After leafing through the dusty pages to the appropriate section, I see that my New Caxton Encyclopaedia (1973) describes Samba thus:
‘A dance with syncopated rhythm, originating in Brazil; Originally there were two kinds, one of circular formation which showed an African influence, and the other danced in pairs and generally with a sung accompaniment. Nowadays, it has become a popular, quickly-moving dance beloved in South America at carnival time. At the end of the Second World War it spread to Europe and became popular as a ballroom dance.’
Thank goodness then, for the end of the Second World War, because samba is so miscellaneous in its culture cross-overs now, forty years after that was written, that we even see samba with British influence! We’ve come a long way from late 19th century African-influenced Brazilian-Samba, when you can now find Brazilian-influenced Manchurian or even Glaswegian samba! But it exists, it exists here tonight…
…In the Queen Margaret Union at University Gardens, just up from Ashton Lane in Glasgow’s affluent and pastoral West End. I’ve been to the QMU a few times now, Bedouin Soundclash, King Blues, among others, and it’s always been one of my favourite venues, it’s so open and salubrious inside, plenty of room for dancing, and they’ll need it, because tonight they’re hosting not just one, but four excellent samba outfits in the form of Brass-Aye?, The Edinburgh Samba School (TESS), and Juba do Leao, as well as the mighty Sambayabamba!
The first act Brass-Aye?, walk in playing their instruments from the street outside, right past where I’m smoking, through the security and the double-doors, down the sharply-turning hall, into the main stage area, right across the floor, onto the stage and launch into their set! Now if that’s not one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen I don’t know what is! To have the freedom to play your instrument anywhere and on the move, is truly a wondrous advantage, where rock bands are chained to amps and DJs to decks, samba bands can parade up and down the street all day long if they wish. The band are all sporting Brass-Aye? tee shirts, the tuba-player has the biggest, reddest f***ing tuba I’ve ever seen! And some of the trumpeters are in the crowd playing their instruments alongside the dancing patrons, only once have I seen anything like this, and that was at a Slackers’ gig in the now extinct Barfly over ten years ago. The band has got the crowd absolutely buzzing in no time, and you can feel the excitement in the air rising up your spine like mercury touched by heat. They play an amazing samba version of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Lady Day and John Coltrane’ (I mean, where are you going to hear something like that!? Scot-Heron himself would be proud!) And it’s a wonderful and unexpected treat for me – I’m sitting here, and I’m listening to jazz-samba, and I can’t believe it.
The feeling emanating from the stage is warm and beautiful in its soulfulness, and I’m overcome by a sense of great serenity, plus you can’t help but get caught up in the vibe, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about samba bands in my years of following SYB around it’s that samba bands have fun, a lot of fun! Maybe more-so than any rock n’ roll band out there. Brass-Aye? are a diverse and enthralling, horn-blowing, drum-banging, orchestra to behold, and the female vocalist really sets it off with her deliverance and entrancing voice. Plenty of progressions, changes, breakdowns, build-ups and bridges keep the energy flowing along nicely and they even launch into a sample of Labi Siffre, most famously sampled by Eminem in his hit single ‘My Name Is’, then to top it all off there’s a bit of Tupac mixed in there. This is certainly a mind-blowing experience; maybe this gig is a little too sophisticated for what I’m used to, there is some real musicianship going on on that stage. And that singer, with her voice, is a tour de force up there, backed by a whirlwind of worthy musicians – everybody should experience this band live! Do it, by seeing when they’re playing by going here https://www.facebook.com/BrassAye
After that intoxicating and heady experience what could possibly follow it, well what indeed, The Edinburgh Samba School (TESS) should more than suffice, as they take to the stage fronted by scantily clad women, but even that is not enough of a distraction as the musicianship going on behind them in the row of ragtag instrumentalists is phenomenal. The timing and efficiency of these samba outfits is astonishing! Beautiful female dancers gyrating, spinning and twirling to amazing and very loud live music – I have to wonder why I’m not at a samba gig every night!? These samba bands are really onto something here! TESS are every bit as impressive and explosive, catchy and captivating, as their predecessors that night. It’s kind of hard to explain the immense vibe created within the walls of a gig like this, you just have to get out and experience it for yourself. There’s no other way. Do it by checking the gig-listing here https://www.facebook.com/edinburghsambaschool
The third treat in the goodie-bag is Juba do Leao. All the way from my second-favourite British city, Manchester. Find them here www.jubadoleao.com Juba do Leao bring an exciting and fresh sound to the stage, boiled and cooked in authentic Brazillian culture, seeped in sensational samba sounds and marinated in the ‘Maracatu’ method of melody. A truly intense energy crackles and coruscates from the stage, and it does not fail to galvanise the crowd as the dancefloor is swarming with swinging and spinning, stimulated samba supporters caught up in the tidal-wave rush of rhythm. The raucous rumbles of the bass drums, like the delicate sound of thunder, are shaking the floors and dropping the jaws, with bouncing bass and scintillating scores. There is really nowhere else in the world to be right now! From heavy-metal concerts to raves, nothing will get you buzzing like a stage-shaking samba gig, and all these bands tonight are consummate professionals who are having a lot of fun with their craft and it rubs off on the audience, an unsuspecting member of the crowd, perhaps a samba virgin, may even be completely dumbfounded by the kind of performances that can unfold at these sort of gigs. The blends, concoctions and components that these on-stage alchemists mix together are more potent than a Pan-Galactic-Gargle-Blaster (kudos to those who get that reference).
As if all that wasn’t enough, I already know we are in for a treat yet to come, as the headliners are a group I’ve seen several times now, but I never fail to get excited about when I know they’re going to hit-the-stage. SYB are brilliant in a plethora of ways; from their image, which is nothing short of oozing coolness – perfectly uniformed and colour co-ordinated, with emblems of the band’s Glaswegian heritage adorning them everywhere, incorporating the city’s coat of arms, St.Mungo’s ‘The tree that never grew, the bird that never flew , the fish that never swam, the bell that never rang’ imagery. As well as quirky designs like depictions of Nitrous Oxide canisters (I’ll leave that up to your own imagination, but remember this is a hardcore party band that constantly tours festivals). SYB love the Glasgow theme to shine through, and I love it too, not to mention their name, samba-ya-bam-ba, being a direct ‘Weedgie’ reference, their album is even entitled ‘Mad Bongos N’ That’ with such wonderfully-titled tracks in their arsenal as ‘We Love Tonic’, ‘Gies’ Yer’ Jaiket!’ and ‘Mary Dhol’. But there’s an explosive force about to be unleashed from beneath that glossy, hip image…
SYB have so many members in their ranks it’s pointless naming them all here, the list is dozens of names, but they are all integral cogs in the magnificent machinery of SYB’s music, led by Damien Frazer (talented local singer/songwriter), who has been in the band for eight years, they are a well-oiled mechanism. Thundering out thumping rhythms and effortlessly infusing traditional Brazilian sounds with everything from drum n’ bass and breakbeat to bhangra and hip-hop! They even do a fantastic version of Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina Band’s song mixed in with the Empire theme. Blowing minds and shaking spines since 1996 and getting louder and louder along the way, SYB are a prevailing and potent, vibrant and vivacious musical force to behold, I could only liken it to standing in a wind turbine tunnel – joyfully loud and impossible not to move to! All the members are incredible at their individual instruments and the Brazilian bateria bulges and bristles with horns, drums and everything from dancers to brass to bass and beyond. The whole night was rounded off nicely by a resounding and resplendent DJ set from Mikey Bossacucanova that wound us nicely into the early bourbon-soaked hours of the morning.
To see a live musical performance that will bowl you over and blow your mind as much as it may blow your eardrums, then you have to see SYB, find their upcoming tour dates at www.sambayabamba.com – the band tour extensively and have a reputation of excellence all over Britain and Europe as well as regulars on the festival beat…and it’s festival season now people! So let’s get out there and get samba-ing ya’ bam!
Seeya’ in the pit!
C. T Herron
Originally published in Amped Up Scotland 13/06/2014