Several years ago, Trinity College music professor Eric Galm was looking for ways to bridge his scholarly interests in Brazilian music and his students’ research with Hartford musical happenings.
“It really started with a student samba drumming and singing group I teaching as part of an academic course,” Galm says by phone from his Trinity office. “We do concerts in the fall and spring. I thought, ‘How could we make a bigger splash with our spring concert, not just within the walls of the school but out into the community?’”
Galm scored a development grant, which allowed him to expand his ethnomusicology class. He had his students interview Hartford musicians. He invited artists to Trinity to teach music and dance. And then he focused on the creation of a mainstage, world music festival, with Brazil at its cultural center. Samba Fest was born.
Now in its sixth year, the Fest has grown considerably. This year’s lineup is impressive: Berimbrown, a nine-member Afro-fusion band from Minas Gerais, headlines, with guest percussionist/singer Dinho Nascimento from Bahia sitting in. Other acts include Bomba Ashe, a Willimantic-based Puerto Rican folk collective; capoeira (a Brazilian martial arts) exhibitions and stick dances by New Haven’s Ginga Brasileira; local trumpet legend Ray Gonzalez, who leads Conjunto Antilleano and youth group Guakibom Jazz; traditional Peruvian music and dance by Hartford’s Negrura Peruana; West African dance by the Artists Collective; Galm’s own Trinity Samba Ensemble, who jams with Brazilian vocalist Jose Paulo; and Summit Steel, directed by Trinity student Hallie Blejewski.
“It’s much bigger in scope,” Galm says. “It’s gone from a few informal conversations and winging it to, really, at least a good three to six months of planning beforehand.” He’s pleased that, with expansion, increase in financial support has come along for the ride. (This year’s Samba Fest received grants from the City of Hartford and other outlets, which have paid for many of the festival’s expenses, including air fare for some of the performers.)
“The great thing is that people are starting to see what a major positive impact this type of event can have,” Galm says.
Galm’s father is ethnomusicologist John Galm, who founded his department at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Growing up, the family embarked on long Brazilian sojourns. “He opened the door to percussion being taken seriously by universities in Brazil,” Eric says. “We got dragged along.” Galm attended fifth grade in Brazil. He has vivid memories.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Galm says. “But it was during the times of a military dictatorship. There was one newspaper that wouldn’t submit to censors, who would show up and pull the stories right off the press. You’d see the masthead and a blank page, maybe an article or two. They were letting the blank space make a political statement. And so just seeing things like that. It was a totally different time.”
Later, Galm studied classical percussion at the University of Michigan. Then he heard a record by Brazilian singer Naná Vasconcelos. “It was a cold Michigan day,” Galm says. All these memories of great Brazilian percussion flowed back into me.” Much later, in 2010, Galm wrote a book, The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music, about the instrument that’s become the symbol of Brazilian music and culture.
“It’s most often connected with capoeira,” Galm says. “Both things emerged out of times of slavery. But the problem is they are often historicized as fixed entities from the past. What I argue is that these are vibrant symbols of resistance that are relevant in today’s society, against marginalization and slavery, kind of like Jamaican reggae. The berimbau isn’t just this instrument but a symbol of Brazilianness within Brazil.” It’s fitting, then, that the mainstage act at this year’s Samba Fest, Berimbrown, mixes traditional Brazilian music with Motown and James Brown. “We’ve got all these fusions upon fusions to articulate new visions of Afro-Brazilian identity,” Galm says.
The theme of this year’s festival, Galm says, is celebrating Hartford’s diaspora. “We wanted to celebrate all these cultures that are perceived as distinct and different but find common threads,” Galm says. “By putting four different dance groups together, people can see similar gestures and hear similar rhythms: Afro-Peruvian, Puerto Rican, West African, Brazilian. I’m hoping people can see gestures and movements that show how the cultures are connected that you wouldn’t pick up on if you saw them individually. There are ways that they are deeply connected through an Afro-centric heritage that are not always highlighted.”
“The next step,” Galm continues, “would really be a magnet event, to bring a mainstage name that both Americans and Brazilians would recognize. We aren’t there yet.”
Sixth Annual Trinity Samba Fest, May 5, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free, Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, 300 Columbus Boulevard, Hartford, (860) 297-2199, sambafest.com
11 a.m.-12 p.m. Summit Steel, directed by Trinity student Hallie Blejewski. Plaza entrance.
12-12:30 p.m. Samba Parade.
12:30-1 p.m. Guakibom Jazz, directed by Ray Gonzalez. Plaza Stage.
1-1:45 p.m. Trinity Samba Ensemble, directed by Eric Galm. River Stage.
1:45-2:15 p.m. The Artists Collective African Connection Dance and Drum Ensemble. Plaza Stage.
2:15-2:45 p.m. Negrura Peruana. Plaza Stage.2:45-3:30 p.m. Ray Gonzalez y su Conjunto Antillano. River Stage.
3:30-4 p.m. Ginga Brasileira, capoeira dance. Plaza Stage.
4-4:30 p.m. Bomba Ashe. Plaza Stage.
4:30-6 p.m. Berimbrown and Dinho Nascimento. River Stage.
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