Post Author: Courtney Danley, November 27th, 2019
Two weeks of samba in the Giant Redwood forest of Northern California.
California Brazil Camp is a fabulous place to absorb Brazilian music and dance. It is also one of the few events in North America where you can learn Brazilian music.
The setting of the camp is very important to the experience. It all happens at Cazadero Music Camp, which was built for the purpose of holding music camps like this. It’s located near the tiny town of Cazadero California.
Cazadero Music Camp grounds are located in a giant redwood grove. Some of the trees in this grove are over 1,000 years old. They’re huge, and add a significant amount of magic and gravitas to the place. A swinging bridge over the stream that runs through the grounds adds to the charm.
Brazil Camp offers two, one week sessions during the last two weeks of August. There are 6 classes throughout the day. Two between breakfast and lunch. Three between lunch and dinner. Then there is a shorter 1 hour class after dinner. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights there is a special class where a dance teacher will hold a one-off class in the amphitheater. It might be jongo, forró, gaffeira, coco, or malandro dance. The instructors usually accompany this class so the music is off the hook! This is where I have recorded a lot of the background music for my podcast.
Planned parties: one night a week is reserved reserved for forró, chorro, samba de roda, or pagode in the main dining hall. Thursday night is the teacher performance night.
This is an amazing chance to see the teachers, who are also professional musicians, do their thing. Second week of 2019 we were blessed to have Margareth Menezes create a samba reggae party where she brought her powerful voice. WOW!
Friday night is student ensemble performance night. This is a fun night to watch your fellow campers shine in their dance or music ensemble classes.
Unplanned parties: throughout the night random tent parties start popping up here and there and despite the noise curfew some singing, dancing generally gets rolling. There is at least one planned–unplanned party. Dianna Ramirez and I host a Brazilian Beat Podcast disco party at tent 8 one night of the week. This isn’t an official part of CBC but we sneak it in. There’s usually a soul train, and a dance off with prizes and whatnot. So many people were dancing on the deck last year that I thought it was going to break and we would all end up in the river but alas, we survived. You experience FOMO everytime you take a shower or sleep at Brazil Camp. Guaranteed you are missing something amazing.
The campground has wall tents on platforms scattered about. They sleep 4 people to a tent. One side of the river is the “quiet side” and the other is the not so quiet side. You can reserve your tent in advance or leave it up to Rich. Some of the locations are reserved each year by different groups. For instance there is the Utah Tent, the Boulder Colorado tent, the Austin Texas tent, the Portland Oregon/The Brazilian Beat/Pernambuco tent.
I pitch my own tent every year. I like to have a little retreat from the stimulation of everything. Some people feel that the bathrooms and showers situation could use some work. Admittedly its an old camp, with old plumbing. I have done a fair bit of backpacking and camping in my life, I also worked in field camps in Alaska, so my scale might be skewed. But at CBC I have never had to go without a hot shower. I even blow dry my hair! If you expect your life to go in a way that you will never encounter an insect, then CBC might not be for you. If camping is not your thing, you can also rent a room from the Bed and Breakfast across the street. But reserve early, these go fast!
CBC has a store where you can buy instruments, CDs and books from teachers, and T-shirts from groups around the US. Adjacent to the store there are hammocks and couches for worn out campers to take a snooze or for people to come together and have impromptu music jams. It’s a fun place to be. I work in the camp store which is a great way to meet many of the other campers and be in the mix.
No Wifi, no cell service. One of the GREAT things about CBC is that there is no WiFi or cell service in the camp. Everyone, including me, doesn’t have our faces buried in cell phones. This gives us all the opportunity to have conversations and connect with each other. A community is formed. It’s beautiful. If you really really really need to use the internet or make a phone call you can walk across the highway from the camp to the bed and breakfast where there is WiFi.
All meals are provided by the cooks that CBC hires. They beautifully accommodate vegetarians, vegans, those with allergies and other dietary restrictions. I understand that the cooks buy organic as much as possible and they put a lot of thought, intention and love into the food, and you can taste it.
For me the best part about California Brazil Camp is the connections you make with other people and the teachers. Since camp is a week long (or two weeks if you do both) allows you time to get to know your teachers and other students. You have classes, meals, pagodes, share a drink and share a laugh. You really get a chance to learn a lot and get to know each other, which is something that you can’t get from a weekend festival where everyone is staying in separate hotels. I spent so many years living in small towns in Alaska and Oregon without a community group that one of the best things for me about CBC is the dorky joy I get from meeting other people who are also into Brazilian percussion. Samba community groups are still somewhat rare in the US so it is still quite rare to meet others who are also wholly consumed by this somewhat obscure hobby.
Not just samba:
They bring in top music and dance instructors from all over Brazil. And not only samba. The camp covers styles such as frevo, forró, chorro, and pagode as well as samba batucada, samba de roda, samba afro, and maracatu.
Not just drums:
The camp brings in horn players, woodwind players, and string players for the ensemble classes.
I first went to California Brazil Camp to feed my samba addiction. But being there I was exposed to other styles of music and dance that would have taken me years to discover on my own.
Both weeks this past August 2019 had an impressive line-up of teachers.
**This is just a sample of the teachers at camp this year. For a complete list click here.
Percussion focused classes:
Mestre Ailton Nunes: samba batucada
Dudu Fuentes: percussion ensemble
Jorge Alabe: candomble
Michael Spiro and Mark Lampson: Bata ketu
Marcio Peeter from Ilê Aiyê: Samba de Roda and bahian ensemble
Dendê Macedo founding member of Timbalada: bahian ensemble
Nildinha Fonseca: Afro Brazilan dance and Orixia dance movement
Kellyn Rosa: samba, and gafieira
Rosangela Silvestre: Orixa dance movement and Silvestre technique
Music and ensemble classes:
Fabiana Cozza: vocal/ singing classes
Toninho Horta: guitar/composition
Henrique Araujo: Choro ensemble and samba/pagode
Douglas Alonso: Drum set and percussion
Margareth Menezes: bahian ensemble for song
Clarice Assad: composition/vocal
Pedero Martins: advanced guitar
Monica Salmaso: vocal
They even have Portuguese language classes and yoga!
Since I started working in the camp store 2 years ago I really only have the bandwidth for 2 classes. This year was no different, I took Mestre Ailton Nunes’ Advanced Bateria and Dudu Fuentes’ Percussion Ensemble.
Mestre Ailton Nunes
Week one Mestre Ailton taught Tijuca 2011 and second week it was Beija Flor 2019. If you have been in workshops with Mestre Ailton you know that he is determined that you get it right, that you understand the musical phrase and that you play with the determined joy that makes samba breath, that gives it life.
I seem to have a knack for choosing to play the most difficult instrument for that particular enredo. Last year it was 3rd surdo with Salgueiro 2018. This year it was repinique mor with Beija Flor 2019! Wow! I was stretched and grew a lot on these instruments because Mestre Ailton spends extra time in the evenings going over parts and helping everyone get it. He is a generous teacher and has a kind disposition which brings out the best in everyone.
I also took Dudu Fuentes percussion ensemble class. Dudu’s classes are always full of joy and the class is elevated above simply the notes played. The songs and his arrangements are funky and cool but also have an intentional spirit to them. His classes create a mood, a joy of playing and being together creating music with like minded people.
The three songs and the percussion styles he put with them were:
Aguerê de Oxossi – Aguerê Funk and Samba
Maracatu Atômico – MaracatuFunk (Mangue Beat)
Suite dos Pescadores– Ciranda
The final performances on Friday night and Saturday always ends up being a joy-fest for everyone. Those watching, dancing, playing.
The camp is organized each year by Richard Rice and Dennis Broughton. Thank you for organizing the camp all these years! I don’t think anyone goes home the same person that they were when they left.
If camping is not for you this might not be your place. But if intense Brazilian music and dance instruction, human connection, giant trees, and laughing until your face hurts is your thing, this is definitely the place for you. It is more than a place to learn Brazilian music and make friends, though there is a tidal wave of this! It is also a place to stretch, to grow, learn, and to be your best self.
Photo credits: Eric Crawford