Saturday, June 12, 2010

Helsinki Samba Carnaval 20th Anniversary (pageant)

Today is Helsinki Day, and one of the main events is the Helsinki Samba Carneval, now celebrating its 20th Anniversary. It may sound strange that there is such a thing, but it really is a high profile event with elaborate and extravagant dresses and well rehearsed music and dance performances. It's like a moving musical with a variety of Brazilian music and dance styles and "production numbers". Tango became a vital part of Finnish popular culture a hundred years ago, there is now a serious Finnish flamenco culture... why not the samba? There were a thousand dancers in the pageant, with several samba schools on display.

The Helsinki Samba Carneval is like an explosion of colour and vitality, and it is located between two of our ancient pagan holidays, the First of May ("the spring awakening"), and the Midsummer Holiday ("the midnight sun"). In our country we have a long dull early spring and a long dull late autumn, and maybe we deserve to party more.

I ordered a café au lait and a piece of rhubarb pie and sat down at an outdoor table at the Café Esplanade and managed to read a bit of Joseph McBride's magnificent John Ford biography before the pageant started to appear. What a gorgeous show! I find it exciting to contemplate that these proud and daring showgirls of all ages do this for fun besides their serious and demanding responsibilities at their jobs and their homes. Some of the outfits leave practically nothing to the imagination, and the women were all smile, happy and self-confident about who they are. Yes, there are equal numbers of men in the pageant, but the women are the stars without any doubt.

Yesterday it started to rain, and by noon there was a strong wind. It was a "blustery day" like in the Winnie the Pooh story (15 meters per second, I heard later). I felt sorry for the samba folks in advance, but they didn't seem to freeze, on the contrary! Even the sun started to shine during the pageant as if a sun dance had been successfully performed. After the show the clouds and the rain returned.

My favourite was the candomblé company. The rhythm section (all men) had a powerful touch, drilled by a merciless conductor. The women wore bright red and orange colours, the wind hit their feathers hard, and as the rhythm section built speed, the women shook their hips faster. They wore flimsy tangas. This ensemble represented "the united colours of Brazil", and probably several of them were native Brazilians.

There are several good films about Brazilian music, including The Black Orpheus (Orfeu do Carnaval / Orfeu negro), and Mika Kaurismäki's documentary trilogy Moro no Brasil, Brasileirinho, and Sonic Mirror. I don't remember now if I have heard in any of them the candomblé rhythm. It's primordial, atavistic, like a shot of pure spirit. Since I heard it for the first time, it has been impossible for me to forget it. It comes probably from Africa, and for me, it has become "the call of Africa". In the cinema, I have seen one performer with a similar spirit, not from the world of samba: Carmen Amaya, the queen of the flamenco.

One more samba association has to do with Barack Obama. In his excellent book Dreams from My Father he gives an account of one of the most embarrassing moments in his life: when he went to see his mother's favourite film - The Black Orpheus - he realized that this was the film that had inspired his white mother to fall in love with a black man. There is also another film connection in his book. Barack Obama reports that the movie he took Michelle to see on their first date was Do the Right Thing.

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