February 2007

Samba Squad
Samba Squad
February 16, 2007 Mod Club Toronto
The Total Experience
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
It was a night of drums, a night of percussion, a night of dance and dazzling display. It was a night of precisely planned and spontaneous moves, grooves and carefully chosen costumes. It was Samba Squad, the total experience.
On the dance floor, in front of the stage, the beat of the drum began. Led by Rick Shadrach Lazar, the four people on agogo bells, four on drums and three with bell shakers beat out and shook out a multi-layered rhythm. Five bass drummers joined the group adding some bottom to the mix. From the opposite end of the room, four people playing tamborims (small frame drums) danced their way down the balcony stairs and across the floor to take their place with the rest. All dressed in white, the batteria danced and played facing the crowd and Rick Lazar who was drumming and directing. At a blow of the whistle the sound stopped dead, everyone absolutely on cue. “It’s carnival time!” shouted Lazar. We were set.

The rest of the band found their places on stage and the ‘spontaneous’ samba party band joined them. Trevor Yearwood introduced the first piece with an interesting and rhythmic berimbau solo (a berimbau is a Brazilian stringed instrument with a gourd resonator). The four guest vocalists, Alberto Alberto, Eliana Cuevas, Laura Mae Lindo and Gordon Sheard (generally known as a keyboard player and composer) stood ready at their mikes. When Alberto Alberto started singing “Vamos samba”, the crowd started to dance. Adding yet more rhythms as well as melody, the interplay of the singers’ voices was as exciting as the layered mosaic of drums and percussion that surrounded and supported them.

Trevor Yearwood
The second piece was, from the rap of Rick Shadrach Lazar, “all about the drum”. Complex rapid rhythms sounded from the hands of the master percussionist, interesting call and response sequences evolved and a complete percussive mix of timbre and pitch developed – sounds of metal and skin, highs and lows. Lazar was rapping, “Drums we love, we are the Samba Squad, we are dedicated to the drum.” A master drummer-percussionist’s rap has to be the ultimate.

The rest of the first set, as, it would turn out, the rest of the evening, continued with great variety. Alberto Alberto sang a Cuban Carnival piece next, the line of singers danced, one of the agogo bell players got a little dance duet going with Alberto Alberto and Cuban cajon was added to the drum mix. Laura Mae Lindo continued the Cuban theme singing “Obatala”, solo at first, then joined by three batajon (Peruvian version of the bata drum) players, including Rick Lazar. He would play all manner of drums, including a talking drum before the night was over. Other drums and percussion joined but Laura Mae Lindo’s soulful singing-chanting led the way until the end. Projected on large screens around the room was a religious ceremony, santerìa or perhaps candomblé.

Samba Squad became Salsa Squad for the next piece, a Cuban mambo with a little samba. It seemed to translate into salsa with extra percussion. Alberto Alberto gave us some great improvised vocals. Eliana Cuevas and Laura Mae Lindo filled out the salsa singing line and Gordon Sheard was behind the keyboard. The dance floor was a mass of movement.

Finishing off the first set was a maracatu-funk melt-down that produced a noticeable temperature change in the room. Even larger drums were brought on stage for this number. There was chanting, rapping, dancing and jumping, the latter two both in front of and on the stage.

For the second set, the musicians’ clothing was basic black with some white or the colour scheme of the first set in reverse. Five male dancers, “The Swenkas”, took to the floor in front of the stage. Attired in cool garb from the 30s or 40s, loose suits or pants with suspenders and hats, they displayed athleticism and of course, rhythm. Then they escorted three women into the spotlights. Flapping their fans and tossing open their long, colourful skirts it was their turn to dazzle with West African dance.

Rick Shadrach Lazar (centre) with Samba Squad Members

The Gurlz
The dancers would come and go through the rest of the night mingling with the crowd, giving out a prize for the best dancer in the audience, and, when Gordon Sheard strapped on the accordion, dancing Forró in front of the stage. There was a slow, sexy samba with a long cuica groove also featuring pandeiro. Francisco, a member of the band from São Paulo would come forward to sing and actually jump into the crowd. There was even samba-reggae. It was a samba dance party. The audience parted as the entire beating, shaking band took to the floor for an exuberant last number with the dancers.

This was Samba Squad as I had not yet witnessed them, not one of the brief manifestations of a troupe of drummers and percussionists popping up at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival and elsewhere. This was a three-hour percussive drum extravaganza with choreography, costumes and singers. This was Samba Squad — The Total Experience.

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Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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