I went to the home of musician Giba Conceicao in Salvador, Brazil to get a percussion lesson so I could more fully join in the festivities of Carnival this year. What I got was yet another lesson in humility. Because it seems as if everyone is beating a drum or shaking a rattle or simply shaking their body to the beat of the Samba at carnival time, I thought with some help from Giba I would soon be able to blend right in to the rhythm of the locals.
Giba gave me a quick demonstration of what sounds could be made on several of his different percussion instruments so I could get an idea of which ones I might want to try. Let me admit up front that for me they were all harder to play than they looked. I began the session thinking, “Really how hard can it be to just shake a rattle or beat a drum with one stick or with your hands. These are like the first instruments ever played by humans. Surely I can match musical chops with my Neanderthal ancestors.” Wrong. Or at least wrong if Neanderthals ever mastered the Samba.
The Samba is the driving force of Carnival, but it soon became apparent that I should not be allowed behind the wheel of the Samba car. I need to use a designated driver. Or if I can’t resist the music and insist on shaking something, then it is essential I get fully into the spirit of Carnival and wear one of the elaborate masks. With a mask there is always plausible deniability.
I tell the story of Carnival in Brazil and my attempts to learn the rhythm of the Samba this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, but this video has some of the highlights of my musical adventure in Brazil.