancer, warns urgently
that the float to be paid for by a common fund has not yet been built.
So far there is "a solid group of two"—she and her husband—she notes wearily
at the prospect of having to build the float themselves. Manuel DeMoussy
of Guadeloupe offers help.

Walter Mackins, a native San Franciscan who plays the surdo (big
drum) with Mara-Reggae and regularly with a group called Vivendo de Pão
(Living From Bread) at the popular Elbo Room in San Francisco where Afro-Brazilian
music is played on Tuesday nights, waxes passionate at the mention of the
word Brazil. Able to get along in Brazilian Portuguese, he has traveled
to São Paulo, Rio and Salvador, Bahia, declaring that he feels very
comfortable, at home in Bahia, and will be returning for a visit around
the time of Rio’s Carnaval next year.

Like me, he is a wannabe Brazilian (he will be tickled to read this)
and has a great love for and knowledge of the music and people of Brazil.
Tall and impressive, he cuts a dashing figure in a Kente-cloth vest. He
looks Brazilian, so much so that he is often mistaken for a Brazilian.
Of the multicultural spectacle of dancers, bateria and audience,
he philosophizes: "This is the universe right here. The common bond is
that we like Brazilian music."

The Mission

My pilgrimage now takes me into the Mission to Third Wave Studio on
24th Street to Ginga Brasil, a Brazilian dance group. Some 25 dancers and
a bateria of 15 are practicing for Carnaval. I solicit comments
from some of the participants, some of them Brazilians, which are revealing:

"Life is so stressful, it’s a release for me," says Rhonda Ngom of Carnaval.
She is one of the Ginga Brasil dancers who at a glance looks Brazilian;
she lived in Brazil from 1991-1992. Kristen Makita, a former performer
with Batucajé, a group she feels has "taught San Franciscans a lot
of about the spirit of Carnaval," has danced in Carnaval for 20 years and
feels that everyone should take part in the celebration of music and dancing;
she sees it as "medicine": "I realize what happiness is, I love being part
of a community. It’s the heartbeat of the world, drums are," she declares,
in an oblique reference to the drumming, dancing and singing that is the
life force of Carnaval.

Another Ginga Brasil dancer, an underwriting assistant, will be "princess
of the derrière." One of the freestyle dancers, Tracy Grantham,
a San Franciscan who will be dancing extemporaneously on the street (not
on the float) has paid $95 for her costume, and Frances Cavalho, a twenty-something
dancer who is proud of being "75% Brazilian Indian," is passionately against
the rape of the resources in the Rain Forest while thirty-one-year-old
Leandro Loquércio, a Brazilian PH.D. student of plant molecular
biology and a musician, likes to express "that side" of his personality.
He observes that "human nature is culturally induced and sees Carnaval
as "an opportunity to show how Brazilians have fun and appreciate the beauty
of women."

Conceição Damasceno, a Bahian from Salvador and the artistic
director of Ginga Brasil Dance Theater, is directing this rehearsal. This
is Ginga Brasil’s second rehearsal space, having moved to Third Wave in
the Mission from the International Center on Oak Street, home of world-famous
Lines ballet company. (This is also where Rhonda Stagnaro gives Afro-Brazilian
rhythm and motion classes and where Blanche Brown teaches Haitian dance.)

Conçeicão, an elegant Brazilian woman with a mane of untamed
hair, teaches Afro-Brazilian dance in the Bay Area and is something of
an entrepreneur. For a modest fee of $5 you can contact her for discounts
on dance workshops, purchases of percussion instruments and information
about lectures, parties, dinners and trips to Brazil.

Tânia Santiago, also a Brasileira from Salvador, the lead
dancer of the internationally acclaimed Afro-Bloco "Olodum" is also here.
A dancer with a group called Fusão, she has a great feel and reverence
for ritual dance and teaches dance at A.B.A.D.Á. Capoeira Brazilian
Cultural Academy in the Mission. She is the choreographer of Ginga Brasil’s
street dancers.

The Day, The Parade:

Sunday, June 1st

"Everybody, samba!" trumpeted the San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco’s
biggest alternative newspaper in announcing Carnaval in its Calendar section.
Another newspaper described it as "a taste of Rio in San Francisco." And
in San Francisco, it is just a taste that you get because it is a multicultural
festival where anyone can participate—(the cost is $25 per person)— not
just escolas de samba. So there are different drums and different
groups dancing to different beats. Participants are from Afro-Brazilian
samba schools, Caribbean steel bands, Aztec dancers, folklorico
ensembles from Latin America, dancers from Hawaii, and community organizations
that run the gamut.

It is now about an hour before the parade. As I walk along Mission from
16th Street I see only a few people, but when I reach 22nd Street and Mission,
making my way to my favorite viewing spot, a bus stop near 24th and Mission,
hoping to secure a seat, by degrees a crowd starts to form. I do carve
out a spot, but do not get a seat. Expectation is in the air. The sights
and sounds of Carnaval are everywhere. A small group of men dressed in
Hawaiian shirts try to put on a Carnaval face, laughing loud and long.

Horns toot, monitors in go-carts, vendors of colored ices, balloons
and soft drinks are evident here and there, as are cops on motorcycles,
or on the street usually in twos or threes, everywhere (there are well
over 100), and there are a few photographers. It is a gloriously sunny
day, about 65 degrees in the shade and 70 in the sun. (I am truly grateful,
because last year it was cold and rainy.) Drums sound and the first vehicle,
a car with the grand marshal, rounds the corner. Next there are children,
and women pushing baby carriages.

The float of the Bahamas appears. Those teasing words and lilting rhythms
of calypso resound: "You ask me `Who do you love?’ I tell yuh, `I love
nobody.’" Then there is a folklorico group followed by Masked Revelers
and their steel drums, #3A (this year the groups are numbered.) The crowd
is not attentive, the parade slows.

The King and Queen of Carnaval, #5, appear to very little audience response.
The Queen sambas, smiling bravely. The Mara-Reggae dancers are next; but
they do not have a float. However, they provide the first real excitement
with their red, green and yellow costumes as they display their banner
"The Spirit Cannot Be Enslaved."

Soon, #7, one of my favorites, the Aztec Dancers, about 35 strong, make
an impressive appearance with their dancing. The brass-eagle headdress
of the lead dancer shines while the plumed headdresses of the other dancers,
resplendent in their brightly colored costumes, shimmer in the sun in ritualistic
synchronicity.

The men are dressed in loin cloths and the women in Indian dresses and
beads. The simple, repetitive steps are affecting. There is a ritualistic
synergy. On hearing the rhythmic echoing sounds of the drums, my spirit
is yet a little freer, and I am so moved that I feel impelled to follow
them along the street but decide to maintain my vantage spot.

Next comes a float bearing a pyramid to commemorate the famous stone
pyramids of Mexico and Central America. Renacer Bolivia follows, their
dancers dressed in red, yellow and purple, their gold high-heeled boots
clicking in step to a polished choreography, A bateria dressed in
white, Longfellow Elementary School, is next, followed by a group from
Panama of about 80 women doing a comparsa, their skirts billowing
as they execute restrained steps that are uniquely Caribbean. Their float,
which has a king and queen, is decorated with red, white and blue tropical
fish and birds.

The Mission District Police Department, which has a van pulling a fringed
float with a very professional-sounding steel band, receives respectable
applause. Then a stiltwalker dressed in white and depicting death leads
The African Outlet, a colorful group attired in a variety of garbs and
headdresses: Some are Africans, others Arabs, and some of the women belly
dancers. But it is the sanitation workers (#18, the Scavengers Protective
Association) who get the most spontaneous, sustained and loudest applause
of the day. They struck an ecological note with their banner "Reduce, Reuse,
Recycle."

Ginga Brasil (#19) appears. Numbering about 80, the dancers are dressed
in green and yellow as they represent their theme, "Spirit of the Amazon."
Conceição Damasceno stands out in her body stocking as she
dances on the float. This looks like Brazil. Beautiful women in Carnaval
costumes, dancing the samba. Ginga Brasil is followed by the San Francisco
School of Circus Arts accompanied by a dog.

The sky is now overcast with scudding clouds; only glimmers of sunshine
punctuate the somber sky. Somos Insetos, a group of about 200, most of
them children, makes a colorful statement in imaginative costumes. Bees
and butterflies are everywhere. Children in green headdresses with yellow
and purple stamens sticking out like those of flowers represent the flora
and fauna of the rain forest. Then there are Birds of Paradise in purple,
yellow and red plumes. The sun returns to shine, to smile again on Carnaval.

Number 23, Bay Area Caribbean Congress, a soca band with singers
on a truck, captures the attention of the crowd as members try to communicate
in true Caribbean Carnaval style: "Follow de leader. Follow de leader,
follow de leader, leader. Are yuh ready to party? Put yu hand on yu head
and wine." (I translate wine (Caribbean slang) to mean moving
your hips around suggestively.) And the suggestive lyrics delight the crowd;
there is a new feeling in the air. (Soca bands like All Ah We have always
provided that happy, relaxed, carefree Caribbean style, and their infectious
music, always first-rate, has complemented the samba groups and added another
dimension to Carnaval.)

At this point, the parade is backed up, so the Caribbean Congress takes
control and entertains the crowd. One of the two singers who sports dreadlocks
tries to get a better reaction so he turns to the crowd and says: "Too
quiet, man, yuh hungry?" He tries to exhort the crowd as best he can: "Carnaval
is boss, are yuh ready to party? Jump up, jump; I love soca; move
yuh body, move yuh body; move to the left, move to the right; move to the
left, move to the right."

For me, the rhythms are liberating. My spirit is emancipated by their
spirit and I decide to follow them along the parade route until they disband
at Harrison and 16th Street. On the way I see a little Brazilian boy, who
is dancing, wearing a T-shirt with a map of Brazil on it. I ask his mother,
Jacqueline Alves, how she feels about Carnaval and she struggles to tell
me in English that the difference between San Francisco’s Carnaval and
that of Rio is in the music. She explains that in Rio there are numerous
baterias—so much so that "you feel the sound going into your body.
It is impossible to keep still."

Further along the parade route I encounter a few more Brazilians. One
is wearing a T-shirt that is green and yellow, the colors of the Brazilian
flag, with the word Romário, Brazil’s virtuoso soccer player, emblazoned
on it. At this point I estimate that almost half of the businesses along
Mission street are closed and I decide to leave the soca band at
16th and Harrison where people are lined up to get into the festival in
the six-block area designated for food, vendors’ stalls, entertainment,
and music.

I rejoin the parade at 16th and Mission, where I began at 10 a.m. to
see what I have missed, surprised at a really huge gap about eight blocks
long in the parade. There is the sort of quiet that suggests that the crowd
is tired and has apparently been awaiting the arrival of the next group
for a long time— so much so that a man being arrested for having a beer
can in his hand ("open liquor") becomes a focal point of attention. And
I am relieved that he is let go after the police computer turns up nothing
to detain him. (According to news reports after Carnaval, there were very
few arrests despite a police detail of 200.)

Along comes All Ah We, one of my favorite Caribbean soca bands.
I see a giant green grasshopper with gauze wings. Samba do Coração,
whose theme is "Heartbeat of the Jaguar," promenades next. A huge jaguar
is perched on a tree on their float and another jaguar is painted on the
truck pulling their float. Their costumes are green and yellow and their
bodysuits are decorated with tree branches to imitate the habitat of the
jaguar.

While the sounds of a jaguar penetrate the air, about 100 dancers do
their routine. Next comes Mas Makers Massive, #38, representing a huge
tropical rain forest, and their contingent of at least 200 dressed in green,
orange, purple and brown is an impressive presence. Following is Fogo na
Roupa (#42) with a bateria and some 150 dancers dressed in red and
yellow and red and black with black feathers doing the samba. D’Midas is
behind them, and I strain to make out their number; it looks like #43.

At this point I am tired and it seems late, so I decide to abandon Carnaval
until next year and walk home as I live in another neighborhood within
walking distance. I go away thinking that I have been attending Carnaval
since 1981 and it seems that after all these years Carnaval is still fine-tuning
itself, that it is the Brazilian ensembles that add color and a sense of
celebration. On the way home, on hearing familiar samba tunes in what seems
to be a gay bar, I enter, feeling gratified that some San Franciscans really
appreciate Brazilian samba music.

After Carnaval

The parade began at 11 a.m. and ended about between 3:30 and 4 p.m.,
but the festival in the designated area ended at 6 p.m. according to artistic
and parade director Marcus Gordon, who picks the judges for the parade.
Estimates of crowd size ranged from 200,000 to 500,000. Brazil Today,
a Portuguese-language paper, estimated that there were 450,000 in attendance.
The groups participating in the Brazilian category were Mara-Reggae, Escola
Nova de Samba (another favorite of mine), MILA-Samba, Ginga Brasil, Batú-Pitú,
Birds of Paradise, Samba do Coração, and Fogo na Roupa—the
latter two winning second and third prizes respectively.

The first prize was won by Mas Makers Massive, a Trinidadian group.
Brazil Today also reported on the behind-the-scenes controversy:
Maria Helena Souza, director of MILA-Samba, which won in the best music
category, feels strongly that there should be more Brazilians in the Brazilian
category. Ginga Brasil did not compete for a prize because this year there
was no cash prize and therefore no incentive to compete; and it is understandable
considering the weeks of dance practice, the long hours of preparation,
the time and expenses put into making or buying costumes and making floats—all
at considerable personal expense to dancers, musicians and others.

Then there are the bateria jams, parties and events dance groups
put on to try to raise money to finance their participation in Carnaval.
At first, MECA awarded prizes like a float, a sound system, etc., but,
according to parade director Marcus Gordon, two years ago a decision was
made to award cash prizes. The grand prize was $3000, second prize $1500
and third prize $750. This year, however, due to fiscal constraints, there
were no cash prizes.

The Week After

And After

Almost a week after Carnaval "A BRAZILIAN BLOCKBUSTER WEEKEND!" was
announced by Omulu Capoeira Group Action Project (CAP) via the Internet
to begin on Friday, June 6, with the introduction "Just when you thought
Carnaval was over …." That Friday there was a showing of the movie "Quilombo"
(directed by Brazilian director Carlos Diegues) at the Victoria Theater
in the Mission; on Saturday, a dance party by Fogo na Roupa and an exhibition
by Omulu Capoeira, with salsa, samba, Afro-Bloco (African-inspired Brazilian
dances), hip-hop, and maculelê—a dance with sticks held in
the hand (some dancers even wield machetes like Blanche Brown of Group
Petit La Croix).

CAP offers free classes in the African-Brazilian art form of capoeira
to young people in the Bay Area. The organization works with youth services
and recreation agencies, including the San Francisco Department of Parks
and Recreation, Horizons Unlimited, Mission Cultural Center, Casa de los
Jovenes, Daly City Parks and Recreation and Guerrero House, to target young
people who are vulnerable to street violence and drugs—at-risk youth.

Its mission, according to CAP, is to "create a safe, healthy environment
for young people to train and express themselves; develop strong relationships
with parents, relatives, teachers, community workers and other supportive
adults who are part of our students’ lives; emphasize the connection between
education and a healthy mind and body." This was billed as a family-friendly
event where no smoking or alcohol was allowed.

MECA

Since 1985, Mission Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) has
been the organization responsible for the production of Carnaval, and MECA
owns the trademark for Carnaval San Francisco. The organization was established
to promote Latino culture and produces three events a year: Cinco de Mayo,
Carnaval, and Festival of the Americas (a festival that will take place
on 24th Street on September 14th this year).

Each of these events employs people in the neighborhood and the umbrella
organization that contracts with MECA to produce Carnaval is Mission Neighborhood
Centers, a community nonprofit that provides services for young people,
seniors and various community organizations. MECA has a regular paid staff
and employs security people, monitors and others for Carnaval so that "some
people can get a little work in the community," according to Dennis Broughton,
events coordinator of Carnaval for the past 13 years.

A musician, Broughton has been a familiar face in the Brazilian community
playing music for 10 years. He is in charge of food concessions for the
festival. This year there were 50 food vendors, and food ran the gamut—American,
Brazilian, Caribbean, Chinese, Filipino, Latino, etc., and a variety of
bands performed in the festival area during the weekend of Carnaval.

Broughton has been to Brazil about 10 times and has an avid appreciation
for things Brazilian, so much so that this summer, he and Marcelo Pereira,
a capoeira teacher, hosted the first California/Brazil Summer Camp
for adults from August 24-30 at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp in Sonoma
County in Northern California. People slept in dormitories, tents, or their
own RVs, and some 30 performers, including dancers, singers, musicians
and capoeiristas from Brazil, performed.

"Top-notch," is how he described them. High-school students from Brazil
attended and there were other participants from Brazil, Japan, Russia,
and from all over the United States. Broughton said there is a need for
a yearly camp because so many people are interested in capoeira
and Brazilian culture.

On inquiring of artistic and parade director Marcus Gordon about the
possibility of reducing the number of participants to minimize the lag
in appearance between groups, and the possibility of putting dancers, baterias
and bands at the beginning of the parade—giving them more focused performance
time so that crowds do not have to wait three, four, or even five hours
to see them—Gordon countered that the large groups, like some of the previous
and current winners, this year’s winner Mas Makers Massive (#37), D’Midas
International, which won in 1994, 1995, and 1996, and Samba do Coracão
want to be at end of the parade so that they have more time to promenade.

"They want to do Carnaval," he declared, "politically it would not work."
According to Gordon, about 45 groups participated in the parade. And on
my questioning the need for what seems like an excess of participants,
some of whom seem disinterested as they walk in the parade, he emphatically
declared that his organization tries "to keep a balance. We need that flavor
in the parade," adding that crowds "come to see those kinds of groups."

In my opinion, however, it puts a lot a pressure on the musicians in
the baterias because some of them have to perform for three to five
hours almost nonstop from the beginning of the parade to the end. It might
be better to put all the dance and musical groups participating for prizes
at the beginning of the parade where they can be seen earlier by crowds
who come out to see them and be entertained.
Judging Carnaval

Gordon explained how the judging works: There used to be two judges
in the categories of music, dance, costume and visual presentation ("the
overall look"), but for 1997’s Carnaval a decision was made to have three
judges in each category. Gordon tried to get one judge familiar with Caribbean
music, one with Brazilian music, and one with visual presentation. "Musicians
judge musicians, costume designers judge costumes and visual artists judge
the visual effect," he emphasized. Of the decision not to award money,
he said, "Some of the groups took it well, others didn’t." On my noting
the absence of Samba da Alegria in the parade, he mentioned that the group
has not participated for quite a few years and has disbanded.

Brazil, Brazil, Brazil

On reflection, I do hope that the samba groups can hold together and
participate every year in Carnaval; or else it will be adios (adeus
as they say in Brazil) to Carnaval San Francisco because advertisements
for the event invariably include comparisons with Rio’s Carnaval, and show
scantily-clad women in colorful costumes. Without these groups it will
not be the same.

Post-Carnaval I have made some resolutions: I will resume taking Portuguese
lessons, especially after hearing Brazil’s beloved singer Caetano Veloso
say, "I love every word in the Portuguese language." This was his apology—to
an audience that was perhaps at least 95 percent Brazilian who went to
see him at the Masonic Auditorium on June 27th this summer—that most of
his songs were sung in Spanish in an effort to expand the market for his
music and appease his record company.

And I will take more samba lessons: As Brazilophiles know, when you
samba you sashay, and sway a certain way. Viva Brasil!
Dawn Tyler hears the samba even when she is working,
and especially when she is on the street.

Copyright ©1997 by Dawn A. Tyler

Sources

A.B.A.D.Á. Capoeira Brazilian Cultural Academy, 2376
Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 (between 19th and 20th Streets),
(415) 284-6196; 642-9596; Tânia Santiago (415) 426-7563

Bahia Cabana Nightclub & Restaurant, 1600 Market Street,
San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 621-4202

Brazil Today, P.O. Box 1121, El Cerrito, CA 94530-1121, (510)
236-3688

Blanche Brown, Group Petit La Croix, (415) 626-0678

California/Brazil Summer Camp from August 24-30 at Cazadero Performing
Arts Camp in Sonoma County in Northern California: Dennis Broughton, (510)
655-8207 or (415) 647-4764.

Carnaval Web Sites: http://carnaval.com/SF/index;
http://www.carnaval.com

Elbo Room: 647 Valencia Street (between 18th & 19th Streets)
in the Mission, (415) 552-7788

Ginga Brasil: Conceição Damasceno, (510) 428-0698.

Mission Educational and Cultural Association (MECA), 2899 24th
Street (at Florida), San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 826-1401

Omulu Capoeira: (415) 255-9354; Tonya Hennessey, director, (415)
512-9025)

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