No American city has as central a place in music history as New York City, serving as the birthplace of both salsa and hip hop, as well as a thriving home for jazz, rock and blues for over 100 years. The city’s culture, a confluence of nationalities from around the world, has produced vital folk music scenes across the five boroughs, each informing the city’s listeners with music and dance traditions from both locally grown and far-away cultures. New York’s Brazilian population, concentrated largely in Astoria and Manhattan’s Rua 46, is one such community that is becoming an increasingly vital part of New York’s cultural landscape. With Brazilian Day reportedly drawing over 1 million people into the city last year, many can identify with the impromptu formations of an intricate, ebullient samba batucada on the corners of city blocks, where amateur musicians, whether rich or poor, black or brown or white, pick up instruments—a drum, a scraper, a shaker—to create grooves enviable by many professional bands in other parts of the world. Such percussion jams often elicit the participation of nearby amateur singers and dancers. This shared music can go on for hours.
The strength of community that is formed by the creation of music such as the samba is perhaps one of the most distinguishing trademarks of Brazilian music, and is of particular import to any major metropolis where fostering a sense of community will help drive citywide habits of mind. With Mayor Bloomberg enacting Climate Week to kick-start collaboration between the public, organizations, and private businesses to tackle climate change, as well as the citywide efforts of GreeNYC to encourage civic engagement with regard to environmental stewardship, the music of the samba acts as a symbol of combined effort—one where people of all backgrounds and abilities can play a small part in a far-reaching whole, as well as one that, through the thunder of drums, song and dance, predicts a more collective, brighter New York.
Samba Koocho Hairy Boocho illuminates many qualities of the samba genre—itself a result of five centuries of Portuguese, African, and Amerindian rhythms, dances, and harmonies working together—to symbolize the powerful results of shared ideas. The piece blends Latin rhythms with African music styles, exploding with the sounds of drums and bright instrumentation, and highlights the interplay between the up-tempo duple beat and the three dance steps that are performed in each bar of a samba, creating a mélange of both alternating and simultaneous duple and triple meters. The resulting samba is decidedly of the City: with music that erupts with the blare of horns, moves urgently from start to finish, and contains as its foundation a theme that bumps, shouts, leaps, ducks underneath, reacts to others, and explodes into a million pieces all without losing its identity or sacrificing its uniqueness of spirit.