This weekend, I popped over to San Francisco on business and caught a bit of the city’s kinda underwhelming Cinco de Mayo celebration at Dolores Park (I think there was a ban on alcohol at the event. While I’m no drinker, I do concede the libation’s role as social lubricant and crowd loosener-upper). The standout presentation was the traditional Mexican dance company Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, which gave an impressive performance of the various regional dances of Mexico.
Every March, the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana throws the biggest pan-Latin/Caribbean bash in the country on Southwest 8th Street, the main street of Miami’s Cuban community, called “Calle Ocho” in Spanish because of the missing ordinal abbreviation (i.e. “th”) on the street signs. With a few million party people packing the street for almost 20 blocks, the festival features music, dancing, food, and foolishness from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Brazil, and Miami itself.
This year’s event was on March 11, and if you weren’t here, you gotta wait ’til next year. Meanwhile, here’s some footage to tide you over:
Learn more about the festivities at the official Carnaval Miami website.
The 2012 Carnival season in Brazil has ended with a couple of surprising samba school parade winners in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of which sported themes from the country’s culture-rich, rain-poor, poverty-stricken Northeast.
Yesterday, Mocidade Alegre took the title at São Paulo’s Sambadrome with a theme honoring prolific Bahian author Jorge Amado and the mystical Afro-Brazilian world evoked in his novel Tent of Miracles. Xangô, the Yoruban deity of fire, opens the presentation with power and glory:
Leading up to the event in Brazil each year, popular TV show Caldeirão do Huck has the queens of each samba school in Rio and São Paulo compete for the title of Carnival Muse (sash, cash and whatnot), one of the few times darker-skinned Brazilian women even appear on television. One of my favorites of all time: Luciana of Rio’s Mangueira samba school, seen here discussing her Carnival diet and the costume designed by her friend and “personal stylist” back in 2009.
In Brazil, February 2nd is dedicated in the Catholic tradition to Our Lady of Seafaring, a manifestation of the Virgin Mary who watches over sailors and fishermen. But the larger celebration isn’t of the Catholic saint, but of the Afro-Latin deity Iemanjá, goddess of the two greatest tidal forces on the planet—motherhood and the sea.
Originally part of the Yoruba pantheon of gods—called orishas—Iemanjá (in Portuguese), or Yemayá (in Spanish), was brought over to the Americas by her African devotees during the slave trade and maintains a prominent place among the syncretic religions like Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil, Santería in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and Vodou in Haiti. These syncretic religions fuse cultural elements and faith systems from African, indigenous American, and European traditions, and while still ignorantly characterized as witchcraft by some sections of the general population, the fact that homages to the goddess are sometimes held as government-sanctioned events shows just how important non-Christian spiritual traditions remain in Latin American societies. And anyone in the States familiar with that fly, old school salsa from the ’70s ought to have heard Yemayá’s name come up on more than one occasion.
Singing, drumming, dancing, and offerings of food and flowers are made to the goddess year-round (especially in Rio on New Years Eve), but in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where Afro-Brazilian culture is most palpable, February 2nd is Iemanjá’s day.
It’s 2012, folk! While many of you spent New Years Eve in the frigid climes of Europe or North America, I was getting my hot-and-sweaty on in Rio de Janeiro. True, it rained most of the weekend, and the transport situation from my centrally-located apartment to the beach was less than ideal – a 5km walk uphill (and down, both ways) – but I made it to Copacabana in time for the countdown, the fireworks action, and even a little oceanfront afterparty with friends from São Paulo. Here’s a little taste:
At the same time, two very fly sistas – Nicole is the New Black and Oneika the Traveller – rang in the New Year with friends and family in Europe: Nicole in bright-and-sparkly Copenhagen and Oneika in on-and-poppin’ Berlin. Take a look!
Burl Ives got it wrong; the most wonderful time of the year, in much of the world, is upon us – Carnival. For four, five, six, even seven days leading up to Ash Wednesday, revelers in the Catholic world drop inhibitions and taboos in a frenzied, culturally-mixed-and-matched attempt to “get it all in” before having to give it all up for the forty days until Easter, and not just in Rio. The craziness starts this weekend in places as disparate as India, the Canary Islands, and Sydney. Here’s a brief video tour of just a few of the celebrations in the Western Hemisphere:
New Orleans – Yes folks, Mardi Gras is Carnival, and every year since Hurricane Katrina leveled the city, New Orleans has been slowly but showly rebuilding America’s biggest fête. King Rex, the Mardi Gras Indians, and the Zulus lead the other krewes in celebration.
Santo Domingo – With less flash and glitter than at some of the world’s other Carnival parties, this street bash is no less wild. Afro-Dominican rhythms beaten on drums or blasted over gigantic speakers keep the backsides bouncing with Caribbean tradition and swagger.
Barranquilla – Costumed bands of merrymakers engaging in Colombia’s traditional dances – the cumbia, gaita, puya, and mapalé – comprise the city’s biggest claim to fame besides being Shakira’s hometown. There’s also lots of corn starch throwing and a bit of coonery that has always set uneasily with me.
Trinidad – Despite strong British influence, Trinidad just couldn’t shake off all the French and Spanish elements from its history, no matter how centrifugal the ‘wine.’ The traditional cast of costumed characters, influenced by cultures from the Congo to the Caribbean, has been usurped these days by folks palancin’ down the street in feathers.
São Paulo – No, it ain’t Rio de Janeiro, but the Sambadrome competition in South America’s largest city is big enough, bad enough, and crazy enough to warrant two nights of back-to-back TV coverage, the amount of time Rio gets. Tune in here tonight from 9PM ET and tomorrow to see the big paulistano samba schools battle it out. Rio runs the show on Sunday and Monday.
With fighter jets, inflatable pools, Nigerian-Brazilian hip-hop artists, beach volleyball, politicized circus clowns, Daniela Mercury, and a Disney parade, the Brazilian capital celebrated its fiftieth birthday with a barrage of parades and concerts rivaling Carnival. Candangos (immigrants from the four corners of Brazil who came to build Brasília) and Brasilienses (successive generations born in the city) converged on the central axis of the Plano Piloto, bookended by the Eiffel-esque TV Tower and the bifurcated Brazilian Congress, to dance samba and forró, eat corn-on-the-cob and street meat, and, of course, drink gallons of Skol and Antárctica. A special free concert by electronica guru Moby served as a pre-show last weekend, but the official celebrations kicked off Tuesday night, with concerts by established and emerging pop, rock, hip-hop, and gospel acts (Tuesday, incidentally, was the not-widely-heralded Day of the Indian).
Wednesday, a nationally-recognized holiday honoring independence hero “Tiradentes” and the official date fifty years ago when Brasília opened for business, saw a bona fide Disney parade thunder down the Esplanade, the reverence for good ol’ Walter Elias Disney echoing that for the similarly visionary President Juscelino Kubitschek (affectionately known as “JK,” Jota-Ka), whose controversial dream of a modern and futuristic capital came true out of, literally, thin air. Crowds in Brazil’s trademarked rainbow of browns—from coal to cream—poured in and out of the mile-long party space, laughing, yelling, flirting, fighting, and mixing under a constantly morphing sky. Uniformed police ambled through the masses, eyeing bare midriffs while keeping order; vendors hawked beer and mangoes and prayer tickets, while Rihanna’s “Take A Bow” blared from the speakers at the central bus terminal anchoring the action. As dusk descended and the puppet shows and folkloric indigenous and Afro-Brazilian dance presentations turned into rock and samba and jazz and MPB concerts on various stages, families with curly-haired youngins headed home as teenie-boppers and hipsters in skin-tight everything flooded the area in anticipation of the headliners Daniela Mercury and Milton Nascimento, and a tsumani of lower-profile but popular bands who rocked BSB until 4AM. If nothing else, Brasília’s birthday bash is a testament to making something out of nothing, and to a youthful, energetic city poised for another fifty years of planned disorder and chaotic progress.
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