Samba Elégua as a percussive entity, a group of drummers if you prefer, has been around Toronto for 10 years now. The “bootyfunk samba fusion” group (that little doozy made it into Eye Weekly once) was founded by an old friend of mine, Itay Keshet (now Dr. Keshet, back then AKA Dr. Funk). Rumour has it the whole thing was a dare that he couldn’t make a band out of his fellow U of T students (whichever ones went for the idea, I suppose). Nonetheless, the group has evolved through a decade of heavy sounds, dozens of grooves and repertoire pieces, likely thousands of gigs in its history and has had hundreds of members and more than a handful of musical leaders since Itay’s initial five-year run. (Get an in-depth history of the “eclectic hippy/raver/activist samba bateria from the depths of the Toronto’s flipside” here.)
Many in Toronto know us as the PS Kensington samba drummers — few people realize the group had everything to do with the foundation of that event series — or recognize us from big to-dos like the Pride or Easter parades on Yonge St. and Queen East in the Beaches respectively, or at social justice events and rallies, or at Cherry Beach for the summertime Promise parties. Our sets at Uma Nota, though, make for a different bag o’ drumsticks altogether.
This evolving repertoire reminds me conceptually of a collaborative DJ mix or online mashup that keeps getting more interesting and refined: the original carried its own exploratory energy, but as elements come and go and the version progresses with its tinkerers’ touches; the living work breathes on its own unhurried timeframe.
For a sense of what Samba Elégua (SE) sounds like these days and in the last few years, let’s start with one of the coolest vids out there (also among the most notable of recent ones).
Video guy Josh Harrower plays with the group, but also works on photography, film and documentary projects. Here’s his cut of a gig we played this summer at the Kawartha Ecological Growers’ annual farm party on Labour Day weekend. The bonfire and drumming was one thing, but the lightning storm adds a cool, eerie yet magical effect along with the firelight on all the faces … (ah, summer!)
One of the most-viewed SE videos out there is this DJ-booth-side capture by “roboshuffle” (Noel Dix) from the Promise Cherry Beach Canada Day party back in 2008. (This is one of SE’s favourite annual gigs; 2011 was a year off necessitated by the demands of Pride weekend this time around.)
But SE rocks many of its grooves in urban settings, be they outdoors or in music venues big, small or improvised. With that, check out these raw club styles at Footprints NYE 2010. Musical director and fellow “gringo-sambista” Jon Medow tears it up on the repinique here, and you can almost feel the pulse of the drums rockin’ the spot for this super-appreciative crowd. Nearly a full bateria played in this one — there almost weren’t any instruments to spare that night! Are we having fun yet?
Now, for Uma Nota performances, that raucous percussion vibe gets channeled differently. Here’s an example using the same beat as above. The “Dancehall-Afrobeat” arrangement, in effect since 2007, has evolved significantly to about what you see and hear below. Props to David Arcus (who conceives of its sound as described above) — this piece has proved to be a staple of the SE Uma Nota throwdown, there’s a reason it stays in the repertoire!
Samba Elégua – Dancehall – Uma Nota from Josh Harrower on Vimeo.
In 2009, for the first time, SE tried a Brazilian samba reggae tune with lyrics sung by a vocalist and everything! It was just one part of the show then, and we invited São Paulo singer, teacher and cultural scholar Crys Gloria, who lived in Toronto and sang in Maracatu Nunca Antes at the time, to sing Canto Sideral by Salvador da Bahia’s Ilê Aiyê. Last year we modified the arrangement and Tamar Ilana and Betty Santos did it up in tandem on vocals.
While this particular tune won’t be in the show, what you’re watching below should provide a pretty up to speed hint at what we’ll bring out on Nov. 18 at the Gladstone.
There she be! World Funk, baby … jump on Mama Earth, feel some rhythms and keep dat beat. Besides our beloved drummers and all the dancers we love to watch givin’er at the Gladstone, special kudos really must go to David Arcus, who brings the circus to its fever pitch and knows where to end it.