Bloco Dos Sujos

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Bloc Dos Sujos samba bristolBloco Dos Sujos is a Brazillian percussion bateria based in Bristol UK. It was formed in 2014 by Paul Baxter who was also a founder of Ziriguidum. Paul described the concept as a simple idea: “play samba properly”. I went to introductory sessions with the band on Thursdays in October through to December and the playing was inspiring. It felt relaxed and fluid and at the same time it was really tight. A good drug. Bloco Dos Sujos facebook page.

Many people in the UK associate the term “samba band” with a group of percussionists who generally play a range of styles to build a set. A drumming bateria is one part of the whole machine and usually joined by singers and a cavaquinho player (a small guitar type instrument) as well as dancers. Bloco Dos Sujos concentrate on playing the arrangements and songs of Rio samba. As some people say: “they just play samba”. There are many variations of the samba style that are generally named after the main samba schools in Rio that originated them.

This video is from a performance at No1 Habourside in Bristol in December 2015. The band were joined by singer Xavier Osmir and cavaquinho player Adriano Dias.

I took these photographs without flash using a Canon G1X. It was very dark in the venue so I was running a very high ISO level. I’m still impressed with the results this camera can produce.

Picton Street Fayre

Picton Street Fayre poster 2015The Picton Street Fayre is a street fair and music festival held near the centre of Bristol in Decemeber. The event is advertised via the Picton Street facebook page.

I was there to perform with the African Sambistas. I had some time to look around since we were playing last on the bill. I caught the end of the The Longest Johns vocal group on stage. They were followed by the Bristol swing dancers. I’m actually a world record holder in the field of swing dancing. Well, I took part in the world record for the largest group dancing jive on the street. Before we went off to prepare I watched the entertaining Jelly Roll.

When we returned to Picton Street with the band and dancers it was dark and the crowd were ready for us. Everyone in a band will tell you that they go through all the toil that goes on behind the scenes because they are chasing the high that they experience when performing to a good crowd. Picton Street didn’t let us down. The energy was there and the African Sambistas finished the year on a high.

Thank you to Paul Phillips for the video and photos (some photos here by Tom).

Picton street fayre

Picton street fair

The African Sambistas rehearse on Wednesday evenings in Easton, Bristol. New members are always welcome. No experience necessary, come along and have a go. African Sambistas are also on Facebook and Twitter.

The African Sambistas at Sanctum Bristol

The African Sambistas made our third appearance at Sanctum Bristol on Friday 13th November. This was the largest and most enthusiastic audience that we’d experienced since our first two visits. We were scheduled to play for 45 minutes but the next act was late so we actually played for an hour.

Anyone in a band will probably tell you that the high from a successful performance is what keeps them going. It offsets the effort that goes into turning up for rehearsals every week, the travel, the waiting around and moving equipment.

That’s me at the front in the image below.

We’ve been featured in two videos from the performance that night.    

There’s some great sketches of us from Janiceshanice123

The African Sambistas are also on Facebook and Twitter.

With all that in the bag we went to the Plantation to watch Ilu Axe perform.

Sanctum Bristol project

Sanctum BristolSanctum Bristol is a programme of 552 hours of continuous performance during Nov 2015. It takes place in a temporary structure built from reclaimed materials located in a bombed out church near Bristol city centre. Whilst the artists are listed on the Sanctum website there is no public programme so visitors experience a lucky dip. The name of the performers is written onto a blackboard. I’m there myself later in the month with the African Sambistas .

The Guardian: 552 hours of surprises: artist brings open-mic mayhem to Bristol

Follow on twitter with #sanctumbristol. Sanctum is coordinated by Situations.org.

I called round at 10.30 pm on the opening night to take a look. I caught the end of a performance from a singer with computerised backing tracks which sounded great. The next slot was taken by pianist Simon Capet which was lovely but didn’t satisfy my cravings for crazy things. The last performer I saw was a harp player who I wasn’t too excited about at first. Things started off quite slowly and with fairly predictable runs up and down the strings and I wasn’t really into it until one of the bass strings was brought in and then I was pulled in by the sound. I left after a crowd pleasing Stairway to heaven. My visit coincided with a reporter from Bristol 24/7 who spent almost 24 hours there: “My (almost) 24 hours at Sanctum

Sanctum Bristol

 

Sanctum Bristol

Sanctum Bristol location map: Temple Church. Nearest postcode BS1 6DE. Next to the King’s Head pub and Ye Shakespeare pub.

Shambala Festival 2015

Shambala festival 2015 was my third festival of the year after Wychwood and Womad and was another trip with the African Sambistas. Prior to 2015 I’d only ever been to one festival: Waveforms 2008 in Wiltshire and that was a drugfest and pounding music. I did discover Orchid Star though, so it wasn’t all bad. I love their track Barefoot (in the sunshine).

The Shambala website sounded promising but every festival bigs themselves up on their website. I’ll leave it to Whingefest to explain. After the mud and toilet situation at Womad I wasn’t feeling too keen about this jaunt. I didn’t have any choice though, my festival partner was expecting me and we set off on Wednesday evening, arriving in the dark.

The African Sambistas at Shambala festival

The African Sambistas at Shambala festival

Actually getting to the designated camp site area was straight out of a Kafka novel. It was dark, we didn’t know which area we were allocated to and our pass didn’t allow us bring the car and trailer of kit in. After wandering about for a bit we heard someone say “artists area”  which sounded nice and we had artist passes. Then we found a map and finally knew where we were supposed to be going. We walked backwards and forwards with the trailer in the drizzle. Our neighbours had managed to drive in with the same type of pass as us, as more of our group on subsequent days. In the dark we put wrong poles in various holes so it took a good while before we had shelter.

Helter skelterA walk round the site the next day showed that this was a much smaller festival than Womad. The layout felt a lot less regimented and there were interesting things to see including the enchanted wood, the lake and healing fields. Fair ground wise there was a Ferris wheel and chair-o-plane but no waltzers. Not good for addicts like us.

In a similar vein to Womad, I didn’t actually get to see much of the live bands. As well as the two main stages the festival had a lot of small venues offering music and djs all day. We spent a lot of time in the circus big top watching odd cabaret acts and the disco themed boogie nights. The crowd energy was tangible, with Mexican waves starting before anything had happened. I tried the Red Bastard show but found it too aggressive for a good natured festival when I was tired. I’m always going on about edgy comedy and lightweights who can’t take it. Turns out that I was one this time! The comedy in the smaller venue was pretty good too, there’s a clip in the video.

 

Shambala festival dance stage

There were a lot of adult workshops, which was great. We did a singing workshop and a really good shamanic drum session where we spent 25 minutes drumming a very simple heartbeat before a gong was hit and we were free to go for it. With no plan or director then everyone set off to do their own thing. After several minutes there was a moment when suddenly everything came into time and we were drumming as one. I worked up a very satisfying sweat. After 10 minutes the gong was sounded and the madness stopped. As well as the singing, drumming and yoga there were also some unusual offerings, such as nipple tassle making and cock drawing.

Shambala cross dressing dayShambala is a great festival. It’s a place where anything goes. It has an air of liberating madness. It’s a place where you lose inhibitions and give things a try.  I was feeling pretty cool about cross dressing Friday and I enjoyed it far too much. It corrupted my mind permanently. In a good way. I came home with an interest in nail paint, a very lovely tutu, several pairs of tights and a fascinator hat. The tutu comes from Fairy Love.

The African Sambistas at Shambala festival

The Sunday fancy dress parade was our opportunity to perform and we had a great time. There were a lot of inspired costumes. My favourite was an alien craft where three people walked together with their heads inside the pod looking out of the windows.

man wearing a tutu and tights

My new look.

It rained at some point on the last evening. Getting out on Monday was a major challenge, with various stewards telling us different things and a struggle to get the car in to collect the trailer. We did finally make it and I’ve forgotten about any of that hassle now and just remember the good times we had.

Shambala festival photo gallery.  Shambala photos and chat on Facebook.

Womad UK Festival 2015

I spent 5 days at Womad UK (Charlton Park) with the African Sambistas. We did 3 workshop sessions and drummed for the Sunday parade. The dates were Fri 24th to Sun 26th though we arrived on Wednesday morning and left on Monday.

Womad UK stage tent

Big tent. Dry in there.

The line up included the following (lifted from efestivals): De La Soul, Tinariwen, Bellowhead, CW Stoneking, 47soul, AcholiMachon, Aurelio Martinez, Banda Magda, veteran Brazilian singer Dona Onete, Eska, Ester Rada, Kim Churchill, L’Hijaz’Car, Molotov Jukebox, Orange Blossom, Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, Japanese funk from Osaka Monaurail, Sagapool, Sona Jobarteh, and Swindle.

I didn’t really see any of the big name bands but I did hear a live mix of several of them late at night in the tent. It was a great sound. The Bowers and Wilkins sound stage promised a lot of interesting performances but failed to deliver for me.

The weather alternated daily: Friday: rain, Saturday: dry and sunny, Sunday: rain. I went to the morning sessions with yoga tree and then wandered around, taking in the healing gardens, various small stages and a daily visit to Carter’s vintage steam fair to feed our waltzer and octopus addiction. The ghost train, chair-o-plane, steam boats and victorian swings were also great. We spent several hours a day preparing and delivering our workshop sessions.

It rained a bit.

It rained a bit.

Womad is often described as the most middle class festival. The positives include a good natured crowd who are receptive to unheard music and lack of too much scummy excess but I found it to be a slightly flat festival compared with, say, Shambala. Womad UK is big and organised which is great, maybe it’s too big and organised.

I can’t remember the name of any the bands that I saw apart from the Malmesbury School’s Project on Thursday night with Tomorrow’s Warriors, which was good.

On Sunday afternoon the rain was falling, it was slightly cold and the ground was muddy. As we sat under our gazebo in the camp sight then it’s fair to say that spirits weren’t too high concerning the parade. But we there to do a job so we set off to do it, wondering how we were going to parade round the whole site when walking took twice the effort as normal.

The waltzer.

The waltzer.

When we arrived at the parade start we found that the plans had been modified. The various samba bands played a set in the dry under the dome stage. Then the unexpected happened and the sun appeared. The procession was significantly shortened so that it looped into the nearest stage tent (red or blue) turned round and came back. The parade ending with a jam with Ilu Axe, Beatroots, the African Sambistas and anyone else with a drum to hit.

We packed up in sunshine on Monday, driving past the clean up operation with a massive pile of broken tents being loaded into recycling containers.

In summary, it was a major achievement to survive the whole festival considering the weather. I had fun hanging out with my friends from the sambistas. We did a bit of work and we got to experience a lot of festival. Hopefully 2016 will be dry.

Womad festival photo gallery.

Bath Carnival 2015

I’m currently in three samba bands and all of them were at Bath carnival 2015!

The African Sambistas did a dance workshop in the park at 1pm. The African Sambistas are all about dancing, drumming and getting a party going. A great crowd got into the spirt of things really quickly.

For the main parade I made my first appearance with Afon Sistema who play maracatu style. This means a lot of heavy wooden drums called alfai, shakers, gongue bells and a few caixas. We sing and drum and it’s more of a slow burning and heavy trance compared with the bright energy of Rio samba. The video sound really doesn’t capture the volume and energy of being in the centre of this storm.

My regular band, Ola Samba were also taking part. I love playing gigs with this lot but after a year of rehearsals with Afon Sistema I had to play my first gig with them.

Also present were the Samba Sulis aka Bath samba aka Jamma de Samba and Ilu Axe from Bristol. I’ve also played with the Samba Sulis but not Ilu Axe. Whilst I’m talking samba, I’ve been to practices with Batala Bristol and Bristol Samba recently. Just for fun.

Great video of Bath carnival 2015

Photos by Paul Phillips or myself unless credited otherwise. Any credit issues then please contact me. See also a great photo album on Bath Carnival Facebook page.

Wychwood Festival 2015

I went to Wychwood Festival to perform in the parade with Ola Samba. Some of us decided to make a weekend out of it camped. My last festival experience was at Waveform in 2008 which seemed to be mainly a bunch of druggies in a field tripping to booming bass. On the plus side I did see the Ozric Tentacles live (well, two of them) and find a new band, Orchid Star (Barefoot in the sunshine video).

I had mixed feelings about spending another weekend at a festival. I’ve seen photographs of festivals when it rains, videos of casualties sleeping in litter strewn fields and people always talk about festival toilets. Despite becoming increasingly sensible over time there was still a youthful part of me that wanted the excitement and adventure so I got on with packing my tent and wellies.

As I found out,  Cheltenham Racecourse is a well kept venue though the festival seemed to be placed onto a building site. This worked quite well since a fair proportion of the ground was compacted gravel which was weather proof. The camp site was spacious, the toilets were cleaned regularly by Andy Loos, there were free showers (hidden after the Superspa djs) and the festival had a lot of families there which seemed to keep things good natured. The line up was a mixed bag which seemed to work well.  The biggest acts each night were:

I got to see a few smaller bands. Folk On made us laugh a lot. The big top tent had a dj set from Andy Kershaw on Saturday and Craig Charles on Sunday.

I really enjoyed the two hours of Hobgoblin comedy each night. Six acts with twenty minutes each and they were all funny. Jay Cowle and Jack Heal tickled me the most.  After that we went off to the silent disco. It wasn’t that keen on the idea but it turned out to be a really good idea. It wasn’t silent – the big top was full of people cheering, laughing and singing along.

Here’s what I got up to.

I heard a few people saying that the festival wasn’t as good as it used to be. There’s a special Facebook group for them: Whingefest. For me the festival gave me a great weekend with a mix of entertainment, a well sorted camp site and a crowd who seemed up for having a good time. I’m off to a few more festivals with the African Sambistas this year this year so I’ll have something to compare it with: Womad and Shambala.

Welsh Encontro Cardiff 2015

The Welsh Encontro Cardiff 2015 was a three day event for samba bands and percussionists. It was held in the bay area of the city and organised by Samba Galez.

Full write up coming later. I need to sleep now! I have a lot of video to edit too.

The JP Courtney samba band is strong on caixas

The JP Courtney samba band is strong on caixas

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling weary from residual man-flu and wondering if I was going to have enough energy to go to the evening event. Energy levels were lifted when I went to my first workshop, Baque to basics. There was a wall of drums reaching to the ceiling and once we had 30 people laying down some maracatu grooves I remembered why I was there.

Ola Samba did a busking slot at midday. Then in the afternoon I had a caixa (snare) workout at a great cuban carnival workshop. This was another big groove session which left me smiling and on an endorphin high.

I saw several really top notch bands peforming in the city centre on Saturday night and took part in an impromptu busk. Thanks to Eri Okan for lending me a timba. Bloco Fogo laid down a storming set in a samba reggae style.

bloco fogo

Bloco fogo laying down grooves in foggy Cardiff

I was up at 10am on Sunday for a 1 hour caixa workshop with JP and then I finally got some spare time to go and watch the busking bands. The afternoon was spent with Raz from One Voice Music who had 2.5 hours to teach 40 people his arrangement for the presentation for omolu which we were going to perform that evening. We had a few wobbly moments with one transition until we realised that adrenaline was making us push the pace too hard. There was no time to worry, we had to practice with the dancers. They were following a similarly steep learning curve.

After a break for food we met up in the basement of Portland house to prepare for our performance. Energy levels were very high…and a reassuring sense of calm occurred. We had all volunteered for this because it would be exciting. Now we just had to go out and do our best. Raz really brought it together with an inspired group singing session before we walked out onto stage.

One Voice Music samba

Raz’s showcase band

The crowd was large and cheered us on to stage….a stage that wasn’t large enough for us. After moving a few mircrophones and drums out of the way we squeezed on. As we approached the most risky transition in our piece the pace was holding back nicely, the hive mind knew what to do. We passed it without any issues, big grins all round. We were soon into our final groove and the pace and energy lifted. Tension released, everyone happy.

Raz had done a great job pulling this off and so had Marcia Magliari and the dancers.

Eri Okan samba

Eir Okan performing in Cardiff bay

The mass busk was held on Monday. Several hundred drummers met up in Portland house to rehearse. That was quite an event in itself.  We fitted in a two band performance with Ola Samba and Sambassadors of groove. At 3pm it was time for the mass busk. After performing the rehearsed piece there was no way that the group was all going to walk off for a cup of tea….inevitably someone started a call and soon we had a samba groove going on. I’m sure there will be many videos going up on youtube with the evidence. After an hour or so we did all go home for a cup of tea.

Ola Samba

Ola Samba and the Sambassadors of groove. Photo by Paul Phillips.

Good times…I wrote all this at 10pm when I got home.

Samba Galez

Mass busk.

samba galez cardiff mass busk

Samba Galez mask busk. Photo Paul Phillips.

Here’s some of the bands I saw, ran workshops or whose members I got talking to during the event.

Big thanks to Samba Galez for organising it and all the great people I met over the weekend including my Ola Samba family travelling circus.

Cheltenham Samba band: Ola Samba

Things are still busy with the Cheltenham Samba band. We’ve been working on new material and also added a bit of Christmas carol singing (in the loosest sense of the word) to the existing pieces. I’ve been going to Cirencester pracice on Tuesdays and the Cheltenham practice on Wednesdays. See the Ola Samba website for class times and locations.

 Carol #1 at 4m30s

Ripped drum skinBroken drum stickI’m continuing to build my strength and stamina as a caixa (snare) player. The drum and bass track runs at about 185bpm and I clocked a heart rate of 165bpm when playing this.

I’ve broken both a drum skin and stick at recent gigs when there’s been a need for some noise.

Cheltenham half marathon

Samba band at Cheltenham half mararthonSome photos from a drumming action day with Ola Samba. We played for a few hours at the Cheltenham Half Marathon in the morning. We were placed to raise spirits at the 11 mile point and next to a hill on the Cheltenham Racecourse.

Some more photos of the event on a blog I found.

In the afternoon we played a great gig in Siddington at the Greyhound Inn for their Pickled Dog charity beer and music festival.

Guinness world record jive Cheltenham

World record jive cheltenham

That’s me in the yellow anorak!

World record jive Cheltenham

The Guinness world record for the number of people jiving simultaneously was set in Cheltenham on Sunday 10th August 2014. I was there with the Ola Samba band to busk on the streets after the event.

Special classes had been laid on to train new dancers: Gloucestershire echo.

In the late 90s I used to go to jazz jive and lindy hop classes with JazzJiveSwing. I spent a few years going to lessons and dances and then decided to stop for a bit to see if I could come back stronger. Only I never did the coming back bit.

The thought had crossed my mind that I should be taking part in this event but I couldn’t remember any of the moves.

Heavy rain had been forecast and it arrived as predicted. No one seemed to care though! When I arrived they were making the last minute announcements and confirmed that they had more than 1000 people present (something like 1040 if I remember correctly).

I was walking past the entrance gate with my camera when they shouted “come on in, there’s 2 minutes to go” and I got caught up in the spirit of the moment. Once I had a sticker and was inside I looked round for a partner. I’ve no idea what my partner’s name was but she started showing me a basic move which I struggled to follow and then, suddenly, I was doing the moves I remembered from 10 years ago. I kept finding more moves and some of them made my partner scream….in a good way.

After 5 minutes of dancing in the rain and right over a big puddle the announcement was made that we’d all danced for five minutes and there were more than 1000 of us. A short while later they confirmed that the record had been set.

World record jive Cheltenham

My dance partner and I. Elated!

Good times, I felt inspired to go and do some more classes. I’ve no idea how I’ll fit it in around tango, samba, yoga and pilates.

Cheltenham samba

Cheltenham samba

From the Cheltenham Dance Festival Facebook page: “Here is the moment we excitedly found out from the Guinness World Records Official Adjudicator that Cheltenham had secured the brand new title for the most people jiving simultaneously!”

Guinness world record jive cheltenham

Guinness world record!

Photos and write up in the Gloucestershire Echo including some video of the samba band.