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Free workshop as Baque Trovão UK set up Brazilian drum troupe in Cambridge





The maracatu Baque Trovão UK group, a Cambridge-based group of drummers and dancers playing Brazilian drum music, performed at Chesterton Festival on Saturday, and has lined up a free workshop session for the curious next week.

A rehearsal took place last week at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club on Barnwell Drive, where the 20 performers went through their paces. The volume coming from the band in the community hall was such that ear plugs were issued on the way in, but even with ear plugs the sound seemed enough to fill the O2 without amplification!

The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group, conducted by Newton Peres, in rehearsal at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club on Barnwell Drive. Picture: Mike Scialom
The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group, conducted by Newton Peres, in rehearsal at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club on Barnwell Drive. Picture: Mike Scialom

The conductor of the percussion group is Newton Peres, who works on the Biomedical Campus. After the session Newton, who helped initiate the group last August, outlined how maracatu originated during the colonial period in Brazil, in the state of Pernambuco, northeast Brazil.

“This style of drumming started about 350-400 years ago in Brazil, with elements brought over from Africa,” he says. “It’s a language of the people to communicate with owners that started when enslaved people were put together in terrible conditions.

The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club Pictures: Mike Scialom
The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club Pictures: Mike Scialom

“They elected representatives – a king or a queen – to communicate with the owners. Whenever there was an issue the king or queen had a dialogue with the owner. They had a parade to a Catholic church where the king and queen were crowned.Maracatu was created to honour the king and queen, even in Angola. It started in the 17th century and was kept to the end of the slavery trade.”

After that “it was forbidden for hundreds of years” but is now back, alive and very much kicking.

The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group, conducted by Newton Peres, in rehearsal at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club on Barnwell Drive. Picture: Mike Scialom
The Maracatu Baque Trovão UK group, conducted by Newton Peres, in rehearsal at Cambridge Joint Ex-Services & Royal Mail Social Club on Barnwell Drive. Picture: Mike Scialom

“The community is very strong,” says drummer and one of five organisers, Alessandra Mello, a UX designer at a Cambridge company.

“We were [in Cambridge] listening to maracatu music from north-east Brazil. Then we had a visit from a Brazilian maracatu player and we started to run workshops.”

There’s around 20 people in the group – 16 drummers (who also sing) and four dancers. The group has five instruments – the alfaia (the big bass drum), a snare drum, the agbe (a shaker made of gourd and beads), the ganza (another type of shaker which is cylindrical) and the gongue, a big cowbell.

Baque Trovao UK, a maracatu Afro-Brazilian percussion group, at Chesterton Festival, 29 June, 2024. Picture: Mike Scialom
Baque Trovao UK, a maracatu Afro-Brazilian percussion group, at Chesterton Festival, 29 June, 2024. Picture: Mike Scialom

The drums can be tuned, says Newton.

“Each drum has five sides,” he says. “One side is tuned the same for them all, and the other four sides are different pitches for the 20-inch, 18-inch and some 16 or 17-inch drums.

“We write down a song on a blackboard, it’s all in Portuguese, everyone sings in a call and response style.”

Newton conducts the group from the front.

Baque Trovao UK, a maracatu Afro-Brazilian percussion group, at Chesterton Festival, 29 June, 2024. Picture: Mike Scialom
Baque Trovao UK, a maracatu Afro-Brazilian percussion group, at Chesterton Festival, 29 June, 2024. Picture: Mike Scialom

“A song can be one or two hours,” he explains. “It’s mostly non-stop but if the session is getting tired I ask them to stop.”

Alessandra adds: “We move the entire body when we are playing and singing.”

As all those at Chesteron Festival on Saturday will testify!

Alessandra also paid tribute to Nadia Saito, the arts development officer at Cambridge City Council, “who supports us by promoting and sharing precious advice about gigs and all sorts of things in the creative and arts scene in the community”.

Baque Trovão UK is hosting a free open session on 10 July, 6.30-8.30pm. Email baquetrovaouk@gmail.com for details.



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