Being a city steeped in tradition and flowing with rhythm, New Orleans has long been an epicenter of cultural convergence. Traditional music is highly upheld, while innovative genres spring out of relationships forged by people across the world sharing the sounds they love. The musical streets of New Orleans have become a natural hub for this exchange of ideas, welcoming a variety of different musical genres from around the globe as the people embrace rhythm, spirit, and melody.
Having now stood the test of time, Afro-Brazilian percussion and dance has today become a staple in the city to many who have come to embrace this identifiable yet very different tradition. Upheld here for decades now, the genre of music is now being taken to the streets through a loud, boisterous, raunchy group of characters called BateBunda. Their sound is deep, the rhythms are complex, and the attitude is pure NOLA. Led by percussionist Logan Schutts, the locals who make up BateBunda have come to love their project not only for allowing them to perform, but also for connecting them to the spirit of the city of New Orleans.
Before his final arrival to New Orleans, world percussionist Logan Schutts had the vision of starting BateBunda in the city. He had grown to truly love Afro-Brazilian percussion years before during his stay in Salvador, Brazil where he studied the art intensively. "I was studying with a guy called Gabi Guedes and for three months I was doing two hour private lessons for five days a week," tells Schutts. Having participated in world groups in Minneapolis, Chicago, and California, the talented musician knew his next journey would land him in the Big Easy where people could relate to the music he had come to cherish. "I knew that New Orleans is the kind of place where people are open-minded about music, and they love dance music and dancing in the street to music. So I figured it would go over pretty well here," he explains. "I wanted to be able to bring something different to the scene."
Something different is what BateBunda is all about. Although the band is certainly not the first Afro-Brazilian percussion and dance based group to inhabit the city, the style, spirit, and regional elements of their music certainly make them into a genre all their own. The music is highly composed of traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms from the Northeastern Coastal region of Brazil. "I've arranged traditional rhythms for different instrumentation to fit the street music, but everything that we play is either entirely or mostly traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms," he explains.
The main rhythms they play are Samba Reggae and Samba Afro, which are rhythms used for dancing during Carnival in Salvador; Maracatu, a Carnival rhythm from the state of Pernambuco; and Afoxe, which is based on Afro- Brazilian ritual Candomble music from the Northeastern coastal state of Bahia. The differences in rhythms from region to region within the large country of Brazil vary greatly and typically those who have dedicated themselves to this style of music are quick to reiterate that training typically involves a certain region. Mastering all of Brazilian music is almost impossible. Curtis Pierre, leader and original member of local Afro-Brazilian act Casa Samba, which has made a name for itself as a leader of Afro-Brazilian music within the city since 1987, often plays different rhythms from that of BateBunda. "We pretty much deal with the carnival from Rio de Janeiro and Bahia," says Pierre. "We're a little bit of a wider range than what most people would expect from a group," admits Pierre. Though he explains, "We try to recreate Brazil, but that's so big it's hard for us to say we do all Brazilian cultures."
Still, as both Schutts and Pierre point out the music is relatable to New Orleans culture for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons simply being "Carnival, Mardi Gras!," Curtis Pierre excitedly exclaims, "that's the biggest thing." Pierre, a New Orleans native, says he studied Afro-Brazilian music from strictly a percussive study perspective and didn't even realize he was studying what was ultimately carnival music until his return to his home city. "I didn't even put the two cultures together until I came back home," Pierre says, "and being from New Orleans I was like 'man this is great, ya' know this is just what I wanted to do…It's a big revelation to a lot of people.'" Indeed many agree the two carnivals are similar in style and spirit, and both Casa Samba along with BateBunda prove this by their own participation in New Orleans parades throughout the carnival season. Casa Samba has participated in large parades such as Endymion and Zulu for years and is set to play the balls of those respective parades this season. BateBunda also performs at many events throughout the year including the Anba Dlo Parade as well as the Fringe Fest Parade. This year was also a special Mardi Gras for the group as they marched in parades such as Krewe Delusion and Muses with a community setup of 75 dancers, costumed walkers, musicians, and BateBunda enthusiasts . As Schutts puts it, "Ultimately its street dance music just like the brass bands here play," which is why it translates so well.
Just like many of the brass bands, BateBunda brings their music directly to the people on the street itself and like so many cultures before them this has allowed for them to integrate specific elements into their music that Schutts has come to compose himself. Vocal chants such as "Where Ya't, where ya't, way downtown," and "BateBunda, som profunda!," have become staples in the vibrant groups performances when they busk on the street for those passing by. Rhythmic breaks, and originally composed sections also distinguish BateBunda from other acts in the city along with their most recent addition of a horn section. "Most of the horn lines are pulled from Nigerian Afrobeat music," Schutts says, which is another distinct principal that makes this progressive group one of a kind.
The bandleader says one of the reasons his band is able to continually develop is the fact that to a degree it is an open group, but this is balanced with the fact same that they've had basically the same core members for about two years now, which makes them tight. "For this band, anyone who plays drums or horns who talks to me about playing in the group is invited to practice," he says. "And it happens, like half the members in the group this is how it happened." Still, he does reiterate that to become a performing member you have to earn your chops at first and learn the musical changes. "For some people that happens fairly quickly and for some people that takes time," he tells of the experience.
One thing he is most proud of is the fact that so many members have stuck around for the pure enjoyment of the music and dance. Founding member Heather Nolan tells of her own experiences, "I feel like I'm contributing to peoples experience of the city, whether they are locals or just visiting, in a way that I think is the essence of the city. Its participatory, its surprising, its organic and evolving," she beautifully states. Though bringing their music to the people will always be at the core of BateBunda, the evolving group definitely plans to be performing on stage at festivals and events when the time is right. In fact, they've already started to cross such borders with performances at clubs such as HiHo Lounge as well as their yearly out of town performances at the Honk!TX festival in Austin, Texas. Nolan also says their blending of tradition with innovation is something everyone in the group cherishes as the exchange in culture becomes so relevant and pure. In a similar way that's also being done during this years New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as Brazil will be celebrated in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion with a host of musical acts and authentic displays of Brazilian culture all Fest long.
Acts from all around the large country will perform throughout the festival on the Casa do Brasil Stage, including acts performing Samba, Afoxe, Forro, Congada, and other Brazilian rhythms relative to the band's native region, as well as a performance by New Orleans's own Casa Samba. Alongside the music there will be capoeira demonstrations by Ginga Mundo Capoeira of Bahia, artisan demonstrations from natives of many regions of Brazil, a collection of photo essays on daily life in Rio's favelas, cooking demonstrations by Chef Uelcimar Cerquera of Bahia, and more fun activities all about the amazingly diverse culture of Brazil.
Ultimately it is a celebration of dance, good people, and enjoying life to the fullest. "The best joy for me in BateBunda is when we're playing on the street and people walking by just decide to dance for a while," Logan Schutts tells of his own cultural experiences with Afro-Brazilian music. An art form that is so different yet so relatable to the vibrant nature of the Big Easy; forever shaping the ongoing culture, rhythms, and spirit of the city. For more information on the Cultural Exchange Pavilion please visit NOJazzFest.com.