Last December, me and my wife, Lindsay Fullerton, walked into the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (SRBCC) for the center’s grand opening event: an Afro-Latin vinyl record sale. While we were expecting only to acquire some new discs, we found something we did not expect in Chicago: a huge venue that reminded us of a samba school quadra.
This chance event was the genesis of an ongoing collaboration between SRBCC and Evanston Escola de Samba (EEDS), of which we are both members, which resulted in Carnaval 2014, EEDS’ biggest event to date. On March 15, nearly every Brazilian performance group in the Chicago area joined forces with EEDS and the SRBCC to celebrate not only Brazilian music, dance, and culture, but community arts engagement in Chicagoland and beyond.
The SRBCC is a cultural center and community arts organization dedicated to the promotion of Afro-Puerto Rican culture and music in Chicago. Founded in 1971, they have a long history of arts outreach, and have recently opened a new performance venue and cultural center at 4046 W. Armitage in Humboldt Park. It was there that me and EEDS Executive Director Jessica Anzaldua sat down with Luis Bermudez, executive director of the SRBCC, to think about the high potential for fruitful collaboration between the two organizations in a shared goal to utilize African-Latin music (whether bomba or samba) as a vehicle for community arts engagement in Chicago. Plans were quickly made to utilize the SRBCC space for a large Carnival event that EEDS would organize.
With only a little over a month to organize the event, EEDS Bateria Director Reed Flygt made it a priority to bring as many of the Chicago Brazilian performance groups as possible together in a friendly inclusive environment, where all ages were welcome. The result? One of the biggest Brazilian parties held in Chicago this year. Taste of Brazil in Oak Park donated coxinhas, pães de queijo and other salgadinhos, and Whole Foods in Evanston donated drinks for sale, while families and friends of EEDS provided tamales, snacks, and other sweets for what proved to be an energetic evening.
The show started at 7:30 p.m. as Edilson Lima of Samba1 brazilian Dance Group, partnering with Zumba instructor Cristina Grieco and EEDS Dance Instructor Ariel Barbick, started the night by leading the more than 200 people in attendance in a tour of Brazilian dance styles from forró to lambada. The International Capoeira Angola Foundation staged a roda de capoeira, and then the percussion began. Samba, samba-reggae, and maracatú exploded in the SRBCC for hours, as nearly every Chicago Brazilian percussion group took the stage: Oloboom (the Lane Tech High School Bateria), Bateria Quilombola, the Evanston Escola de Samba Bateria, Bloco Maximo, and the Handphibians (Madison, Wisc.)
One of the night’s highlights was the debut of a 50-plus member super-bateria. Reed Flygt organized “Bateria Muito Legal” to include the members of every percussion group at the event. Practicing each song at their respective venues across the city to prepare for Carnaval 2014, they wowed the crowd with renditions of Carlinhos Brown’s “Carnavalia” and Michael Jackson’s and Olodum’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” By the time the featured Carnival passistas came on stage for Bloco Maximo’s final set, it was after 1 a.m., and the show was still not over. Members of all the dancing and percussion groups closed the night with a small but lively pagode session, playing some classic songs until after 3 a.m.
With the success of this event, EEDS and the SRBCC are working together to host further events in Chicago, potentially crossing Brazilian and Puerto Rican music and exploring the relationships between them. Stay tuned!
Photo by Sean Owens & Amber Mohammad