M I’ll say this: with the jeitinho brasileiro [Brazilian way], we can achieve anything, isn’t that the truth? I see the difficulties too. I won’t deny it because in the music environment, I see a lot of things that are...you know...difficult to deal with. The popular culture part of the group...when you say popular culture, sometimes popular culture is not really valued. It is not really valued, which makes many things difficult. We already had places to go far away in other cities, but we didn’t get to because we didn’t have a car of our own, and also because we couldn’t get support, you see? To work in the area of popular culture, we have to like it, we have to love it, we have to feel pleasure in what we do, because if someone was there just to be there, they would give up halfway through because of the difficulty from the things we go through because it’s not...most of the time, it’s not valued. That is the truth. But I intend to work hard, each and every day my mother shows me things, how they are, how I have to act, how I should problem solve, that I need to have patience, which is something I could use more of. I can’t deny it. So, that is it. I will try. I have to get there, to reach it some day, to make her even more proud because this is her dream, she started as a little girl, as she always tells me that it is from generation to generation. She is passing on this responsibility to me, so I have to do all that I can so that it is successful.
J It will all work out. You will be successful, since you already have all this familial wisdom, there’s no way it could go wrong. I’m certain of that.
M Amen, amen. Thank God, certainly.
J So, now I wanted to concentrate more on the Espermacete Group. How did it develop into what it is now? What was the origin of the group? And what are its activities and objectives today?
DN The origin of the group is in the name, the Espermacete group. In the past with my grandfather, it was Espramacete. I changed the name a little because it is the right pronunciation. Anyway, everything began with a shipwreck, a ship that was coming with various spices, it was bringing them and it sank here on the Brazilian coast. Among all these spices was the substance “spermaceti” [sperm whale wax], which then was what generated all this, all this history. So, it sinks on the Brazilian coast. Then, the native women who liked—and still like—to make braids, hats, mats, bags. So a couple of women got together to round up all the material to make braids. And from there, through the shipwreck, they gathered letters, stories...and so then they made songs and added in the dances. For example, there is...it’s a story that is told and sung.
“Japanese spermaceti that has never been seen here before. The winds were very strong, it hit the coast of Brazil.”
So that was when the ship sank and lost all its spices. And then, not for their own uses, the women said they had found the spices at the seashore, and from then on they were singing, putting together songs. Each song from the Espermacete Group is sung, the history is told. Then there was:
“From August on, and from August on it has to hit very Northeast. It has to hit very Northeast. Let’s go to the beach, let’s go to the beach to look for the spermaceti, oh to look for the spermaceti.”
So, the song is telling what happened. What was lost at shore in their imaginary in order to make music and have it be this beautiful thing. So, the format that we make the group is exactly like a ship, there is a side with women, the other with sambadeiras, and in the head the men come, who are the musicians, the music players, and at the end we always have the flag to represent. And it goes like that. This is the Esperacete Group, this is our format. And in the end, we play samba for all the songs and the dance. The dance is different. But being on the same level. So we don't take anything away, nothing is left out. And to finish, we finish with samba.
“The shepherdesses who are dancing samba, the shepherdesses who are dancing samba, it is espermacete presenting, it is espermacete presenting.
So, we present the Espermacete. But we aren’t used to always doing the full terno performance [reenactment of Jesus’s birth with three kings]. We are more used to doing the samba circle group because our terno performance isn’t done on January 6th, on that day we go out with the terno in the street. We then go to the church door, where we sing, and we descend doing the street procession, singing the songs. Even when we arrive here at the fair. That’s where we present the other groups that I invite. Various groups come to be part of our event.
J How nice! Wow! I wish you could see my smile. I’m imagining it all, and I’m itching to go on January 6th one of these years to accompany you. How wonderful! And Mila, can you talk a little about your activities, the group’s objectives today and your role in it all, please?
M My activities are like I always tell you. They include organization, which we...which I do with my mother. When we have to answer emails, we answer emails. When we have rehearsals, I speak with every participant about...we have a group that we can communicate with. We share the information that needs to be shared and more. My objective in the group, my objective in reality is my greatest dream, which I know is my mother’s dream. To put on multiple shows in different places, to explore this big old world of God, you know, to be recognized like we deserve, to be recognized for the work that she develops, because my mother, her group, she builds a project that isn’t just for adults, it’s not just for the elderly. She does it with children as well, with teenagers, because we know the world we live in today is very cruel, whether we like it or not. Bad things are very active, so she tries, she offers the group that she always places me in as well: Mila, let’s go, let’s do this, and I pass on the little I know about percussion to the children. At one point she even says: No, let’s make an area here only for percussion so that they learn, and so I began doing it for free. And my mother also has the cultural aspect of the quadrilha junina [folk dance during the June celebration in Brazil], which has many adults, children as well. We go into the community, she arrives in the community, she comes even to those who aren’t from the community, and she calls on them to participate and the people like it, they are teens and everything else. There are teen parents, but they are parents and they participate also. She also developed work braiding straw and samba de palha, which is her seeing her ancestor, which the lady already built those braided straws. She does it already, it is an additional income as well. She has the Da Mangaba Group, which is another samba in which she speaks of the difficulty people faced in the past and still today, of the difficulty to survive as they went into the dense forest to pick mangaba fruit, to gather these mangabas. And so she always had people inside of the brush, and so then she put it there like a caboclo [native Brazilian spirit], which scared the the people, the pickers so they wouldn’t take the mangabas and the women tried to take them so they could preserve them so they could ripen. It is very spectacular. And she makes this story into a samba story. We demonstrate it. So that is it. Our greatest goal is for us to be able to demonstrate all these activities of ours that we do with our hearts, with our soul, with happiness so that many can expand.
J And we are here for that as well.
M That’s great! And we are thankful for being able to always count on you. You were someone who we knew and that we admire, and that we like, we think of you highly, and in whatever you may need, trust that you can count on us for it. Okay? And about my role. My role currently, as I mentioned earlier, is that I am in the area of percussion. I am on the front line, as well as my brother, Vitor. He is 26, he’s 25, 25 years old, and my mother gave this responsibility to us. And outside of percussion, I am the representative of the Espermacete Cultural Group when my mother can’t fix whatever issue, she puts me in that position, and I go with the little that I know and I try to fix it. And that’s my role.
J So many things, you must have a full calendar! How nice. You have to have passion, you have to have this strength, even an ancestral strength in order to continue all this. It’s super importante, and this project really is to make partnerships, to amplify cultures, leaders, masters, who aren’t very well known in the English-speaking world. So I do the work of translation, of education, of partnership itself. So, it’s a great pleasure. And to wrap up, I just wanted to recognize that we are in a moment of pandemic, and I wanted to know how you are doing with it, how is the process of cultural production, and what we can expect from the group in this growth process.
DN About the pandemic, dear friend, it put a lot of pressure on us, we are very….you see, because we aren’t being able to do anything at all, we can’t do anything. I also tried to help my group because the difficulty is huge, I’ve been able to get some things by asking, I got kits with basic food needs and staples, with which I helped a few families, thank God. And from here on out, I don’t know, I don’t even know what to tell you, I don’t know what it will be like. Because the situation is very difficult, it’s precarious. I hope, I hope to God, who is in command of everything, I hope in God that there comes a turn for the better, and that we can overcome all this in the future, in the future we will beat all these difficulties.
J I hope so as well. In this moment of crisis. It is difficult to imagine the future. And we must deal with the present, the day to day, in order to overcome the challenges that we see more and more. It’s heavy.
DN It’s a struggle, you see?
J It is a struggle and people have to understand the situation that Brazil is in. That is part of the project as well. We have to celebrate the wins but acknowledge the difficulties that exist at the same time. So, to finish up, I would like to invite you two to play a short song or chant with claps or whatever if you have something you can share with us. It would be an honor.
DN Yes, I will sing a samba that I made because I thank God for everything, for the opportunity, for what he made me to be today. I never imagined I would be a samba master. I never imagined being a master of a samba group, and a group that in reality is already out there inGod’s great big world. We just need to get out there, but the group already has before us.
J It has, music goes a long way.