Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Experience Brasil Live: Tuesday nights at Village Underground

Often when I go see Brazilian music in New York City, I can feel transported, like I'm back living in Brazil. A crowd of Portuguese speakers and a few caipirinhas definitely add to the authenticity, and a below-ground venue without windows onto the street truly makes me feel like I'm no longer in New York City.

New York based Brazilian band, Brasil Live, just by virtue of its name, promises something like what I've described above, and, man, do they deliver. Every time. I first saw Brasil Live at Village Underground as part of an evening of musical performances by groups from New York and São Paulo. I had an absolute blast, dancing samba and forró on the crowded dance floor and singing along to all of my favorite songs. I knew I'd be back. 

Low and behold, my friend Mauricio Zottarelli, whom I wrote about in my last post, told me he was going to be playing a show with Brasil Live. Of course I immediately marked my calendar and invited a few friends. When we arrived at Village Underground, however, the venue was much less crowded than I remembered from the time before. I was aware of at least two other Brazilian events happening in Manhattan that same night, a performance by Milton Nascimento and a launch party for Wallpaper's City Guide to Rio, and they apparently were drawing from the same pool of partiers. This lower than usual turnout, however, did not discourage the members of Brasil Live who went on to give a stellar performance. 

In fact, the intimate crowd was particularly appropriate that evening. The grandfather of one of the lead vocalists, Daumielle Caldeira, was in the audience, watching for the first time his granddaughter perform in New York City. Daumielle opened the show with a touching dedication of her performance to her special guest. But as soon as the band started to play, Daumielle's pop star persona took over, hips rolling and hair swinging with no shortage of sensuality. Lucky Grandpa got the same show as everyone else. 

Marcos Vigio, Daumielle Caldeira, Thiago Machado, Fabiana Masili
at Village Underground. Photo from
Brasil LIve Facebook Album

Some of my favorite songs were performed by Brasil Live's other principal vocalists, Fabiana Masili and Thiago Machado. Fabiana covered alternative rock classics from groups like Kid Abelha, and Thiago did great renditions of Seu Jorge and of other Samba artists. In addition to the lead singers, musicians playing base, guitar, and percussion crowded the stage and even poured over onto the dance floor. Every single member of Brasil Live was having so much fun performing, continually interacting with one another and with the audience. The group's enthusiasm is contagious and, combined with the Brazilan music beats, draws you out of your seat.

No matter how much or how little experience you have dancing samba or forró, you won't be able to resist the urge to move your body. In fact, for many of the songs in Brasil Live's repertoire, like pop hits by Ivete Sangalo, the customary accompanying dance is jumping up and down and waiving your hands in the air. Simple and fun. But for those of you who aren't shy and are willing to test your skill, there is always at least one talented couple, who when they aren't blowing your mind with their coordinated cavorting, gladly extend a hand in your direction and take you through the steps. After three hours of being twirled and dipped by the "pros" and jumping up and down to the crowd pleasers, I was as sweaty, winded, and high on endorphins as if I'd just run a 5k.

So don't miss the experience of Brasil Live. Even if you have already vacationed in Rio, done business in São Paulo, or have lived in other parts of the country for an extended period like me, this is your ticket to Brazil in New York City. Brasil Live plays every other Tuesday at the Village Underground. I think their next performance is on Tuesday, July 5, but to get the lastest updates straight from the source, Like Brasil Live on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. A $10 cover is collected at the door, and if that bothers you, just tell yourself you're getting a bargain of a dance class or a vacation. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pay a Visit to Mauricio: Sunday nights at Zinc Bar

Every Sunday night Cidinho Teixeira and his band play live Brazilian Jazz at Zinc Bar. Zinc Bar is an appropriately dark venue with a variety of fancy cocktails perfect to sip on while you lean back on a cushioned bench, legs crossed and feet bobbing up and down to the music. 

I'd been meaning to check out the Sunday night scene at Zinc Bar since reading about it on Adventures of a Gringa a few months back. For a long time I never made it, but a coincidental meeting provided the perfect incentive for me to get my act together and go. 

I was celebrating my roommate Amy's birthday at at the rooftop garden at 230 5th Ave. As soon as I joined my friends who'd been enjoying food, booze and the rooftop breeze for the last two hours, they informed me that I'd just missed the Real House Wives of New Jersey. Bummer, I thought and started scanning the crowd for the next celebrity who might be passing through. But instead of than laying eyes on a public figure, my ears caught wind of a private conversation at the table next to me. Portuguese! I leaned over to whisper in Amy's ear, "That family at the next table is speaking Portuguese!" Generally, I'm not shy about introducing myself to such groups and striking up conversation. I'm usually well received, but sometimes people aren't as excited as I am about speaking to a stranger, even if she is a fellow lusophone. When I declined my Amy's encouragement to go over to our neighbors, she took it upon herself to make the introduction. 

She leaned back in her chair, and, using some of the only Portuguese she knows, asked, "Fala Portuguese?" Oh, no. What is she doing? I thought. The family smiled and seemed excited by her question. "Sim," answered the matriarch. "Do you?" Amy laughed, shaking her head, and pointed in my direction, "but she does!" With a grand gesture, the matriarch waived me over to her table. I eagerly got out of my seat, and pushed my way through a sea of chairs to stand by her family. 

We got to talking. Sandra and her husband, Aldo, had come from São Paulo to visit their son, Mauricio, and his wife, Mileni, in New York City. They asked me about the time I spent in Brazil, and I asked them about their work in the United States. When Mauricio said he was a musician, I immediately asked him if he played shows in New York City. "Yeah," he started, "Sunday nights..." "At Zinc Bar!" I chirped, finishing his sentence. Everyone laughed in disbelief and nodded. I explained, that I'd read about Brazilian Jazz at Zinc Bar and had been meaning to go for a while, but wouldn't put it off any longer, now that we'd made this connection. 

Mauricio and his family were so kind and welcoming, I could have pulled up a chair and sat with them for the rest of the evening, but instead, I bid farewell, promising Mauricio and his wife that I would see them soon at Zinc Bar and wishing Sandra and Aldo a safe flight back to São Paulo, and made my way back to the birthday girl and our friends.  

Cidinho Texeira's Band at Zinc Bar
Mauricio Zottarelli on drums (back right)
Needless to say, I showed up at Zinc Bar the following Sunday. I arrived with some friends in the middle of the first set, and when it was finished, I approached the stage to say hello to Mauricio. He was touched that I'd actually come, and I was thrilled that he'd actually remembered me and was happy to have me in the audience. My friends and I stayed for all three sets of the show, indulging on cocktails (I recommend The Benson), and moving to the music in our seats. We even sang along to the instrumental versions of some of the songs we recognized like Você e Eu

I definitely recommend Brazilian Jazz at Zinc Bar to anyone looking for a laid back way to spend their Sunday evening. Mauricio and his band-mates put on a great show. Even if the vocalists didn't change every week, I'd be sure to go back again. There is a $10 cover to see the band, and cocktails run around $10, as well. 

In addition to his Sunday night gigs, Mauricio plays with other musical groups in the US and abroad and gives private lessons. You can read more about Mauricio Zottarelli on his website

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Culture Clash: TeatroStageFest 2011 conference

(Left to Right) Danilo Santos de Miranda, Larry Rohter, Margaret Ayers

Although Brazil was not cast for any performance role in the production of the 5th annual TeatroStageFest, it was chosen as the star of TSF's conference which took place at the Americas Society on June 13th.

TeatroStageFest, hosted by The Latino International Theater Festival of New York, is a two-week event of non-stop performances from New York, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain. I haven't yet been to a TSF performance, but I will definitely try to make it to one after attending last night's conference. (Shows are running through June 18th).

According to TSF's program, the objective of yesterday evening's conference was to discuss:
"the need to develop new arts funding mechanisms... that will further international exchange amongst artists and audiences of all backgrounds. It will also provide an introduction to the unique and successful practices of the Social Service of Commerce (SESC) model which incentives and democratizes access to a thriving arts and culture movement that is enjoyed by millions of Brazilians annually."

I would not have know about TeatroStageFest's conference, let alone the two-week long festival, had it not been for a Tweet by The Brazil Foundation. They were likely interested in the event because one of the two panelists was Danilo Santos de Miranda, Regional Director of SESC-São Paulo. The other panelist was Margaret Ayers, President of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, which is providing a grant to the International Cultural Engagement Partnership between SESC-SP and the Latino International Theater Festival of New York. Both of the panelists' names were new to me, but I recognized the moderator, Larry Rohter, culture reporter for the New York Times and author of Brazil on the Rise. For me, Rohter was the main attraction, but soon into the conference, I new I'd take away from the event much more than his autograph in my copy of his book.

As soon as I entered the room in which the conference was to take place, I guessed I was the youngest member of the audience. The event was public, but I had a hunch I was the only person in attendance who was not associated with TSF, SESC, or a diplomatic mission from Latin America or Spain. I was hopeful that my interest in Brazil and in the subject matter at hand would help me to blend into the crowd. 

A woman in her sixties sat next to me in the second row. After she commented on the good looks of a Brazilian Consulate official who was introduced during the opening remarks, I thought we would become fast friends. I smiled back at her and nodded in genuine agreement. But after the first panelist finished her overview of the current state of International Cultural Exchanges coming out of the United States, I quickly learned that despite our shared appreciation for attractive, middle-aged diplomats, my seat-mate and I came from different cultures. I had been live-tweeting throughout Margaret Ayers' presentation. Truthfully, I hadn't thought much about the implications of my actions and was just doing what I thought any one of my Twitter role models do on a daily basis when they live-tweet a Bernanke, Obama, or Netanyahu address. Apparently, I had deeply offended my silver-haired friend.

"Were you texting during the whole thing?" she asked me disdainfully.

"Actually, I was tweeting," I replied kindly. "It's great publicity for the organizations involved in this event."

"Well it's very rude and distracting," she scolded.

I apologized, explaining that my intentions were not to distract her or anyone else and added in vain, "It's a type of reporting."

I felt horrible and desperately wanted to reverse the bad impression I had just made on this woman, so I tried to redeem myself with small talk while the organizers were setting up for the next panelist.

"Do you work with one of the organizations involved in the partnership?" I asked innocently. When she said she didn't, I quickly responded that I also wasn't professionally involved but was simply interested in the Brazil-US exchange. She then immediately justified her attendance by mentioning her 14 years working in International Cultural Exchange and added, "But I can't imagine how you could have been paying attention to anything the panelist said, anyhow." She was referring to my "texting." At that point, I gave up.

I realize how the combination of my bowed head and the bright screen of my of iPhone could have been interpreted as disinterest and disrespect, and I didn't want to further irritate my seat-mate. For those reasons I put my phone away for the rest of the discussion. Still, my intentions had been pure. I was doing only what I thought journalists do when they tweet live events. 

Soon, it was Danilo Santos de Miranda's turn to speak. For 27 years, Danilo has overseen the SESC-SP's cultural initiatives that have touched the lives of over 15 million residents of São Paulo State. SESC stands for Servício Social de Comércio, or Social Service of Commerce. To give you a thorough understanding of SESC, I will again quote directly from TeatroStageFest's program.

"Brazil's unique arts funding model was institutionalized in 1946 when a mandatory tax law was passed, which dictated that every company pay 1.5% of its total payroll into the SESC Fund, in order to develop cultural centers across the nation. Today SESC- São Paulo has an annual operation budget of, approximately US$598 million and there are over 500 SESC centers and mobile unites throughout Brazil that provide arts and culture, sports, education, and recreational programming."

I was smitten with Danilo five minutes into his presentation. He could easily be mistaken for Santa Claus. His smile, which peaks through a short white beard, is contagious, and his eyes light up when he speaks about his work. Instead of giving children presents one day a year, Danilo gives the gifts life long learning and development through free or subsidized arts and entertainment, physical activity and other informal education programs. When Danilo described SESC's emphasis on programming for "idosos" or elders, including computer literacy courses and digital media presentations, I thought of the woman sitting next to me. Maybe she would have appreciated my use of New Media had she participated in one of Danilo's workshops. 

After Danilo finished his presentation, Larry Rohter entered center stage as moderater. His provocative questions pointed out key cultural differences between Brazil and the United States. You may have trouble believing the numbers in the TSF's description of SESC above, because it's hard to imagine American firms paying such a significant portion of their profits into any public service program, let a program focused on the Arts. 

Rohter asked Margart Ayers if she thought Brazil's hugely successful public-private partnership in the form of SESC could ever be copied in the United States. Her short answer was NO. Her long answer included mentions of Republican law makers from Wisconsin and the general negative attitudes of certain growing conservative movements towards public programing of any kind. Danilo also pointed out that the Brazilian business sector is able to recognize the connection between cultural programming and a growing a consumer base. Healthier and happier citizens are more likely to already have, if not work towards, the means to buy products and services from the private sector. This holistic and socially-minded perspective is most definitely not yet shared by institutionalized American business interests.

When Mr. Rohter opened up the discussion to questions and comments from the audience, half a dozen hands shot up in the air. The one reaction I remember most vividly came from a cultural minister from Spain. He prefaced his question with a statement to the tune of  "I first just want to say..." and thanked all the Wall Street executives for their self serving financial dealings that have left the global economy reeling. He also instructed everyone in the room to see the documentary, Inside Job, if they hadn't already. Most people in the audience, including myself, broke into applause before the diplomat could continue. He then transitioned to a question for the panelists about the lack of U.S. funding for North American performers to take their art abroad to countries like that form which he came. It was a good question, but his opening remarks that so rawly expressed the sentiments of many foreign governments towards North America are what stayed with me. 

I had gone into the evening with few expectations other than to hear some Portuguese and shake hands with Larry Rohter, a feat which I accomplished during the post panel reception. Soon into the event, however, I was overcome with a profound sense of being in the presence of something much bigger than myself and my obsession with Brazil. The theme of the evening's discussion was cross-cultural arts exchange, yet there were so many other politics being played out at the feet of the featured panelists. Among the thirty or so people in attendance, some of the most contentious themes surfaced and stormed: young vs. old, mobile communication vs. print media, socialism vs. capitalism. And I, unexpectedly and luckily, found myself in the middle of it all.