REVIEW: Espirito Brum Festival @ various venues, 11th to 16th Sept

Words by Helen Calcutt, Holly Pyke & Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista

(Ed’s… by Ed King)

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Ed’s… Intro

Returning for its second year, Espirito Brum is the UK arm of the Espirito Mundo project – Eduardo Louzada’s brainchild of Brazilian culture exchange.

Describing itself as ‘a cross cultural celebration’ that would ‘welcome a roster of highly talented Brazilian artists into our multicultural and vibrant fold’, Espirito Brum 2012 promoted an impressive line up. A healthy mix of contemporary and traditional; all soon arriving in Birmingham, to perform across a handful of venues. Plus each event cost about a fiver – which is politely accessible.

I’m a great supporter of ‘cross cultural celebrations’, but the back slapping rhetoric that can surround them sometimes turns me away. Do I really need to know if the ‘internationally renowned’ will be ‘staying in our houses and using our toilets’?

But Espirito Brum 2012 appeared worth all the… enthusiasm.  E cavalo dado não se olha os boca, artistically speaking.

So with some tasty treats being cooked up, the Birmingham Review sent along a sprinkle of reporters – to give such a far reaching endeavour the attention it deserves.

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Wanderson Lopez Tuesday 11th @ The Spotted Dog

By Helen Calcutt

Unfortunately, I saw nothing of this event. The start time, as listed on the press release and PDF, was 6pm. The actual start time ended up ‘between 8-9pm’, with further performances promised to run ‘long into the night’.

Lovely, if you have nowhere to be or nothing else to do; but not if you’re working the next day and you have a last train to catch.

After some helpful chats with Mr Tighe Jnr and Mendi Singh, plus a fruitless Q&A with the work experience entrusted to manage the event (I couldn’t find any festival staff), I regretfully called it a night. For the opening event of a festival that ‘supports an abundance of creative collaborations’, there didn’t seem to be much happening beyond the bar.

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For the Catraeiros / Thursday 13th @ Ort Cafe

By Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista

This was the first time I’d visited Ort Cafe since its opening in November last year. A curious place; offering a hippie commune sense of homeliness, yet awash with a sea of Macbooks. I ordered a Green Tea and settled in on a comfortable sofa, watching some beautiful visuals provided by Brazilian artists collective, Expurgação.

After some initial confusion as to when (and in which order) the acts would take place, Expurgação presented a fascinating short film – telling a transfixed audience about Friction Arts’ community led project to help the centuries old tradition of ferry boatmen, known as the Catraeiros, in Vitoria.

Next was a delightful performance from Dea Trancoso, the Brazilian folk singer and composer who had arrived in Birmingham only hours before. Her beautiful a Capella was both fascinating and lyrically incomprehensible to me, spurning an incessant need to learn Portuguese as soon as I got home. Trancoso was then accompanied by the Rabeca – a traditional North Eastern Brazil instrument, not unlike the violin.

Finally, a performance by TiãoDuá. The contemporary three piece, led by Gustavito (a popular singer songwriter from Belo Horizonte), played energetically and acoustically for almost an hour; with a vigour and character that made you feel totally involved. Especially during their final song, a Beach Boys-esque number they’d written only a few days before.

A very successful evening, both entertaining and informative. My only gripe would be the lack of organisation – with Espirito Brum seemingly handing the reigns to the venue, leaving a few things lost in translation both on stage and off.

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Sonic Asylum / Friday 14th @ The Edge

By Helen Calcutt

Starting a little later than scheduled, the first act at the Sonic Asylum was Déa Trancoso. A true musician and truly inspiring; her performance included song, dance and accompaniment from sitar and violin (custom made by a 70 year old illiterate/innumerate musician, who also composed one of the songs).

Reminiscent of Cardea; elemental, warm, and primitive – Déa Trancoso uses her voice as its own form of resistance, genuinely becoming her art through the physical realisation of the performance. Wonderful.

UK tabla player Mendi Singh then performed a breathtaking solo, receiving rapturous applause, before joining Brazilian guitarist Luiz Gabriel Lopes; a curious mix, but nonetheless beautifully executed.

Birmingham based Jolt followed with their ‘radical and peculiar musical endeavour’, which was both fun and not particularly special; before Manchester’s Honeyfeet closed the evening with their ‘ethio-trad, folk hop and barrelhouse pop’. Always a joy to watch.

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Mistura / Saturday 15th @ The Edge

By Holly Pyke

The Edge is a small venue; a warmly converted warehouse, with a stand alone bar in the corner of a large open space.  All decked out in an urban banksy-esque style, complete with old fashioned red telephone box.

But the evening started outside, which once the Geofest Fire Show had finished left the yard unlit and uneven to the point of dangerous.  A point I proved, to myself and those around me, by falling over a dip in the concrete and badly cutting my knee.

Next up were Oya Batucada (whilst Geofest impressively continued to eat fire and dance with devil sticks on a low roof), performing with their usual energy and enthusiasm; one that translated especially well to the half of the audience who hadn’t seen them before. In my research, there is only so much interest anyone can have for continuous drumming and whistle blowing.

Moving inside we saw Ireyam Squire; who, although having a good sound, encouraged the audience to proudly admit cannabis use. Not a message I feel needs glorification, and somewhat inappropriate from the band member who also works for a substance misuse service.

But it was TiãoDuá that really got the crowd going. Their relaxed yet upbeat, swing inspired style evoked much applause, dancing and general merriment – a well deserved response to a charismatic and thoroughly enjoyable set.

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Culture Freedom / Saturday 15th @ PST

By Holly Pyke

At this point we had to leave The Edge for PST; unfortunately missing Ska’d For Life, who despite being scheduled for 11pm had not appeared by 11:30pm. Our haste was unnecessary, with the PST Saturday night finale not actually starting until 12:30am Sunday morning.

So we stood around for over an hour in an empty venue; the only excitement being the deadly journey to the toilets, down a steep concrete stairway with no railings. PST’s general air of dilapidation made The Edge feel like a haven of cotton wool and bubble wrap.

The event stumbled on, with DJs playing generic, mainstream hip-hop play lists; showing neither individuality nor cultural representation. And although Dragões De Komodo were introduced to the crowd early on, being the major Brazilian act on the bill, no one else was – a courtesy perhaps moot, as the majority in attendance appeared to be linked to the festival.

After chatting to several of the artists in the downstairs bar, a frustrating drinking annex to the main room, I still couldn’t ascertain a running order. The lack of planning or management (and communication between venues) was making the event too disjointed to enjoy.

So at 2:45am I gave in to my painful knee, boredom, and went home; consoling myself that I could still catch Dragões De Komodo at The Bulls Head the following Monday.

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Ed’s… Conclusion

It seems self defeating, to bring artists over 5,000 miles to play at events that start so late the audience has gone home. But with a well thought out line up, and remarkably kind door charges, these chances should be embraced. Endorsed. Even endured.

And we live in an enriched Internet age, where cultures can be explored by Google not Galleon. Dragões De Komodo, Wanderson Lopez, TiãoDuá, Rubiane Maia, Déa Trancoso – these are all names I now know thanks to Espirito Brum 2012. And, being a different 5,000 miles away during the festival (ironically in another ex Portuguese colony), I can still listen to and learn about.

So Viva Brasilia. Viva Espirito Brum. Viva Birmingham’s blessed melting pot, with inhabitants (onstage and off) much richer for it.

And as organisers look to an encouraging third year, I keep well meaning fingers crossed that Espirito Brum’s incredible positives live long, whilst its negatives are professionally addressed.

Click on any of the featured artists’ names for further info. For more about Espirito Brum, visit http://espiritobrum.org/

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