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The Beats of the City

By Maiko Nakai

Twenty-six community members in matching blue tee shirts with personally accessorized decorations of blue and yellow sparkling scarves, beaded necklaces, and feathers, line up in Ken Kesey Square of downtown Eugene. Drums hang at their waists. The hard beats of large bass drums called surdos propel the Samba. Caixas, like American snare drums with deeper sounds, run along with the deep-pitched music line. A rack of metal jingle shakers, chocalhos, creates a steady tempo. Agogôs, multiple-piece metal bells struck with wooden sticks, add high-pitched rhythm and promote the melody of the drums. Audience members cannot help moving their feet to the beat, and people start dancing. They express their appreciation by putting hands up, swinging with partners, or hollering. On a weeknight in July, a bateria, or percussion ensemble, called Samba Já turn the public space into a Brazilian world.

“I love it,” a group of five high school students echo to each other, moving to the rhythms of batucada, the dense and complex musical texture that a bateria produces.

“Music is in my spirit,” says dancer Angel Snell who indulges in Samba Já’s enthusiastic music. Once people begin stomping their feet to the music, it doesn’t take long for Samba Já to take the audience over. Despite the rain, nearly 50 people, ranging from children to seniors, stay until 11 P.M. enjoying the public rehearsal for the upcoming Oregon Country Fair.

Samba Já has been bringing the flavor of Brazil to Eugene venues for the last six years. The group strives to provide the audience and community with joy and energy by drumming and sharing their culture. The word “Samba” refers to the urban dance music of Rio de Janeiro, and “Já” literally means “already,” but colloquially, “right now.” The implied message could be, “You don’t have to wait for Samba because Samba is right now.”

Samba Já was co-founded by Jake Pegg in 2001. One day in a record store in Michigan, the track “Ritmo Number One” from the Mr. Bongo Records compilation “Batucada: Music of the Favelas [slums]” caught Pegg’s musical ear.

“I completely freaked out,” Pegg says. “I just started dancing.”

Later, in Eugene, University of Oregon professor Charles Dowd became a catalyst for getting Samba Já started. Dowd recognized Pegg’s music ability at a party where Pegg “played [his] heart out.” He offered Pegg a concert spot to play Brazilian percussion pieces that Pegg arranged and transcribed. Afterwards, Pegg complied with the requests of listeners and formed a group.

Since making its debut at the Eugene Celebration in September 2001, the group has grown to about thirty musicians. Members aged eighteen to sixty-two include doctors, graphic designers, and teachers. Many had no prior experience performing music, but attended a practice and experimented with various instruments. It was so fun they came back the next time. Some were hooked after seeing Samba Já perform at Saturday Market, Oregon Country Fair, Take Back the Night, Sweet Cheeks Vineyard, or Lorax on Alder Street. People join the group for different reasons; the only common factor is the passion for Brazilian rhythm. Steve White remembers the moment he saw Samba Já’s performance at the Eugene Celebration when he visited his brother.

“I felt their energy. It was out of control,” White says. “It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I had to join them.”

On Saturday mornings, Samba Já rehearses at the Core Star Cultural Center. Standing in front, Pegg instructs members by blowing his whistles while making triangle-shaped gestures with his hands. People who play the same instruments then look at each other or use their own signs to make sure they start at the same time.

“It’s really a unit. If you messed up, the whole band would mess up,” says Gladys Campbell, who plays shakers such as ganzá.

Their songs include “Magalenha,” which sings about flirtatiousness, and “Negrume da Noite,” a song of the beauty of Afro-Brazilian music and fruits, and of the struggles of Afro-Brazilians. Samba Já uses a variety of Brazilian drums called caixa, cuíca, pandeiro, repique, surdo, timbal, tamborim, and zabumba. The different squeaks, barks, yelps, buzzes, slaps, cracks and cries the instruments emit express joy, sadness, or tension. Pegg says responsorial singing, heard in such songs as “Claro Que Sim!,” “Maculêlé,” and “Bambaataa Car Wash,” is part of the music’s African heritage.

Sometimes at the beginning of or during a song, Pegg kneels on one knee, puts his head down, and plays his drums, as if devoting all his spirit. Alternating sticks, thumbs, fingertips, or palms produces the different patterns of high and low notes. When the group plays well, he sometimes dances and sings to show his excitement.

“I feel an element that’s not on the earth,” Pegg describes. “It takes me to wonderful places…I feel great when I have concepts of sounds in my head, and can hear them through the band.” But when the group is not playing well, he says, it’s sometimes frustrating. When that happens, he hides his irritation to avoid letting band members pick up on it, which might affect their music. He knows, however, that learning to communicate negative critiques in a non-hurting but honest way is important.

Samba Já’s rehearsals continue for about three hours. Drops of perspiration shine on foreheads. Not everyone is young; their arms and legs seem heavy. Yet, no one dances sluggishly. Where does their energy come from?

Pegg’s answer is easy. “This [Brazilian] music provides everything.”

Now the band members feel satisfaction when they look back on their performance at the Country Fair; they amazed the audience that packed the main-stage meadow.

“We communicated our energy to the audience,” says UO faculty member and Samba Já musician, Michael Clark. “I felt like we were sharing our passion for the music.” The next goal of Samba Já is to maximize the direct interaction with the audience. One of the ways to do that is through choreography, Pegg says.

The bateria promises to expose a broader community to the Brazilian world.

投稿者 maiko : 2007年09月19日 06:51