A blogpost about something musical – but politics is never far away.

One of the most powerful and emotionally exciting songs in what was one of the worst years in popular music (1998) was Carneval De Paris by Dario G. (For some reason, the only 1998 version on video I can find is here). I remember at the time loving the music and the early stages of the 1998 World Cup in France, and also being frustrated at my inability at the time to dance to it.

Although my world emotionally imploded in the months after it, I still remember the music and the early days with a strange fondness – even though all bar two of the people from those days are now long long gone.

Five years later, I would be in a position to learn how to dance to this hypnotic rhythm – though it would be a further two years before I was able to choreograph anything energetic that had a lot of movement to it. Alas, I never had a long term dance partner to really work on, develop and perfect the routines.

Samba – basic rhythm

I love the exposition and deconstruction of the Samba in this drum video by Gina Knight

What Gina does brilliantly here is the way she varies the tempo – as well as being an engaging and friendly-to-the-ear communicator. As someone who will never be able to play a proper samba beat on a drum (my limbs cannot act independently of each other – hence why I cannot play the piano with both hands), I’m now able to understand the different components of the samba rhythm. This is despite not being able to beat out anything more than something basic with my hands.

The size of the drums and what you do with them.

If you compare the audio of Gina’s video to that of Carneval de Paris, there’s something about the studio that takes away the vibrancy and resonance of the percussion in the latter. With too much samba dance music that I’ve stumbled across over the years, the digital percussion or the limited nature of the instruments used take away much of what really makes the samba dynamic and energising for me. When I listen to Gina’s video, the feel of the drums really comes through in a way that too many music tracks lack.

Drum beats on Power to the People by Basement Jaxx

The reason why I’m mentioning this track is because with the Dowsing Sound Collective we recorded an acapella version of the track. Have a listen to the teaser here. (Yeah Gideon – ‘all in this together’ backatcha!) In our case we had SkillySkillz beat-boxing for us as our percussion. The full version will be available once the 2014 World Cup has started.

In the Basement Jaxx version of their track, have a listen to the percussion.

Now, I’m not a fan of computerised percussion. The interesting thing about the Basement Jaxx project ‘Power to the People’ (see here) is that they are encouraging people to come up with their own interpretations of the track. So I’m really hoping that someone will create a really thumping and energising samba percussion audio to this.

One thing I’ve always wondered with drums is what happens if you changed the diameters and depths of the snare, bass and side drums. Irrespective of what you think of the track, have a look for the drums used in this video. Then think what it would be like if they said to the percussionists: “OK, now change the sticks and play a samba beat”.

Dancing the Samba

Easier said than done – I remember being delighted when my ballroom dance teacher said we were going to be learning the samba over a decade ago. But the basic samba routine wasn’t something that really got me going. The routine’s basics were similar to what’s in this video. It wasn’t for another year and with a different teacher that we moved away from what was essentially a ‘social samba’ series of steps to one where you have to learn a full routine that you need to rehearse repeatedly with a similar group of people in order to perfect. Again, easier said than done. Because as you can see by the physique of the people in that dance demo, you need to be in reasonably good shape. Before I moved to London in 2007, I was. But the impact of commuting (which ultimately killed off being able to go to classes) meant my weight shot up by 50%. Which gives an indication of how much I need to shed if I want to get sort-of-good at dancing again. (Prior to my move to London I was dancing 4 nights per week for about 4 hours per night on top of being in the civil service in Cambridge).

Samba and football

If dancing was the passion of my 20s, football was the passion of my childhood – to the extent that I probably dropped a grade in more than one subject for my GCSEs and A-levels. The first time I watched Brazil’s national side play was on TV during Italia ’90. Note the sound of the samba drums in the background here. The drums were conspicuous by their absence when England played Brazil in Brazil recently (see here). Turns out the authorities banned them. Given what’s going on with the preparations in Brazil, and the protests against the World Cup (see an example here) it wouldn’t surprise me if the drums and the bands were banned. But then this is a symptom of how FIFA have poisoned football. This article goes into more detail about the protests. Ditto with this article here.

Football – music – dance – politics

At various stages each of these have been an interest and a passion for me. All the more interesting that in 2014 these are coming together with the world cup – something that the book Futebol Nation explores brilliantly. The stench of corruption in the run up to the world cup exemplified by Sepp Blatter (he got booed at the London 2012 Olympics – good) is the culmination of decades of corruption and poor administration of the beautiful game. I had a closer look in this blogpost – noting the rampant rise in FIFA’s financial reserves. When multinationals pay all of your costs in sponsorship, you don’t need to worry about accountability to the fans – or scrutiny from governments. You can live a life on expenses in five-star hotels.

In the documentaries on the BBC themed Welcome to Rio one of the things that strikes me is how football, music and dance are all linked one way or another to political protest. Remember that between 1964-1985 Brazil was effectively a military dictatorship. This is something explored in detail in Futebol Nation. During those years, one of Brazil’s greatest figures would emerge – Socrates (or to give his fuller name, Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira). I blogged about him here before he died, explaining why there’s not a footballer on this planet who can get near the greatness (with his fair share of human flaws) he achieved.  It’s not that he captained his country, played in 2 world cups and scored 4 goals. (How many England players in the past couple of world cups can claim similar stats?). It’s that he also qualified as a medical doctor while playing professionally, completing a PhD after football and founding a democracy movement in defiance of Brazil’s military dictatorship (see here). To what extend would each of us defy a military dictatorship if a push came to a shove? Hopefully for most of us, we’ll never have to find this out.

Power to the people

Which brings me back to the Basement Jaxx project – because this is protest in popular music. Look at the lyrics. As Gina Knight said in her samba drumming video, if the rhythm you’re creating in samba makes you want to dance, you’re doing something right. Combine it with powerful lyrics on a political theme and you have musical dynamite.



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