Samba Journal 2: Practice makes perfect


The drummers haven’t been showing up. We dancers are ready. In small groups, we flock onto the improvised stage like proud birds, chassé! In position, we face our audience, our reflected images in the mirror- 5, 6, 7, 8: we advance on ourselves, knees higher, arms wider! Spine straight, chest full and proud, I am a vision!

Kick, ball, change, turn- oops! Not yet. I need to go over that part. Stay, knees bent, hand on hip, left hand winding up to the ceiling and down up down up down up reach reach reach reach tuuuuuuurn. Finally!

When the part is over, we twist off the stage, disappearing into the eves and into our ordinary selves.


Samba Journal: Intro


When I was living in Barranquilla, I was hungry for exercise. I was unfamiliar enough with the culture that I wasn’t sure what classes I would like, so I just lazily didn’t take any. Of course, nightly dancing helped me stay limber, but I probably consumed as many calories in beer and aguardiente as I worked off.

When a friend came to visit, she brought me four workout DVDs: Quenia Ribero’s samba workouts. My roommate and I tried one (Afro Reggae!) some steamy afternoon and we were immediately hooked. Quenia’s charisma, along with the new dance moves that we could employ that very night at the corner dance party at La Troja, was a winning combination. I worked out with Quenia’s DVDs for the rest of my time in Barranquilla.

Years later, I moved to New York. Part of my settling into a new home is looking for my workout community, and I wanted to continue learning samba, a dance, music and culture that enchants me. Imagine the thrill I felt when I saw Quenia’s name next to a Samba class just a few miles downtown, at the Alvin Ailey Extension.

I’ve been Sambaing with Quenia pretty steadily fir the last 6 years. She is a wonderful dance Mentor and I never regret going to a class. Samba, with its quick steps, open arms and kicks and turns, is an expression of happiness. I love the low thump of the surdu beneath the constant chattering of repinique. I love dancing Samba!

And that is why I have signed up for the samba performance class. We will be practicing every week to put on a show this summer, and I’ll be writing about the experience here.

I’ve already made the point that I enjoy Samba. In my Samba Journal I want to really delve into that love and explore it. I would also like to interview Quenia and hear more about her story as a Brazilian dancer who’s succeeded on her own here in New York City. Hopefully I’ll be able to dip into some of my own experiences living in Rio de Janeiro. I want to bring it all to you!

If you’re too excited and can’t wait for more samba, check out my playlist La Giraffa’s First Day of Spring. Also, I highly recommend Alma Guillermopreito’s book, Samba!. It’s a little old but that was definitely the beginning of my samba journey and maybe it will be yours, too. IMG_5050.jpg


Clap With Me


In the beginning there are two claps.
The claps ground the light tapping of drum sticks. A guitar chord tentatively dances around the taps and claps, establishing a lighthearted funkiness to the song. When the heavy instrumentation of Mostacho Xprmnt’s new single “Clap With Me” falls in a few bars later, we’re already ready to groove along to the band’s first dance song.
“We needed an opener for our show. The words are an invitation to come jam with us,” says Andrés Marín, Mostacho Xprmnt’s drummer and founder of the band. He began the project in Boston while studying music composition at Berklee College of Music. Since then, the band has seen many singers, many pianists and guitarists, though Marín notes that “Dave [Lowenthal, Mostacho’s bassist], he’s been there all along.” More than any genre or musical influence, Marín’s vision of collaboration has been the drive of the project. With its a jazz vocalist, funk bassist and rock guitarist, Marín sees the band as an incubator for new, and sometimes difficult, sounds. “Clap with Me” was born out of ideas that former keyboardist Haruka Yabuno and former guitarist Eitan Akman brought to a jam. It became obvious to put them together. As the band’s line-up changed, subsequent musicians layered their own sound on top of the sounds that came before them. Marín is proud of the product. “It’s a true collaboration. It has the flavors of all the members of the band.”

Mostacho Xprmnt’s vision of collaboration means that it can be difficult to pin a genre on the band. Their compositions experiment with instrumental pieces that play with jolting time signatures and mellow slow-jams. “Clap with Me” is one of the band’s first forays into easily danceable music, and, judging from the audience reaction at their recent single release party, they seem to be on the right track.
Mostacho Xprmnt celebrated the release of “Clap With Me” with a party at Piano’s on a recent Sunday evening. On stage, singer Leala Cyr and guitarist Luís D’Elias’s flirtatious chemistry led the audience through the varied set. The band closed with their opener, “Clap with Me,” and with the first notes of its ear-worm of a hook the song had infused the Churning audience with a beginning-of-the-night energy. The band progressed into the dreamy bridge of broken piano chords and roaming vocals, and charged into the ambiguously undone ending. Audience members bopped along throughout it all, and when Cyr sang, “Clap with me,” they did.

La Giraffa’s First Day of Spring Playlist


Mother Nature loves the irony of burying us in 24-hours worth of wet, sticky snow just as the calendar announces Spring. My apartment, though, is a tropical paradise.  Why? Because of music.

I love music: I grew up with Motown and Bluegrass, spent my adolescent years head-banging to grudge and learning to dance with R&B, went on to hip-hop in my young adult years, had a short soca and reggae phase, and now I’ve been pretty steadily stuck on music of Latin America. All of this over the backdrop of my professional musician father’s jazz and classical. This is the simplified version. Now I date a musician who’s band creates avant-garde jazz/R&B fusion. Because of the scope of music I’m exposed to, I think I have pretty great taste.

My boyfriend agrees, and recently suggested I share my favorite songs with the world. So, here you are: the very first La Giraffa playlist. I cheated a bit for this one, because most of the songs were on a mix CD I made for my father years ago. It was such a hit that he’s since made copies for all his friends and the rest of the family.

Here’s the YouTube version:

And here’s the Spotify (which do you prefer?)

A short description: Most of these songs are from Brazil, Colombia, or from elsewhere in Latin America. I lived in Latin America for a few years, and for me Samba is has an almost unbearably romantic sound. And the rhythms of the Caribbean are unbeatable.

This playlist is pretty mellow: all instruments and voice, no electronics, no reggaeton or funk carioca, sorry! That will have be another playlist.

And if you made it all the way to the end of this post, here’s an old video of me pretending to samba in a waterfall. Those were the days!