Community arts the Brazilian way: Maracatu Mar Aberto and the living tradition of Maracatu de Baque Virado
In Toronto, it's possible to travel the world through food, art and culture without leaving town. I'm told there are at least 127 distinct ethnic communities living in this city. So for those seeking some form of artistic outlet, options abound. Want to play the kalimba, learn a Roma dance, or fight in the Indian martial art style known as Kalaripayat? It's all here! But for me, there is one cultural art form that I find most appealing – one that attracts participants from all walks of life with its colourful costumes, beautiful dancers and booming bass rhythms – Maracatu de Baque Virado.
Maracatu de Baque Virado is an art form that carries with it a wealth of history and context. The art form started in northeastern Brazil during the time of slavery and served to camouflage forbidden slave activities from the watchful eyes of masters. A Maracatu is a celebration and a procession of African royalty dressed in regal European clothes and accompanied by a group of drummers, collectively called a “baque.” During carnival, the group takes to the streets in a large parade, dancing to the rhythm of the drums. The soloist sings a song and the chorus answers with refrain. The drummers cut a path through the crowded streets with revelers in tow.
While maintaining its traditional elements, nowadays Maracatu is largely a carnival game where various groups compete with each other for best costume, music and dance. Nevertheless, playing Maracatu in the street remains a highly empowering experience for the community because through music and congregation, it represents principles of pride, artistic expression, solidarity and resistance. Maracatu’s use of song, rhythm and dance is accessible to non-artists making it an inclusive activity for all to enjoy. Ultimately, it becomes an effective tool for building community in Brazil and abroad, providing artists and community with a platform to celebrate local history and culture.
The Toronto based group, Maracatu Mar Aberto, has completed several community-based productions and parades in recent years. This past summer, the group ran the Beats on the Block Project, a four-month initiative, funded by the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council, which provided accessible music, dance and craft workshops to the public. The project ended with a large-scale public procession showcasing all the parade elements in grand style at the 2013 Cabbagetown Festival of the Arts.
You can get a taste of all this Maracatu madness during the Culture Days Rhythm Cutting Kick-Off Event this Friday, September 27th. Other upcoming presentations include a full royal court in the streets of Kensington Market for Pedestrian Sunday on September 29th as well as a Brazilian dance workshop on Sunday October 20th as part of the Uma Nota Festival. No matter what the season, Maracatu Mar Aberto provides a living context for this ever-evolving art form with deep roots in community and tradition. Come on out, we'll find a place for you!
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