If you are a lover of rhythmic, drum-based music, it is impossible to ignore Samba Squad. In multi-cultural, multi-rhythmic Toronto, a city with a great number of street bands, batucadas, maracatus, percussion groups et al., the Samba Squad, after arriving on the scene in 1999, is the city’s biggest and most well-known.
While they use the name ‘samba,’ they are a lot more. The Squad (as they are affectionately called) play a variety of rhythms from a host of traditions around the world. They come equipped with their own arrangements of samba, samba-reggae and maracatu from Brazil; Cuban congo; soca from Trinidad and Tobago; West African dundunba; and even Middle Eastern and Punjabi rhythms. The repertoire reflects the diverse interests and origins of the band’s members. Manyof them have been accompanying the world music scene in Toronto for some time, and, while mostly sticking to the instrumentation of the Brazilian samba bateria, they have no prejudice, using any instrument in the construction of their song or arrangement. While traditional die-hard adherents of one type of musical form (like myself with maracatu and others with samba) are often adverse to the mixing and matching, it is precisely this factor that has made the Squad so popular with so many people in T.O. In many ways, musically, they represent the multi-cultural vibrancy of Toronto more than any other band. And they rock it, too.
In their stage show they have a whole band in place that includes keyboards (heavy composer and Brazil-phile Gordon Sheard), bass (Collin Barret) and guitar (Demetri Petsalakis). They recently released their 3rd CD, Que Beleza (“what beauty”), at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. Their special guest singers usually include: Andrea di Bartolomeo, Cuban vocalist “King Bombo” Alberto Alberto, and Brazilian singer, Uma Nota favourite, Luanda Jones.
Here is a sample from their latest CD:
I love the wording of the press release:
“Hand to Hand, Skin to Skin…. we mix these influences with Global Grooves of the African Diaspora. The beats … the grooves … the flavours … all come together in a seething cauldron to produce the sound of Samba Squad.” (I especially like the “seething cauldron.” I am a big fan of cultural cauldron imagery.)
Samba Squad is also the patron of Drum Artz, a charitable organization that emerged out of the performance group. It is a community percussion school and arts program that is accessible to people regardless of age, gender, class, race and (dis)ability. They are the force behind Samba Kidz, a summer camp and after school program whose name says it all. It is impressive stuff, and proves that the work and vision of Samba Squad in the community is more than just lip service.
Of course one can’t tell the story of Samba Squad without Rick Lazar. Rick Lazar is in many ways the grand daddy percussionist of Southern Ontario. He is a constant reference for gigs, instruments, and considerable percussive knowledge. He is the leader and artistic director of the band and patron of Drum Artz. He is also known as the “thrill sergeant” by the Squad members. Gotta love it. Check here for his bio.
Here are couple of videos that show the Squad’s versatility and diversity:
Afro-Brazilian Cuban Styles with Alberto Alberto!
Samba Squad performs this Thursday, March 21 in Toronto for the CD release of Que Beleza (part of Canadian Music Week). Venue: Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. West. Doors 9:30 p.m. $15 at the door. More info: Facebook event page | Lula Lounge website listing