By Julia Melim
Brazil is becoming more popular each year due to our economic growth, which is now among the 6th strongest economies in the world, surpassing even England. President Obama makes sure to include Brazil in his addresses to the nation regarding foreign policies. However, it’s not only for Brazil’s economy that it became famous internationally, but also for our achievements in the arts, film and music. Tourists from all over the world visit our country each year during Carnaval to learn more about our exotic Samba rhythms, which are the origins of the Samba group SAMBAJAH.
“In Rio de Janeiro, I cheer for Beija-Flor, in São Paulo, my Samba school is Vai-Vai, but my favorite place to spend Carnival is at Marco Zero in Recife cheering for Gigante do Samba (his local Samba school),” says Arlindo Jr, lead singer of the group SambaJah, who embraces his passion for Samba. “What fascinates me the most about the Brazilian Carnival is how culturally diverse our country is from region to region.”
Arlindo Jr. had his first contact with Gospel music at 5 years old through his mother and his aunts, as a teenager he would listen to all kinds of music, and he would wake up bright and early at 5am to listen to a Samba show on the radio in Recife, PE (Brazil). He started singing at the Church and soon he took his musical skills to “Pagode do Didi” at the Samba reunions (Roda de Samba).
Those who can’t afford going abroad went after the group SambaJah, which became a little piece of Brazil in California. Today’s recognized Samba group started with a few Brazilian immigrants who missed their home country so much that they needed to create an alternate reality and bring the Samba rhythms to the West coast of the United States.
“I consider the U.S. our second home, but I’m happier in Brazil, that’s for sure.” Arlindo says. “I remember we had American fans who would ask for a song even though they didn’t understand a word of Portuguese, that’s how we know Brazilian music is international; just how Bossa Nova is recognized all over the world.”
The start of SambaJah
After Arlindo moved to California, he received an invitation from a Brazilian restaurant, promising a space where the group could perform Samba. He then called up a few Brazilian musicians who lived around the area and the group SambaJah was born from that first musical encounter.
“Missing our home country was one of the main reasons that made us search for friends who could share our love for Brazilian music – that also brought a lot of Brazilians to our concerts in California,” says Arlindo Jr.
SambaJah that started with musicians in Southern California today performs all over Brazil and counts with the participation of Brazilian musicians from São Paulo and Recife: Arlindo Jr, Rodrigo, Anderson, Carlos “Chorão”, Izael and Sidnei. “As a musician, you feel that you want to prove yourself in your home country, where you can show you are worth of everything you achieved abroad,” says Arlindo. SambaJah was at the height of their career after having performed in renowned venues in Nevada, Texas and California. “We had so many memorable moments, but a three comes to mind is the New Year’s Eve party at the Queen Mary Boat in Long Beach, the Brazilian Day in Los Angeles and the performance at the famous House of the Blues in the heart of Hollywood, says Arlindo.
Arlindo says that it was important for the band to work in the different markets, in the U.S. and Brazil, “Working in the United States was an amazing experience, and aside from feeling culturally enriched I also have a strong influence from American artists now.” Arlindo grew up in Recife, PE listening to Coco, Ciranda Maracatu, Forró and Frevo, but it wasn’t until after he moved to California that he fell in love with the American rhythms: Rap, Blues, Jazz and R&B.
Arlindo cites Samba expert Zeca Pagodinho as one of the most important Brazilian artists of his generation, receiving nation-wide acclaim in the world of Samba. Among other big musical influences in the group, are artists from both countries, from Brazil: Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro, Cartola, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Nelson Cavaquinho, Done Ivone Lara…and the list goes on including Racionais Mc, Rappin Hood, Mv Bill and Marcelo D2. From the American artists, Arlindo mentions: Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Nas, Tupac, B.I.G and 50 cent.
Many times after you received professional acclaim in a foreign land, for some reason, you want to be recognized by your peers – inside of every Brazilian there’s a wish to succeed in their home country, not only abroad. Even after they achieved a certain level of success in the US, SAMBAJAH didn’t feel complete as a Samba group until they left in search for the same kind of recognition in Brazil.
Challenges in a foreign land
Arlindo admits that as a Brazilian foreigner, there were a lot of hoops he had to jump through, “Especially as a Brazilian band in the land of Uncle Sam, it was tough to overcome all the challenges after each concert.” Arlindo tells us that 99% of the audience was from the US and they had to work hard to engage them to dance and participate during the show – considering they were singing in a foreign language as an added challenge. “In Brazil, the audience gets so excited because we grow up dancing Samba, that the hardest part is to make them stop dancing at the end of the show.”
Now SAMBAJAH has a long way to go in Brazil, their beloved home country and they are hopeful it will be an easier task than seducing the American audience. Arlindo says, “We know our fans wait for us, but we need time to quench our thirst for the Brazilian warmth, and find our space in Brazil to leave even better as a group than when we arrived.” The group plans to make a big U.S. tour after they are more settled in Brazil, but it can wait for now. “We learned a lot on stage from professionalism to building our own musical identity,” Arlindo says that the group grew in the past years and this is something he can take away from his musical path. “We believe that a true artist should be recognized not only for his/her skill to bring a song to life, but also to create something original that has never been done before.”
SAMBAJAH recorded their first independent CD (without a recording deal) in 2008 “City of Jah,” adding new songs like “Pega Pega” after they returned to Brazil, produced by Maestro Denys Cristian. The base was recorded in Brazil and the vocals in California, mixing hip hop and Samba.
Throughout their long journey they received the help from many Brazilian artists, and everyone who believed in their music, “From the time we started until this day we still have the support from CONTEMPORANEA Instruments, which provided our instruments for each concert,” Arlindo says. The group counted with the financial support from an American fan Jason Alduenda, who loved the band so much that wanted to sponsor their CD, and also from a Brazilian storeowner Jose Carlos from Costa Mesa, CA.
Arlindo dreams of achieving the same success they had outside of their home country, “Our main goal now as musicians is being successful in Brazil and being recognized for our talent. I believe that with persistence, hard work, seriousness, and a lot of faith in God, you can make things happen”.
Recently, the music of SAMBAJAH has started to play in many radio stations in the powerful state of Sao Paulo. SAMBAJAH already turned Uncle Sam into “Uncle Samba” more than they even imagined when they first moved to California. Now start a journey in such a welcoming environment, in their home country of Brazil, and they promise to become a big name in the Samba household.
* Julia Melim is a Brazilian actress, TV host/reporter and writer. She lives between Rio, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. She is a long-time Soul Brasil contributor writer – www.juliamelim.com