The first weekend of November was kind of momentous for Fogo Azul NYC because that was New York City Marathon weekend. On Friday, November 3rd, Fogo Azul had the distinct pleasure and honor of ushering the Brazilian contingent of Marathon participants in the Parade of Nations pre-show at the TCS New York Marathon Opening Ceremony in Central Park. It is so exciting and encouraging that Fogo Azul is earning recognition within the Brazilian samba-reggae drum community in New York City/ At their invitations, we have kicked off the months of September and November “representing” in some of their most special events.
New York Marathon
The weather in the Big Apple was mild on November 3rd. The air on the West side of Central Park, near 69th Street, was electric with that exciting buzz that is unique to, and always generated when musicians and athletes from around the world gather together to celebrate. As the parade participants were arranged alphabetically by country, we were lucky to be near the front. The short parade route was lined with cheering spectators packed on bleachers. As we queued up, we were surrounded by hundreds of curious and expectant runners and entertainers. In between meeting and greeting we watched the huge Jumbotron near the grandstand beyond us, and listened as each country was introduced over a powerful public address system.
Minutes before we got the signal to start playing, a petite sprite dressed in a glittery blue and yellow unitard and a huge blue, yellow and green afro danced and bopped around us stopping to hand out tiny green and yellow flip-flop key chain mementos. A kind, low-keyed Canadian representative followed, offering tiny Canadian flag lapel pins as souvenirs of the moment as well. We were good on the swag front!
Madame Fire Chief called us to attention with her drum
and we stepped to our samba-reggae beats accompanied by our Brazilian sprite, and our own mini Fogette in training, Su-Su. With her irrepressible enthusiasm, Chief engaged the crowd with her characteristic high energy playfulness and comic dancing. To add to the excitement and activity of this extraordinary event, to our great surprise, we realized we were being filmed by NYC’s WABC-TV Channel 7! And not just for a few seconds. No! While the commentators seemed particularly taken by our all-women composition and the blue flame decals that wrap around our drums, for several minutes, ground and aerial film footage of us doing our thing was televised live! To see what I mean, click on this link, http://abc7ny.com/sports/opening-ceremony-kicks-off-tcs-new-york-city-marathon-weekend/2600827/, and, if you’d like, fast forward to 1:53. Thank you, WABC-TV Channel 7!!!
By the time the parade concluded the sun had set
The dark sky was the perfect backdrop for the impressive and celebratory fireworks display that stopped many of us in our tracks and caused us, awestruck spectators, to respond in a chorus of excited oooos and ahhhhhs. Although the fireworks marked the official conclusion of the opening ceremony, a group of Bhangra drummers and dancers kept the party going. And slowly, like metal shavings drawn to a magnet, one Fogo drummer and then another inched closer to the circle of musicians and swirling dancers all dressed in vibrant jewel color silks. Timidly at first, a surdo played along with the Bhangra base line, and then another, and then several of us riffed on our samba-reggae patterns joining in what seemed to be a friendly dialogue between the two camps of drummers. It was electric! Such are, I believe, the connections of spirit that are bridged by the magic of music.
Later, as the last of us returned to our white, green room tent to pack up our drums and gather our belongings, I realized that Fogo Azul and the Bhangra band (I would learn is associated with NYC Bhangra) had shared the same space. Having overheard one of my drum sisters wonder if, given the volume of our drums, which can easily overpower most instruments, our Bhangra brothers and sisters may have perceived our engagement as rude or imposing, I tapped one of the musicians on the shoulder to ask. What a relief to have the kind drummer inform me that that style of engagement was welcomed and typically, such dialogues became friendly duels in which each group tries to outplay the other drummers and dancers in volume and speed. That was my great factoid for the night! It is my hope that sometime in the not too distant future Fogo Azul will have a similar opportunity to drum dialogue across cultures—it was so edifying and such a vibe raiser!
Two days later…
Before the 9:00 am hour, we positioned ourselves in front of the gas station near the foot of the Verrazano Bridge, in the Bay Ridge neighborhood that has come to expect to see us there to help welcome the courageous and determined Marathon racers to their beloved borough of Brooklyn. For several hours we drummed up extra energy that, hopefully, boosted the courageous runners, of a diversity of physical abilities, along the next twenty-some miles of the race. Most memorable were the runners who possessed the grace and playfulness to smile, nod, wave or even dance their way past us. Again, beautiful manifestations of the healing and energizing power of drum warmed up a few endorphins, triggered some smiles and raised the level of human connection between the runners, the spectators and ourselves.
Just as Madame Fire Chief predicted, based on previous experience, runners body temperatures would have risen enough while crossing that bridge that they would begin shedding layers as they passed us or close by. And sure enough, by the time we’d called it a Marathon gig, and began to make our way to UNO’s Pizza, where our generous leader treated us to a spirited lunch and celebration of our assistant director’s birthday, we found, scattered along the route, long-sleeved tees, gloves and hoodies and other abandoned Marathon accoutrement—there for the taking by pedestrians and charity workers alike.
Later in the month
Under the direction of our assistant conductor, Dany, Fogo Azul gathered on the grounds of City Hall to join those participating in the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. We had been invited to lead attendees in a short march around City Hall Fountain. While we waited for our cue to begin, our incredibly thoughtful Fogo Azul Husband/security guard/band videographer/promoter, David, handed out yellow flowers for our drums and event t-shirts which, many of us wrapped around our necks for warmth, as some of us weren’t prepared for the chilly wind that didn’t seem to let up.
I wondered how we would temper our samba reggae drum music for such a somber occasion. But, I eventually realized that we were marching not only to commemorate the victims but to bring attention to the need for city government to improve the safety of our streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Under Dany’s conducting we played a slow, thoughtful samba reggae clave with which, I think, we successfully communicated both respect for the lives unnecessarily lost, and the outrage of the survivors, pedestrians and cyclists who work so hard to raise awareness for the need for new traffic regulations designed to protect pedestrians and cyclists alike. I am impressed that, under the sensitive guidance of both Stacy and Dany, Fogo Azul continues to expand and adapt its repertoire to an ever growing diversity of occasions.
We brought November to a close.
Not with our drums but with a wonderful culinary and gastronomic event. Yup! At the suggestion of our surdo sister Catalina, we agreed to celebrate Thanksgiving with our very own Fogogiving potluck. Thanks to the generosity of our drum builder (Taryn) and her partner, they transformed their DUMBO loft into a family friendly Fogo Azul dining extravaganza, complete with white linen table cloths and the most delicious, mouthwatering, tender, moist turkey I have ever eaten, expertly carved by Patti, a surdo and emerging dobra sister. I still salivate when I think of that turkey!
We had dips and side dishes a-plenty (including my own Grand Marnier-spiked cranberry relish), a “Puerto Rican lasagna”, greens, salads, and at least four different desserts. Danuza’s pineapple filled, layer cake with Fogo blue coconut frosting was incredibly moist; Erica’s OMG, unbelievably rich key lime filling was made with the most flavorful dairy products—sour cream, heavy cream and butter; and rice pudding was also delectable. And again, our drum builder surprised us with yet another talent we had not be aware of—baker! In addition to cooking the most delectable, did I already mention, melt-in-you-mouth turkey? Taryn baked a pumpkin pie with an elaborate crust featuring individually handmade, egg wash glazed, beautifully browned maple leaves that would have been the envy of Martha Stewart! Truly worthy of a food porn photo! I am embarrassed to say that we were so busy enjoying the food and company that no one thought to save a plate for our dear Madame Fire Chief whose arrival, from the northern most reaches of the state, had been delayed. Although side dish and dessert offerings remained, a vulture could not have found a morsel to pick from that bit of remaining turkey carcass. I’m guessing it was the absence of that turkey in the stomach that allowed the powerful homemade Puerto Rican alcohol based beverage, Coquito, of which several bottles were brought, which, word has it, Madame Fire Chief imbibed liberally, to result in an unanticipated period of recovery that prevented Madame from attending our rehearsal the next day! All to say, our first Fogogiving was indeed a cornucopia that satisfied both the stomach and soul. We wined and dined and danced, and we gave thanks for Stacy and Fogo Azul and the bounty of food and friendship generated by her generous and allowing leadership and love of samba-reggae.