Manhattan Samba

Here’s a little history of the samba band I co-founded in New York in 1990, written by Jeff Zeth. Not sure I’d describe myself as a “big American band leader,” though.  😀

You can see the whole story here:

In the grand manner of Rio samba schools — though on a much smaller scale — Manhattan Samba is a band, a learning environment, and a social club all in one. Founder and director Ivo Araújo is known for bringing in people with virtually no musical experience and having them learn how to play traditional samba to be able to perform with the band within a short time. On the other hand, Ivo and Manhattan Samba (the two cannot be separated) have also collaborated with many established, professional musicians such as Paul Winder, Wyclef Jean, Gogol Bordello, Jimmy Cliff and Carlinhos Brown, and the band has been the inspiration for many other Brazilian music projects and baterias in New York City. Ivo has a knack for integrating samba rhythms seamlessly into the music of his collaborators; at the same time, the band’s own shows throb with energy and passion in a way that no other samba show in New York City does.

Ivo started Manhattan Samba in 1990 with pianist, composer, and big American band leader Amy Duncan at a time when there was very little live Brazilian carnaval music in New York. “Manhattan Samba was the first big group, together with Empire Loisaida, long gone,” he says.  He’d already been in the U.S. for ten years, playing as a percussionist for American jazz bands and directing his own Brazilian music projects; Ivo’s first Casa Grande e Senzala band after Kilombo dos Palmares once opened for Tito Puente. At first, he didn’t think many New Yorkers would be interested in learning batucada.  But after seeing him perform live, Amy urged him to gather students. “She encouraged me to play and teach.” Their first batucada show at S.O.B.’s was an instant success. Ivo showed up to play with 35 people — most bands playing there at the time had no more than six — and “for the first time I blasted S.O.B.’s.”  The group was so loud that a subway train conductor came up from the nearby #1 train station to investigate. “What kind of band was that?” he said.  For fifteen years after that, until around 2005, the band closed the weekly Saturday night samba show at the club, with a late-night act that the Village Voice called “the best way to wind up a Saturday night club crawl”.

Now in 2012, Manhattan Samba (known in Portuguese as the “União da Ilha de Manhattan”) remains the longest running Rio traditional-style carnaval band in New York, with a long list of successful live projects and an even longer list of current and former band members who were inspired to begin their own Brazilian music projects. Members have gone on to teach samba in high schools, start their own bands, create documentary films, and get advanced degrees in music. Every year, the band’s signature red and white can be seen in some of the great parades of New York City, including the Halloween Parade and the Gay Pride Parade, and the band still sometimes makes appearances at S.O.B.’s, thrilling audiences with late-night batucada that always brings the house down.

Brazilian music fans sometimes wonder why the school wears red and white, when the colors of the Brazilian flag are green, yellow, blue and white.  It’s because of Ivo’s connection with União da Ilha do Governador, the samba school in Rio with which Ivo has the closest connection.  Their colors are red, white and blue.  “It shows respect for União, which is my original samba school, together with Portela.”  Portela’s influence is seen in the image of the eagle holding a drum; the eagle was once part of that group’s symbolism.


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