Anyone who knows me is aware of how much I love Brazilian culture. It has, in varying degrees, remained one of my life’s enchantments. Let me be clear: I was not born in Brazil, nor do I have any known ancestors from there. The connection is based entirely on a spiritual and cultural kinship that I claimed after experiencing stories told through Carlos Diegues films, being introduced to the tastes of Brazil by ones like Jessica Harris and feeling just this side of heaven thanks to so much of the music from that country. Which brings me to the subject of one of my final posts about this summer’s vacation to the Apple: a serendipitous intake of Brazilian music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.
So, Big Man’s dad and I took him to the Manhattan Children’s Museum after which Dad suggested we all walk down 42nd street to see the lights once more before heading back to Georgia. (Dad seemed to be on a natural New York buzz since during the two weeks I was away for my arts residency he and Big Man had hit every place from Coney Island, Governor’s Island, Central Park and Wave Hill to the bridges of Brooklyn and Manhattan.) Even though the frenzied center of NYC sounded in no way appealing, I was eager to get back to the familiar. So, I agreed. Reluctantly. And good thing I did.
Our train was one that had to pass West 66th Street, a station with art showing Greek divas and ancient Egyptian acrobats tumbling about in glimmering mosaic tile. Lincoln Center! Images of Wynton Marsalis blowing his trumpet and the voice of the forever-suave Ed Bradley rushed to mind. No way could I miss the at least seeing where so many musical masters had performed. I grabbed Big Man’s hand and urged Babydad to follow, expecting him to balk. He didn’t, and instead hustled us all out before the #1 local moved on down the line.
Even though it was early evening–and the weekend no less– the whole neighborhood seemed enveloped in a serene elegance. As I went to open one of the faultlessly-shined doors leading to the concert hall, I caught a strain of what was clearly the staccato rhythm of a batucada drum corps and melodic voices unique to Brazil. My ears led me until we rounded a corner and saw an elegant display of tents and strings of lights flanking a field of chairs all turned toward a stage on which was an act decked out in full royal attire. Some people were dancing in the aisles and I hurried with Big Man to join them. I learned that the group was named Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante. Up to then, I’d never heard of Estrela Brilhante, but was familiar with the maracatu tradition that they represented.
Maracatu is a music and dance tradition intimately bound to spiritual traditions salvaged on the trans Atlantic journeys made by enslaved black people centuries ago. Like its twin the congada, maracatu is a cultural tradition in which a king, queen and court are appointed, and it’s said that early on, one of the maracatu king’s duties was to serve as spokesperson for the members of his community. “Maracatu nação” means “maracatu nation” and refers to the ethnic or tribal affiliations once recognized by Africans taken to various points in the Americas. Still today, though a number of maracatu bands have taken to the performance stage, they echo traditions from long ago.
Nação Estrela Brilhante (Brilliant Star Tribe) is recognized as one of the oldest maracatu bands of the Northeast, having been founded in the early 1900s. Though I admit to being thrown by the stiff wig of the king and the over-the-top Elizabethan ruffled collars that Estrela Brilhante wore for their LCOD performance, their sound was sweeter than anything I’d heard in a long while. It made me remember how the axe of musicians like Ilê Aiyê, Olodum and Margareth Menezes sent me dreaming twenty years ago.
I’ll end this post by saying thank goodness for small mercies, salve Brazil and big ups to Lincoln Center for making our final evening in the city a pleasing one. I hope that experiencing such a moment in the company of Mom and Dad gave Big Man sights and sounds to remember.
For more on Brazil:
Jessica Haas of Los Afro Latinos blog has posted this on filmmaker, Carlos Diegues.
The Brazilian Sound is an awesome online resource. While you’re there, check out ones like Dori Caymmi, George Aragao, Rosa Passos, Paulinho da Viola, Chico Barque, Clara Nunez, Lazzo, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Flora Purim, Marisa Monte, Leci Brandao, Simone, Jair Oliveira, Seu George, MV Bill to start.
A musician named Eduardo Guedes has written an informative short piece called “Exploring the Rhythms of Brazil: Part One- Maracatu” that you can read here.