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Multicultural show features diverse dance, music

Boston Rhythm
Featuring Earth Drum Council,
The Art of Black Dance and Music,
Capoeira Camara, The Afro-Latin
Pop Ensemble, and Ibrahima Camara.
Kresge Auditorium.
Nov. 6.

By Dave Fox
Staff Reporter

Boston Rhythm, a festival of multicultural world music and dance, came to MIT on Saturday evening and presented a full night of diverse music and dance from Africa, Latin America, and beyond. The event was staged as a collaborative effort of the institutions World Music, the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, and the MIT Office of the Arts as a celebration of multiculturalism.

I was unable to catch the first act, Earth Drum Council, because of another commitment. The second act, the Art of Black Dance and Music, presented a series of dances in honor of the Orishas (deities) and ancestors of Yoruba Land in West Africa: Their descendants in the Caribbean and the Americas are said to continue to receive benefits from them.

The dancers -- in traditional African dress and accompanied by several similarly clad drummers and vocalists --seek to imitate a particular Orisha's movements to reveal the deity's attributes to the audience. The dancing was absorbing to the eye, while the drumming established a good groove to snare the ear. As the finale, the ABDM put its children's company on display, displaying its vehicle for passing on and preserving the group's ancient culture.

Capoeira Camara, was perhaps the most intriguing act of the evening. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form that was developed by African slaves brought to Brazil in the 16th century. By combining music with elegant and complex acrobatics, the slaves were able to hide the the deadly potential of Capoeira from their masters.

The set began with the entrance of Deraldo Ferreira, the founder of the company and a master Capoeirista, who played the berimbau, a traditional single-string instrument, and sang. He was soon joined by a companion, who danced with Ferreira in interactive fashion.

The entire 17-person multiracial and coed company then filed on stage. To the rhythmic strains of two berimbaus, these performers presented a series of solo gymnastic dances that looked as impossible to my eyes as Olympic figure skating. This dancing contained flips, step-overs, and other moves that are hard to describe.

As if this wasn't enough, the company then presented Jogo: interplay between the dancers which made the martial arts potential of Capoeira clear. The performers aimed kicks and other potentially lethal moves at each other (which were deftly dodged). Now imagine two people performing rapid kicks, feints, and other baffling moves at each other simultaneously (with no contact), and you will get some idea of the speed, grace, and coordination that is essential to a Capoeirista. (Honestly, I kept waiting for someone to get knocked unconscious, but it never happened, because of the skill of the performers.)

The finale was a mass Jogo, in which the whole company performed Capoeira in unbelievably tight quarters. This whole performance was so astonishing that I found myself saying "wow" aloud as each gravity- and death-defying move unfolded.

After a short intermission, the Afro-Latin Pop Ensemble took the stage. This group was the closest to a Western musical ensemble, as they used electric guitar and bass, piano, saxophones, and a standard drum kit in addition to a hand drummer and a pair of female backup singers/auxiliary percussionists. Lead by Alex Alvear, the Ensemble performed original music in the Caribbean rhythmic style of Songo, a contemporary Afro-Cuban interpretation of Rumba. The sound of this group was quite bright and infectious, featuring searing sax licks and rock-influenced guitar work. As this was (in Alvear's words) the group's "first gig," it took the group a bit of time to get the sound balanced, but it soon settled into a good groove, which was obviously crowd-pleasing. Alvear courteously explained each tune, interjecting humor wherever possible.

The final act of the evening was Ibrahima Camara, a troupe of African and Caribbean drummers and dancers. With Ibrahima Camara, a Senegalese master drummer, in command, this group performed African rhythms and dances. In traditional dress and using traditional instruments, the overall effect was quite powerful.

Camara at several times in the performance discussed the need for more understanding in the world. This included a hope for the return of eye-to-eye recognition and greetings between any two people who pass each other on the street. He also pointed out the value of multicultural exchange, such as at Saturday's festival. The sold-out crowd seemed to take heart at this, and the set ended with everyone on their feet, clapping in rhythm with the drumming. Let's hope this becomes a yearly event!