Samba reggae capitol bound, Batala NYC founders Laura and Stacy in their seats on TAM airlines heading to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil for Carnival in 2012!
We arrived in Salvador on February 11th, 2012. I traveled with Laura-our flight to Sao Paulo was delayed, or there was a customs delay–either way, we RAN through the Sao Paulo airport to our gate–it was closed!! HOWEVER, the amazing Brazilian folks opened the door for us and we made our connection to Salvador! Wow that was stressful!
We took a taxi to the Batala House. I was pretty nervous about meeting Giba Goncalves, the founder of Batala. We were greeted by Karine Broyer, who is the person who runs the Batala organization in Paris, France. We got a tour, and connected with our fellow Americans from DC.
When I finally met Giba, he was sitting out on his patio with Geronimo. THE Geronimo. Wow. The meeting was uneventful, and I honestly felt like Giba was looking me up and down assessing me to see if I have what it takes to do this in NYC. I am not sure what his first impression was to be honest. He didn’t talk to me much that entire trip, in fact, I don’t believe we had one conversation. He didn’t ask me anything about my history, experience with drumming, why I wanted to start a Batala, nothing. I guess that should have been the first red flag?
The Batala house is an old colonial Portuguese 4 level building with many rooms. It had been bought by Giba and Geronimo and turned into the “Batala House”. Giba lives there in the front room on the second floor, and the rest of the house is full of empty rooms. In these rooms, people come and stay , and pay $400 or so to sleep on a camping mattress. WIth that $400 is also breakfast prepared by his amazing sisters, and one meal a day. On that trip, there were about 44 people staying in the house, sharing about 8 toilets and 8 showers. There is a great restaurant across the street called Armazém 437 which had reliable wifi (the Batala wifi would always go down because 40+ people were often trying to log on) and a typical Bodega style store also across the street. The house is in walking distance (minus the giant up and down hill) to the main section of the Peloruinho where most of the action takes place.
Stacy (right) and Laura’s air mattresses on the floor of the Batala House. We were right next to the bathrooms!2012
The next day we had rehearsal in Piraja with Cortejo Afro! This was my first time really experiencing samba reggae besides a Batala and it was way better than ANY Batala I had heard! It was also my first time playing a repique samba reggae style. Laura and I were not prepared because we assumed we would be lent equipment by Mundo Batala, however, it appeared upon our first rehearsal that nobody had any extra belts, so we had to sit out at first, and then borrow someones belt one at a time. I think we went and bought belts in a drumming store the next day, as well as sticks!
Stacy is very happy here playing the repique: In the pink cowboy hat is Alison Rodden, musical director from Batala Washington, DC.
We rehearsed for about 5-6 hours, learning all of the music for Carnival. Gordo, as he was nicknamed, otherwise known as Mestre Eden Paulo, was leading. He was patient with everyone and we would play each song, or break about 20-30 times before he would be satisfied, and then come back to it later. It is a great way to teach this kind of drumming. Then we marched around the neighborhood.
Check out the page for Mestre Gordo here, he is such a wonderful, kind man. He is extremely talented and one of the best teachers I’ve ever had for drumming.
What a long day!
We then rehearsed the next day, this time in the Peloruinho with just Mundo Batala. It lasted about 4 hours and was in a beautiful location, with a great view of the city AND a coffee shop attached.
There was some fun on this trip! We were able to get a passenger van and took a road trip to the turtle sanctuary.
Eventually we were ready to play in Carnival! The experience is one I will never forget. Our parade line up time was in the evening, and we started marching around 11pm! It was overnight, because the parades in Salvador da Bahia for Carnival last 24 hours a day for 5 days! We marched with Cortejo Afro and their giant “Sound truck” that has a full band on top and about 4-5 singers. They play non stop for hours and hours while the group of drummers marches, very slowly, behind them playing along to the music. I think, in about 8 hours we moved 3 Km….it’s very slow moving, and non stop drumming. There are security ropes around the entire group, and if you have to go to the bathroom, well, you’re on your own! We did see some teenage boys having a knife fight, and someone also had an ax who started fighting! That one cause the music to stop and the lead singer of Cortejo Afro to get on the loudspeaker and call them out to stop. All while there were people throwing beer cans that were half empty over our heads to the other side of the street! What a party! Carnival is nuts!
Laura and I brought back 35 Batala drums. The drums were checked as regular baggage on our airline. They were taken apart and would nest inside of each other, so we had 7 bags!
I will say it was an amazing trip! I do remember coming back and not knowing anything Batala related. I never had a discussion with Giba or Paulo about what music to teach, how to start the teaching process, or what their expectations were. Paulo showed up on the first day of Carnival, so it was difficult to find time to speak. I did speak a lot with the DC Director, Alison, and the Batala Graphic Designer Angus Sutherland. He gave me a lot of helpful info into starting a Batala. I learned I would probably be on my own as the organization isn’t quite organized, and I should rely on the DC women to help me the most. It was sad, yet empowering at the same time.
Speaking of Angus, he made the official Batala NYC logo after that trip!
Here are Laura and Stacy posing in their carnival costumes for Cortejo Afro that year, 2012–their shirts had the word “Invisibility” on it in about 8 different languages to represent and bring to light the fact that women around the world are often “invisible”.