Saturday night, I attended one of the most festive brand partnerships with World Pride 2019: “World Night Out,” at the sprawling New York Botanical Garden. In celebration of a very special Brazil-inspired exhibition –The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx, the iconic garden welcomed the community with a visual and audible feast.
In just a short 25 minute, Metro-North train ride from Grand Central Station, my partner Joseph and I, escaped the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, exchanging it for acres of lush, manicured greenery, Brazilian art, culture, design, Samba dancing, Basa-inspired DJ beats, and of course, Brazil’s national cocktail – The Caipirinha.
Much of New York City’s sizeable Brazilian population attended World Night Out, reveling in the triumph of their country’s recent headlines, in which its homophobic President faced a ruling by its higher court, that Homophobia in Brazil is now considered a criminal act, punishable by imprisonment.
The vibrant extravaganza was hosted by Doug Gam, AKA Pietra Parker – a drag performer and host, born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This New York City-based artist’s drag persona was inspired by the most glamorous and empowered Latin women from Brazil, and it shows, through her commanding yet warm stage presence and ability to capture the crowd’s hearts.
No Brazilian celebration would be complete without the presence of Samba dancing and Afro-Latin percussion. Simply put, drums are a deep identifying personification of Brazil’s African-infused racial history. Famed choreographer, Quenia Ribeiro, and Grupo Ribeiro, brought the Brazilian heat, with their spectacular moves and interactive performances that encouraged us all to move our hips. Ribeiro, a Rio native, who has performed at festivals throughout Brazil and the U.S., teaches samba and Afro-Brazilian dance at New York City’s Ailey Extension.
Another unexpected treat was a performance by the incredible Brazilian, Los Caramelows who announced it was their first time performing in New York City. The best description I can give of this ultra-hip, but culturally connected band is, if you were to combine all the dreamy, ethereal Bossa-Jazz rhythms of Gilberto-Getz, added with some modernized instrumentation, with a trailblazing, trans, black woman fronting the group, you would have what has become one of Brazil’s hottest soul bands – The Caramelows.
Headed by lead vocalist Liniker Barros, “Los Caramelows.” has a legion of fans all around the world, and Barros has emerged as a bit of an enigma, spokesperson and overall charismatic presence in LGBTQ equality, with her husky voice, impeccable outfits, theatrical performance style, and visible pride.
I would be remiss not to mention, of course, the celebrated artist, Roberto Burle Marx. The late artist’s legacy is featured in a month-long, Brazilian influenced presentation at the main gallery of the Garden. As one of his country’s most revered native sons, Marx was a force of nature in Brazil. Through his bold landscapes, vibrant art, and passionate commitment to plant conservation, his compelling modernist vision produced thousands of gardens and views, including the famous curving mosaic walkways at Copacabana Beach in Rio. Select highlights of his work will be on display all month at the NYBG with various Brazilian themed events. Don’t miss it!
Now, last but not least, about that percussion, I mentioned earlier. I have heard and seen a lot in my life, especially as a 20+ year veteran working in the music industry as both artist and producer. Few things have blown my mind like the power, beauty, strength, talent, and comradery of the all women’s Brazilian Drumline known as FOGO Azul. I am getting chills – AGAIN, even as I write this.
These women are so incredible that assigning gender to my assessment seems like an injustice. With a complete troupe at nearly 100 members, (only about 60 or so were in Saturday’s performance), they are, a Drumline of the most incredible percussionists I have ever encountered. One of the musicians, who actually identifies as non-binary, told me they had just opened for the legendary Shiela E in a New Jersey concert, and if you know Sheila E – Nuf’ said!
FOGO Azul is a band of the most passionate percussionists, and trust me, having seen them live, they can hold their own against ANY man’s drumstick –any day!
I am proud to admit, they probably all know me now as the “guy they made cry.” Yep, they brought me to tears. They’re THAT GOOD and what an honor it was, when so many of them saw my reaction to their greatness, they threw their arms around me lovingly in a sisterly embrace, thanked me for really feeling their energy, and wished me a Happy Pride.
This truly was was of the more memorable Pride events I have ever encountered, one that honored the spirit of the movement and the power of what can be when a community that is unified.