By Lindenberg Junior | Translation: Isabela Jordão
I remember that, in the late 1980s, we, Brazilians residing in California, had the option of being able to go to a Brazilian carnival in Los Angeles, the “Annual Hollywood Brazilian Carnaval”, produced by the Portuguese Maria Booker — “Samba & Saudade Productions ”. This great party took place for several years at the Hollywood Palladium, attracting thousands of people.
In middles of February 1990, and just a few weeks after completing one year of my arrival in LA, I had the opportunity of going to this emblematic carnival. I was homesick for the carnival atmosphere, samba, “batucada”, joy, and also very curious about the party. To my surprise, I found the place crowded, with more than 2 thousand people, including Americans, Latinos, Europeans and Brazilians.
On the stage, I could see several Brazilian musicians, a drum section with at least fifteen people, who brought the joy of a good beat and, of course, dancers in bikinis, feathers and sequins dancing to the samba rhythm.
One of these samba dancers caught my attention. She was a brunette with wavy black hair who did samba very well. It was the São Paulo dancer Marisa Alyrio, who marked her time mainly in the 80s and 90s. She arrived in Los Angeles in 1983, still very young, after some years in Rio, where she was part of Adriano Lobato’s samba group.
The accomplished “samba na pé” dancer and choreographer, in her early years in California, had the opportunity of meeting Lázaro and Floriano, founders of Embrassamba, the first Brazilian band in Los Angeles, and of being part of the group as a dancer. It can be said that she was the first authentic samba dancer of L.A. and, in later years, a reference of Hollywood Palladium Brazilian Carnaval.
She spent eighteen years dancing at the famous carnival, where she shared the stage with Brazilian celebrities like Armandinho, Emílio Santiago, Martinho da Vila, among others. In 1992, Marisa received the title of “Samba Queen” from Mila (Independent Youth of Los Angeles), the first Recreational Samba School in Southern California, founded by former soccer player Luisinho.
Also in the 1980s, exactly in 1986, the dancer and also from São Paulo, Christiane Calill, arrived in Los Angeles, after meeting her future husband in Mexico, while doing a season of dancing at Club Med. Just in her early years, she earned a scholarship in the dance studio of the famous choreographer Joe Tremaine, made some good friends and ran after auditions to get jobs in the dance area. Her first job was precisely at an Oscar and, then, she had the opportunity to be part of the dance films “Salsa” and “The Mambo Kings”.
Christiane got an agent and the work as a dancer started to flow naturally. Until 1994, the year of the World Cup in the USA, when she went to a club in Beverly Hills that had live shows and an idea came up. Why not offer a samba show? The owner, Mark Fleishman, who also owned Studio 54 in New York, liked the idea.
The São Paulo creative woman wasted no time: she put on a show with dancers and musicians and thus the group “The Girls from Ipanema” was born. The first of its kind in L.A., more Vegas style, in which she was the main star dancing and singing in Portuguese and English. “I had beautiful Brazilians and a great concept. It was an absolute success in Beverly Hills!”, Christiane revealed to Soul Brasil.
From there, more doors opened. She went on to travel outside the US and attend shows with Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, as well as performing with her group in famous venues like the Hollywood Bowl and the House of the Blues. In 1995, the Los Angeles Times did a five-page article about her and her group.
The works and shows didn’t stop and “The Girls from Ipanema” was in full swing! Brazil had won the 94 World Cup and, definitely, samba, “batucada” and Brazilian joy became better known in California, and particularly in Los Angeles — where the World Cup final was.
Valéria Trindade, from Rio de Janeiro, landed in New York in 1987, spent time in Kentucky, and arrived in California in 1993. A long journey from nanny in New York until graduating from High School and Nursing Assistant in Kentucky until she got a diploma in Business Management in California.
But it was in 1998, at the parade of the Sambalá Samba School, at the Long Beach Brazilian Carnival, that she entered the world of samba. “My friend Iran Lima took me to watch the parade and they needed someone to parade at the last minute. I ended up dancing with him and Iraguaçu. I loved it, got involved and my life changed at that moment”, said Valeria.
She was a “passista”, 2nd Princess of School Drum and 1st Princess, until she reached the title of Queen of School Drum. She was School Drum Godmother and, later, instructor and choreographer of samba. Many Americans and Latinos have taken classes on how to samba with Valeria “Rio Bela” during the past few years.
A few years ago, Sambalá founders, the couple David and Doris, moved to Florida and, today, the organization has a presence at the East Coast and also on the West Coast of the USA. The California “branch” has Valéria as president. “It has been more than twenty years and I have had several experiences. But the best was being able to make many friends and share our beautiful culture with many Americans, including my two children!”, added Valéria.
Gláucia Araújo, also from Rio, arrived in L.A. in 1998 and was part of the group “The Girls from Ipanema”. In addition to dancing, she worked as a model and made several appearances in commercials, TV shows and films such as “Family Law”, “Gilmore Girls” and “Austin Powers: Goldmember”. But it was making a pair with another carioca, Daniela Brazil, with the OYA Brasil Samba Show that registered her mark in the history of the samba dancers from Southern California. “Something I remember very fondly were the performances together with the band Badauê, which was the most successful here! The band’s repertoire and versatility helped me evolve as a dancer”, revealed Gláucia.
Daniela Brazil landed in L.A. in 2000. The carioca arrived at a very young age and said “I believed in the American Dream and arrived in Los Angeles to achieve goals and conquer my own space. The city and the moment were both perfect for my professional development as a dancer”. Daniela, who has danced since 1997 as a professional parading through the samba school Portela, invested in the work of dance, which left her motivated to continue with her dreams. Samba has always been part of the life of this carioca, and I’m sure that many Brazilians who lived in California between 2000 and 2010 have fond memories of the OYA Brazil duo.
Kátia Neves, also from Rio de Janeiro, arrived in Los Angeles in 1995 with her husband and daughter after living for eight years in Japan, where she has been performing as a professional dancer since 1987. One of her first friends was Ana Laidley — or Aninha Malandro — a samba dancer by nature, who grew up with Mangueira Samba School and is the co-founder of the International Samba Congress.
“We met at a West L.A. restaurant called Lulu’s Alibi and it was love at first sight (laughs). She introduced me to a samba crowd and through it I got my first job to dance as a samba dancer, at the unforgettable Zabumba”, revealed Kátia. Since then, she has danced in many places and with different groups. “I still dance sporadically, but I’m a licensed cosmetologist. The beauty area fascinates me,” she said.
All of these samba dancers helped to spread the culture of Brazil and, in particular, that of samba, in California. They, like Jônia Queen, who arrived in the year 2000 and made the cover of the 100th edition, and others that arrived several years ago in the golden state, are part of a generation that sowed the land for the flourishing of dozens of samba dancers that today perform for “gringos” to see and applaud!
* This article was the cover story that celebrated the 100th special edition of Soul Brasil in the first months of 2019 just before the covid pandemic arrived.