One thing I try to do every day, or almost every day, is practice freestyling when I am walking around or waiting for buses. I decided to record this one (which essentially means it is not a freestyle), but it is more or less in the form that it came out of my mouth the first time. The beat belongs to M.I.A. and her record company.
The other day there was literally not a wave in the ocean. So I got a lot of work done on writing and video editing, and decided to spend the afternoon exploring some of Rio’s land-based wonders. I think one of the reasons I love Rio so much is the strong presence of nature amidst the buzz of the city. The city is sprawled out around towering rock formations covered in jungles. I decided to hike up Pedra da Gávea a huge monolith that stands on the western side of our local beach, São Conrado.
I had only a sketchy idea of where the trailhead was, and I was getting a very late start, with only about 3 hours before sunset. Perhaps not the best set up, but I was feeling optimistic. I got off the bus around where I thought the trailhead might be and started asking people on the street if they could point me
in the right direction. Apparently the hike was not as popular as I had assumed, since the first 5 people had no idea where I should go. Then I finally happened upon a guy coming home from work who was able to give me very detailed directions to the trailhead, but, he warned me, the trail was a bit tricky to follow and had a lot of confusing turnoffs. He suggested another hike, up the neighboring, and almost equally tall, Pedra Bonita. The trail was much more straightforward. But, he said, it’s going to be dark very soon, did I really want to do it. I said, I am prepared to run and I flexed my muscles to show him that I was strong and ready! He laughed and said, OK.
I had to take another van to the trailhead, but he said it was the same van he took to get home so he could tell me where to get off. Perfect! We got on the next van, and had a nice chat. Turned out, my friendly direction giver Wallace was also really into hiking and mountaineering and mountain biking and just about every other sport so we spent the ride sharing outdoor sports stories! By the time we reached the trailhead, Wallace decided that he would do the hike with me – which was awesome, since I was new to the
area and its always nice to have company and Wallace was really cool. I was a little nervous because in the course of our conversation I had discovered that Wallace was one of those uber fit people who does 10 mile super vertical hikes in about 2 hours. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep up, but he took it easy on me, and while I was huffing and puffing, we managed to maintain conversation (in Portuguese!) the whole way up while still making good time, and got amazing views of all of Rio, with all of Rocinha and Sao Conrado below us, and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance.
We made it back down to the bus stop just as the sun set. Another perfect Rio adventure and how cool to be able to share it with a new friend and kindred spirit.
The other day as I was trudging up the hill in the rain (it has rained just about every day since I arrived), I looked up and saw a billboard with photographs of people in brightly colored carnival costumes. From what I could tell, the billboard was advertising the weekly rehearsals of the Rocinha Samba school, suggesting that we could all come “experience carnival ourselves” on Thursday nights from 8 to 10.
Rio is home to many Samba schools, nearly every neighborhood has one ans ROcinha is no exception. I had read in my guidebook that its very fun to attend the rehearsals of the samba schools as Carnaval draws near. So I made a mental note to try to check out this rehearsal on Thursday.
The rehearsal was held right next to the surf school so I headed over there a little after 8pm with my roommate Charlenes, but it was totally deserted. As I wandered around in circles wondering what to do, another car pulled up and a woman jumped out and poked her head into the deserted rehearsal hall. I asked her if she knew where the rehearsal might be, and she said, “Oh, if they’re not here, they must be at the beach.” At the beach!? Cool…. And of course, this being Brazil, and everyone being incredibly friendly and fun-loving, she said, “Hey come in the car with us, we’re heading over.” So Charlene and I jumped in the car, and met our new friends for the evening, Wagner, Paula, and Lourdes who all worked in a beauty salon nearby. We got to the beach just as the rain was starting again, and as far as I could tell it was deserted. But then I looked far down the road, and in the distance I could see bright lights and hear some distant drumming. It’s down there Paula said. So we hurried down the street, and soon came face to face with the biggest, most frenetic and exciting traveling parade of Samba I have ever encountered. Literally hundreds of people are drumming extremely complicated samba rhythms in perfect harmony. It is impossible to describe the power and such a thing – so much sound, so much precision, so much swing and thump. 30 enormous bass drums. 30 medium bass drums, 30 snares, 30 little tambors, a random crew of pots and pans hitters, an army of shakers, and a vanguard of cuica players. The sound literally makes you drunk with excitement. And these drummers are only part of the action. They are playing in unison with a few amplified guitars and cavaquinhos (a mini samba guitar) and singers who are travelling behind them, on top of a bus covered in loud speakers. The singers are a crew of burly almost frat-boy like Dudes, who appear to have consumed an entire refrigerator of Monster energy juice, as they jump around with seemingly undiminishing excitement, literally shouting the samba songs into their microphones.
The musicians are only the core of the parade. It extends far out in front of them, starting with the old ladies, the Baianas, dressed in white dresses with white head scarves, who dance around gleefully as if they were 50 years younger than they are. Then the community – this is just hundreds of people who chose to march with the samba school, and get to dress up in costume and learn the official Rocinha samba song. Old people young people, rich people, poor people, little people, big people. They all look fit to burst with happiness as they dance down the street singing along to the band. Then there are the passistas – these people are my heros. These are the dancers, both male and female who move their hips, butts, and feet at the speed of light in the quintessential Brazilian samba dance. It seems that only a country as vivacious, fit, and well-coordinated as Brazil could handle having a national dance that was so damn hard to do. They are mesmerizing, the men in white pants and sparkly shirts and shoes and fedora hats, the women in very very little dresses, high heeled shoes, flicking their hair about flirtatiously (the hair flicking seems to be a very important part of rio samba). Then there is a beautiful lady in a sparkly dress – I think she might be the queen of the passista’s who gets her own special place, processing and dancing in front of the bateria of drummers.
As you can imagine, I am pretty much losing my mind with happiness. The sidewalk is full of enthusiastic onlookers, many of whom are samba dancing with similar skill to the passistas. I decide that perhaps one of my alternate life goals is to become a passista and I start dancing along trying desperately to get my feet and butt to wiggle back and forth as fast as theirs do. And then again, because Brazil is so awesome, everyone is super nice and encouraging, and all these people who dance 100 times better than me are taking me by the hand and showing me the moves and twirling me around. This is perhaps the most exciting energy filled event I have ever been to, and here’s the crazy thing, this is just a REHEARSAL. My new friends Paula, Lourdes, and Wagner assure me that this does not even COMPARE to the real thing at Carnaval! I can’t believe it!!! I wonder if my body can physically handle how exciting Carnaval is going to be.
After the parade ends, Charlene and I spend the next two hours hanging out at one of the beach kiosks with our new pals, hearing stories of carnival and life at the beauty salon where they work. Finally sore-footed and exhausted, we head back up the hill to our little house in Rocinha, feeling a little bit more like part of the neighborhood.
I recently moved my accommodations from my friend Andrew’s floor to Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, nestled on the steep mountain sides around the great rain forest-covered monolith, Dos Irmãos. I came here because I had contacts with the Rocinha Surf School, which doubles as a mini community center for local kids. Since the moment I arrived, I have LOVED IT. It is one of the most vibrant and exciting places I have ever lived. I don’t remember feeling this way about a neighborhood since living in Fort Green, Brooklyn. Every time I step out of the door, I am surrounded by life- music, card games, business transactions, budding romances, arguments. Because Brazilian people tend to be really friendly, I have many serendipitous conversations each day.
The whole neighborhood winds its way on twisting roads, and staircases, up a very steep mountain. There ar
e very few official streets, just endless labyrinths of sidelanes, and walking paths. You can’t feel hemmed in or too claustrophobic though, because every 20 meters or so, you are afforded a sweeping view of the valley and the majestic Dos Irmãos mountain.
The houses are so close that all our lives seem communally joined. My bedroom window is about 6 feet away from my neighbor’s living room window, and their 9 year old son often leans out and chats with me from across the lane. Another nextdoor neighbor plays samba music at extraordinary volumes at just about all hours of the day, and sings along in a beautiful husky voice. At around
2:30 am on many nights, I am privy to a loud love conversation/argument conducted by an older man who comes and shouts at the window of his ex-girlfriend, who appears to be spurning him. Ancient old rainforest remnant trees stand in the middle of impossibly small lanes, and every evening the sky fills with kites, flown by just about every little kid from every rooftop, corner, and balcony window.
One of my favorite people in Rocinha is Bocão, who founded the Rocinha Surf School. He is the ultimate soul surfer, who has translated all the kindness, openness, patience, dedication, and high-spiritedness of his surfing soul into maintaining a beautiful community space for the neighborhood kids for the last 24 years. He’s fixed up dozens of old beat up surf boards that people have donated, and basically keeps a free surfboard locker for all the kids of Rocinha who want to come by. He also
organizes English classes, music classes, and other enrichment activities for the kids nearly every evening of the week and has regular surf lessons during the school year.
My favorite thing to do in Rocinha is head down to the beach with a gaggle of kids from the surf school. The beach is only a 10 minute walk down the street, and on sunny days IT IS JUMPING!! Other beaches in Rio are dominated by beautifully adorned and reclining women of leisure, or whole family’s sipping fresh coconut and playing beach tennis, or perfectly tanned volleyball teams. Rocinha’s beach, São Conrado, is ruled entirely by kids. They are everywhere – from 5 year olds to 19 year olds – boogie boarding, building sand castles, flinging themselves around in the breakers, body surfing, falling off long
boards, shredding on short boards. The teenagers make out under beach umbrellas while the little kids bury each other in the sand. I am impressed by how self-sufficient they are, in often very rough water, with little to no adult super vision.
I have been catching small waves in really crowded waters, occasionally colliding with little kids flying out of nowhere on boogie boards. My first day at the surf school, I rapped for the kids while one of them played a beat on a drum that was just lying around. Afterwards, they took turns making their own verses about surfing at São Conrado, with two girls leading the charge. Life in Rocinha is definitely off to a good start!
Rio DeJaneiro is a shockingly gorgeous city. It sprawls across huge rainforest covered mountains, punctuated by towering rock edifices on the edge of crystal blue beaches. The people are as beautiful as all the songs and stories say. And the vibe is festive, relaxed, friendly, fun-loving, musical.
I had the great fortune of spending my first few days in Rio in one of the city’s most picturesque neighborhoods, Santa Theresa. This neighborhood winds up a forested mountain on twisted cobblestone streets lined with vine entangled colonial houses. For many years yellow street cars have been the favored form of transport. On sunny afternoons, beautiful people line the sidewalks drinking
bear, chatting, and listening to music. The view from my friend Andrew’s apartment looked out at a tree-covered valley and a hill on the otherside with the ocean off in the distance. Every night, before I went to sleep, I would look out at the twinkling lights spread across the hillside, and feel like I was part of something bigger.
My favorite moment in Santa Teresa occurred when I was wandering through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and stumbled across a live samba band playing to a small neighborhood street party. One of my favorite things about Brazil is the intergenerational
partying – everyone from babies to grannies loves to get down here – and this street party embodied it. Here’s a video, that, while a bit sloppy (I was dancing while I shot it), gives you a feel.
One of my last days in Salvador I went to the older part of town, the incredibly beautiful and historic Pelhourinho, and spent magic hour walking down cobble stone streets amidst pastel painted beautifully restored colonial houses. I wandered in and out of art galleries and enjoyed the stunning views from the high city down to the water front.
As I was heading back towards evening, I heard the exhilarating sound of drumming– the super danceable and funky Bahian Samba Reggae style. I rushed to follow the sound, and found not one, but quite a few drum batucada’s marching down different streets, starting up their rehearsals. I was hurrying to follow one around the corner when I stumbled on something better – a drum batucada comprised entirely of
teenagers and children, nearly all of them girls.
I felt like I had discovered my greatest dream spread out before me – girls, uninhibited, confident, proud, fierce, strong, dancing down the sidewalk joyously, creating a big powerful contagiously grooving sound. Nearly everyone walking down the street stopped to watch in admiration or dance. many of them dancing. . The girls were smiling at each other and showing off on the dance steps, with the younger girls working hard to keep up with the more experienced older ones. In the front, the bright qeyes of the little ones were glued on their conductor, also a woman, who was playing them the cues for their parts.
My favorite part was when the conductor called upon members of the band one by one to play their solos. She would point with her drum stick to a band member, then when the break in the music came – they would play their own little riff. One particularly energetic little girl kept jumping up and down, “me, me, me” she kept saying to the conductor, till finally it was her turn, and she executed her part perfectly. Upon realizing her success she broke into a thrilled smile that could have lit up the whole state of Bahia. The little ones went one by one, literally trembling with glee once they completed their parts.
As a girl drummer who has always operated in a very
male-dominated world, I was just so happy that other little girls in Salvador could grow up seeing this awesome girls batucada and know, without questioning or doubting or having to prove anyone wrong, that they could make their own powerful music and get a street full of people dancing.
One of my favorite days in Salvador was towards the end, when I went to the beach with two amazing women, Jazz and Adriana.
After one month surfing in Salvador, I still hadn’t met any other girl surfers. This made me rather sad — I was told that this was partially due to the fact that the waves weren’t very good, and most of the girl surfers were down in Itacare where the waves are much better. But still…
Jazz, who arrived from Oakland, CA the night before, and Adriana who lives down the road,
were willing to be my surfing companions on my last day in Salvador. Jazz who is already a body surfer in California, braved the wild conditions and the steep shore break to try surfing on a stand up board. As lu
ck would have it, we also met another Bahian surfer girl that day, Lorena, who was totally stoked to make our acquaintances. Thanks to Adriana for taking some stellar pictures and video…
This gallery contains 5 photos.
The neighborhood where I stayed in Bahia, Candeal, was the most musical place I have ever been. It is also the long-time home of one of Brazil’s biggest musical stars, Carlinhos Brown. Kids here grow up batting on plastic buckets and water bottles with sticks (I heard them every day from my balcony). My host […]
Bahia is the part of Brazil where Afro-Brazilian culture is strongest. The Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé arose here and is still vibrant in everyday life. Candumblé is based on the worship of Orixás, or deities, mostly of the Yoruba tradition. While living in Salvador, I often heard references to Iamanjá, the orixá of the sea, and it was nice to think of her every time I went surfing.
I had a very special opportunity to go to a Candomblé ceremony with friends from our neighborhood in Candeal. During the ceremony, led by a Mãe de Santo, everyone sang songs for the different orixás and the Mãe de Santo became possessed with the spirits of each one. I couldn’t take pictures during the ceremony, but afterwards I was able to snap some shots of the beautiful room in which the ceremony was held, with the orixás painted on the walls.