The beat of Brazil: Samba sounds add spice to South Florida’s music scene

[16 September 2008]

By Taylor Barnes

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Soft sax sounds and the chipper voices of two female singers fill the tiny room that’s made even cozier by its low, sloping ceiling.

“Um, dois; um dois tres,” and the 10-man band starts.

“Eu pensei em mim

“Eu pensei em ti

“Eu chorei por nos” ... “I thought about me. I thought about you. I cried for us.”

The tidy space smells of fresh wood paneling, and the only backdrop for the saxophonist is a white board scribbled with music notes. But to someone listening with eyes closed, this could be a nightclub from the era when the bossa nova - also known as Brazilian jazz - was in its heyday.

This might even be 1964, which is when Antonio Adolfo, the teacher at this startup Brazilian music school in Hollywood, first learned to play. He’s now - 61? Yes, 61, his wife confirms. At the end of his work day, Adolfo slumps in his chair, looking worn as he says that this place is like a child who needs a lot of attention from its parents.

Adolfo has three music schools in his native Rio de Janeiro. There, he says, he has 1,500 students, including the grandson of Tom Jobim, who wrote the music for “The Girl from Ipanema.” In the year since he opened shop in this space wedged next to the railroad tracks, he has drawn about 50 students.

The school is fledgling - “We’re experimenting” - but Adolfo says he’s hopeful about the Brazilian music scene’s future in South Florida.

“I hope it explodes, in a good way,” he says.

An explosion reminiscent of the “Girl from Ipanema” days has yet to occur, but just as Brazil is quietly stepping onto the world stage in business and politics, its musical offerings are cropping up around South Florida. Venues range from the corner platform at the Miami Brazilian bar Boteco to Gusman Center, where samba singer Maria Rita performed on Aug. 8.

Boteco, already a staple for live music, celebrated its first anniversary at the end of July. Gene de Souza, who hosts WDNA-FM’s “Cafe Brazil,” South Florida’s only FM Brazilian music show, plans to travel to his homeland to scout talent to promote in the United States.

“They see ‘Hey, Miami is an important market,’” Souza says of the agency that invited him back. “If people want to see great Brazilian music (in South Florida), there are opportunities - and they’re growing.”

The pace of concerts featuring Brazilian headliners has picked up in the past few years, says Souza, who invites performers through the Rhythm Foundation. Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian minister of culture who has performed Tropicalia music since the 1960s, took the stage at the Fillmore on July 5. Samba star Mart’nalia performed July 26 at Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room, where Chico Cesar, who plays forro - folkloric music from the northeast of Brazil - appeared Sept. 5.

There was no big name booked at Boteco on a recent Monday night, and at a quarter to 9 the scene there mimics that of any corner bar. The bartender isn’t busy, and the few scattered diners chat easily at their tables.

But 10 minutes later, the tables have been scooted to one side, and more than 30 pairs of feet shuffle across the concrete floor for the weekly samba lesson. It’s a big turnout. Ludmilla Fleury, 29, who teaches the weekly class with Allan Maquieira, 44, says they usually get 15 to 20 people.

Couples, children and scattered regulars in gym clothes crowd the floor. Some, like Fleury, wear samba-standard high heels; others dance in flip-flops.

“Step, step, slide,” Fleury, a personal trainer by day, instructs from the platform.

“With samba,” she says, “you got to ...” and waves her arms to each side. The students look a bit like a jumbled military unit walking in place.

Tow-headed Johnathan Konig, 2, taps his feet as he watches the class with his sister Rochelle, 5, and their grandmother. His mom is Colombian, and his dad is from Curacao.

“They love to see them dance,” Victor Konig says of his kids.

“The foreigner has much more curiosity,” says Fleury, who moved to South Florida 13 years ago from the Brazilian state of Goias. “We almost don’t have Brazilians in the class.”

Roy Rindom, 47, came to Boteco’s live samba on a Saturday in August, hearing Brazilian music and trying the three-count dance for the first time.

“I’m very Brazilian,” Rindom, who lives in Hollywood, jokes when asked where he is from.

“No, now he is Brazilian!” says Bettina Bruno, 38, of Davie. The Sao Paolo native was one of several female friends who had invited Rindom to Boteco.

Rindom was born and raised in Miami, and his grandfather owned a food market here on 79th Street - long before Boteco set up shop. But now: “The samba!” he says. “I didn’t fall!”

The corner bar just east of Biscayne Boulevard is the creation of Italian-born Angelo Angiollieri and a business partner. Angiollieri, 34, lived in Australia, Venezuela and Brazil and discovered a special affinity for what he calls the “quality of life” in Brazil.

“The Brazilian people love music with the drink,” says Angiollieri, who lives on South Beach.

Most Brazilian music in the area comes from bar bands like the ones that play at Boteco, says Souza from “Cafe Brazil.”

But full-time professional careers playing Brazilian music in South Florida are rare. Married jazz artists Rose Max and Ramatis Moraes came to Miami from Rio de Janeiro in 1993 and say it took a while for their careers to build.

“I stayed one month, two, four months,” Max, who started her singing career in Rio nightclubs, says. “Sixteen years!” Moraes exclaims.

Max says they played at a Brazilian steakhouse for 3 ½ years before things started to take off. Now they tour outside Florida, spending one August weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D., for a show and the next one in Seattle for a jazz workshop.

“All the time we have good jobs,” says Moraes, a songwriter who plays guitar. “In my vision, it’s going very well.”

“My goal here is to put Brazilian music in more and more and more places, and more hearts, coracoes,” Max says.

On live samba Saturday at Boteco, the four-man band - father, son, cousin and friend - has been playing since early in the evening.

“Ela so quer, ela so pensa em namorar.” “She only wants, she only thinks about dating.”

“It’s a classic samba!” an energetic woman yells from the dance floor.

The unsmiling bartender has to lean over the bar to be heard above the loud music and chatter. The show was supposed to end at 11 p.m., he says. But at 10 after, the tempo is picking up, and the tangle of feet is still moving.

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