Dozens of drummers braved a blustery Bangor on Saturday afternoon to bring the sounds of samba to the street. Part of the annual Black History Month, which takes place every October, the organisers of the 40-minute-long extravaganza at the Clock Tower chose to make this year’s event a celebration of the drum, recognising its central role in Black History and its contribution to musical styles all around the world, including samba.
Bangor University students and local residents had rehearsed for two weeks in order to perform on Saturday. They were joined by two established samba drumming bands: Batala Bangor and Bloco Sŵn.
One such student who was taking part is Camilla, an exchange student from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city whose annual Carnival has helped to make samba a globally recognised music. Nevertheless, she herself had never drummed before. So why start now in Bangor? “It reminds me of home! I feel less homesick now. Also, I just wanted to learn one of the instruments. They all sound so exciting.” On Saturday, she played the terceira surdo, a medium-sized drum that’s hit with a large, soft beater.
Anna, also an exchange student, is from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the credited as birthplace of samba and home a carnival even bigger than Rio’s. Indeed, the Salvador Carnival is in the Guiness Book of Records as being the largest party in the world. Anna remembers some experience of making samba music long ago in school but other than that she, like Camilla, learnt everything from scratch in time for Saturday. Her chosen instrument was the chocalho, a shaker consisting of rows of small metal discs piled on top of each other. “It reminds me of my city,” she says.
Once the final runner of the Bangor 10k Race had crossed the finish line it was time for the performance at the Clock Tower to begin. Bloco Sŵn, led by Colin Daimond, kicked off proceedings with a rush of rhythms, precisely played by his small group of elite musicians. They accompanied a dance performed by four members of the University’s Afro-Caribbean Society, which was greatly appreciated by the growing crowd.
“I first heard Brazilian music when I was fifteen years old and got immediately hooked,” said Daimond. When he soon after tried his hand at samba drumming he realised its accessible nature meant that he was able to play with 35 other drummers almost immediately, but concedes, “that doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know instantly!” Daimond founded Bloco Sŵn in 2012 to accompany a dance project for children at Harlech Castle. Since then they have toured throughout North Wales including at the Rhyl Air Show and also right here in Bangor at Greek Taverna.
Bryn Davies and his Batala Bangor group were next. Part of a global network of samba bands, their members were dressed in distinctive, brilliant patterns of red, black and white, designed in Brazil exclusively for the group. Larger in number, they beat their drums with zeal while carefully following Davies’ signals for when rhythmic changes should come about. It was a joy to see the musicians clearly enjoying themselves as they threw their whole bodies into their instruments and into their restrained but perfectly executed dance steps.
An added and perhaps unexpected treat for the public on the street that morning was a capoeira demonstration given by members of the Treborth-based Capoeira Mocambo plus Camilla. They flipped their bodies and spun their legs along to the music with such uncanny control as to leave many a mouth gaping firstly in disbelief and then in loud cheers.
Finally it was the turn of students of the University to make their much-anticipated first public performance. Consisting of both home and international students, including a number from Brazil here in Bangor for a year on exchange, they grabbed their drums, bells and shakers and joined Batala and Bloco Sŵn in front of the Clock Tower. Daimond led the now sizeable band through two powerfully pulsating pieces, showing everyone around just how accessible and joyful samba music can be.
No unprompted dancing broke out among the Bangor public, which was lined four people deep in some places as they stood and listened on the High Street, but even so there wasn’t a foot not tapping or a hip not at least twitching to get into the swing of things. The groove continued for a good quarter of an hour then, after some tantalising, teasing false climaxes, a final booming beat brought a chorus of clapping and cheering from the grateful crowd.
What did the two exchange students from Brazil think of the event after the adrenaline of it all had finally waned? “It was a lot of fun!” said Anna. “Yes,” said Camilla, “I want to carry on with it now. Definitely!”