Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Samba da Irmandade e Sara a Diusa Cigana

I walked to old City Hall, but they weren’t there. Then I remembered they should be on the hill behind the Irmandade. There I found Nita, Francisca and Andrea (the one student from Leipzig) at the Municipality watching Wolfgang and Gina (the director and his assistant) set up while they waited for the troupe. Everyone was late.

Fifteen minutes or so later, at the bottom of the hill, I saw the billowing skirts of their Baiana costumes and then heard the melding of women’s voices singing as the strolling musicians played. They had come upon each other enroute to the Municipality and had broken into song. Striding up the hill they went into full tilt boogie. At the top, Gina counted 19 instead of thirty. She was pissed. She harangued Francisca in English to translate how much this wasn’t going to work. Rightfully, they were also anxious for their rented equipment fees.

Everything began to devolve into petty rivalries, jealousies, lack of commitment and organization, (relative to western, German, studio timing). Welcome to stalemate. It seems that some of the sisters thought that the others were putting on airs. Were they getting compensated? More than the others..blah, bla. The second whiff I got was how important it was for these Cachoeiranos to be elevated by the benevolent (sic) Europeans including them on their public TV time. “Hey, I have some mirrors and shiny rocks I could trade for your land dude……”

To complicate it the TV people wanted a level of professionalism that precluded the improvisatory nature of their art form. Kinda, Jazz is. And that’s it. Back and forth with idea, argument, discussion, translation. I felt for Francisca. She was betwixt and between. She saw the merits in elevating the stature and cultural significance of the performers. She had their hearts and trust. She had an obligation to the German crew. She wanted them to reflect the essential soul of the culture. The gun was loaded and misfiring. The difference between the students and the professionals was astounding. Later I found out that as an anthropologist Gina had decided to make film to strengthen her message.

Back at the ranch, the Sambistas and Senhoras had started to do the dozens with each other. You know, “Well when I twirl, and tap on my woodblocks, I can do two full turns in 1 measure.” No you can’t; prove it!” In less than three minutes the women had started knocking out rhythms on their blocks, singing and clicking their heels on the stone street. The men caught their fever and rocked on their instruments. An hour later, they had performed without break. Yet, Andrea, Nita and I were the only ones shooting film.

For me this was the shit. They had created something marvelous out of nothing. This was the core of their culture. Like jazz, they built exponentially on the simple rhythms and steps that had initiated everyone to perform. My chest welled with joy. I vacillated between dancing and taking pictures. I grinned so wide I could have begun to drool. The movie cameras had all been put away.

Finally, it was decided to have them repeat their entrance. Possibly, it could be an intro piece. Another shoot was set for Tuesday. The crew was understandably concerned with lighting, but also {sanitized} locales. Nothing had seemed good or authentic enough. “Oh, -and could you smile a little bit more when you perform, please?” To insure success after the shoot, everyone marched to Dona Alva’s house to crowd around her TV while Gina played the other segments of the six part series that had been previously completed.

I assumed that we would see a few clips to get a feeling for the theme and visual impact of the work to date. Two hours later she was still intoning her agit-prop for Francisca to translate. Some of the folks in this tight hallway of a room, where nodding out. Dona Alva had felt obliged to feed us, as is the nature of Brazilian hospitality. She had some snacks left from last night’s Candomble ceremony and sent one of the guys out for soda. Thus the people with the least money were caring for those with the most.

I shot some stills to distract me from my frustration and anger at the situation, the condescension and the squirreled position that Francisca was in. Nita and I wanted to leave to check on the procession. I had been told that the Caruru would be served at midday. I could not leave the house without walking in front of the TV and interrupting the sermonizing. “Nita, porque nós não saimos da janela? Não é? –We could step on the chair and go out the window. Her eyes told me that I really was doidinho, crazy. When it finally ended we discussed our next move. Francisca thought that we had missed the Caruru and should check out the Caboclo.

Of course the house that I had passed all weekend walking through the favela to get to Analia’s had been the Terreiro in question. I had seen many crimson cakes and favors carried inside in all my forays to Analia’s. It was one and one half blocks from Analia’s. I had known about the one that was across the street from her. They had had ceremony last night. This one, Terreiro Caboclo e Guarany e Oxossi was having an afternoon gig. We walked in and a woman in a screaming yellow blouse was tranced out, danced a bawdy seduction trying to entice eligible men to take her fruit. This was no simple Orixa story. Before I knew it, she was done. I left my camera to charge and followed my group.

Everyone was invited downstairs to the garden to eat lunch and wait for the second round. The terraces and garden were all festooned with bloody crimson fabric, flowers, veils, dyed foods and decorations. All of the congregants wore red shirts, blouses or skirts and bandanas. The backyard garden was cut into the favela’s hill I had climbed all weekend. Roosters and chickens flew about. A twenty foot table was adorned with red clothes, red cakes, Cava sparkling wines and fruits.

This was a festa for Exu, (or Eleggba) Orixa of the crossroads and somewhat of a devil. Acarajé was being fried. Banana leaf wrapped Abará was being passed around. Beer, soda and nevadas (a frozen Daiquiri like drink made with Caçhaça) were overflowing all the tables. Streams of people began to arrive just as the DJ kicked into a deep Flamenco groove. When I asked why, I was told that for Exu’s festa, Sara, A Diusa Cigana, (our Gypsy Goddess), would be manifested, dancing for our licentious pleasures.

We were served Vatapá, Acarajé, Arroz, Xinxim de Bofe and more Abarrá. The food was full flavored and rich. We laughed, joked and drank in the sun. I used this moment to speak to Francisca about my work and my desire to return to Cachoeira to follow up on my research.

I walked around to her side of the table and bent down on one knee. “Funny”, she said. “ I had wanted to discuss collaborating. The sisterhood wants to expand their community education program and begin to teach the local children cooking.” Since we-all knew that all of the Sisters were also Mae’s de Santo that would imply a combination of regional cooking and Comida de Santo. “Would I like help work on the program and document it with her?” “…..Shit yeah.!”

I began to stand up, she said…”Yi-what timing.?” I wasn’t sure what she meant. Behind me was standing a handsome guy, the DJ. Well, he was also the spearhead behind the culinary program. So this is where we living. We agreed to discuss the scope of the project before I left for America and Francisca split to find the TV crew. She had made sure that Andrea would be positioned to document Sara before she left.

I went upstairs to piss and check the camera. I thought that it was time to climb the other hill to the Igreja. I was about to open the door, when our host grabbed it and told me that I could not leave. I had to see Sara. She would change my life. I needed to be in the presence of their Diusa Cigana. Hmmm.

Ten minutes later, I was summoned to come downstairs. At the landing a small crowd had gathered. The man who had filmed the ceremony at Terreiro Mucumbi had his video hook up dialed in. The members of the Terreiro were adjusting their costumes and a woman in the corner was tossing rosary in the air chanting an unintelligible prayer or song. The volume and beat of the music swelled and then I saw a golden cigarette holder protrude from the second landing. Then a high heeled leg with stockings emerged from underneath a golden spangled filmy black skirt. As she sashayed down the stairs a stud on either arm and a platter full of Antherium in her left hand she flipped back her long wavy hair to release a deep guttural laugh. Sara.

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