ATHENA AZEVEDO

photographer

ATHENA AZEVEDO

california sambista

In the background from her feathered headdress, Maisa Duke puts on eye makeup. Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA

In the dressing room, a samba dancer asks for assistance to tie her top. Costumes must be securely tied because of the frenetic energy of Samba. Even bikini bottoms are sewn into fishnet stockings to keep them in place. Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

A samba dancer is seen warming up as a man enters the dressing room to announce curtain call. The Down Low, Berkeley, CA.

Carnival performance at The Down Low club on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, CA.

From a bird's eye view, the scarlet feathers of a sambista flair at the heart of Carnival festivities. Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

Manga Rosa, San Francisco, CA.

Samba dancers are all smiles as they descend from their perch--the bar at the now closed Manga Rosa restaurant; once located in San Francisco's Italian district, North Beach.

Manga Rosa, San Francisco, CA.

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

Queen Mary, Longbeach, CA.

At the end of the night, Maisa shakes out her hair from being tied up in a headress. Though now a secular performance, samba traces its routes to the Yoruba religious tradition of Candomble. In the same way that the sambista takes on the spirit of Carnival, the worshiper in the Candomble house takes on the mediumship of his or her god. In this way, sensuality is an internalizing experience -- one of becoming. The Down Low, Berkeley, CA.

Samba is energy. Sensual, not sexual. It is perfected athleticism adorned with sequins –the body celebrated. In Brazil, the dance is part of national identity. Here, in California, samba, naturally alluring, draws performers from all different backgrounds: Angolan, American, Cambodian, Mexican, and their presence and movement simultaneously celebrate the origin of the dance and create a space of intercultural communication. In this way, Samba, is a ritual to unite peoples. The preparation for any given performance is always the same; a half hour of makeup, tights, glittering costume, dramatic heels, feathered headdresses, joking, laughter, warm-up. They are then called from their private dressing rooms to bring an audience together, to shout, to participate, and stand in awe.

When I started this project I had just returned six months prior from a year long stay in Brazil. The challenge for me was how to photograph samba in a way that would express how I had learned samba to be: sensual rather than sexual. In order to explore sensuality, and yet, differentiate samba from the sexual stereotype most Americans place on the dance, I asked myself, “How can I use the borderline between private and public space to emphasize the sensuality of the dance?” In the private realm, which is representative of our internal space, there is quietude, contemplation, spirituality, strength and myth. Outwardly, in the public realm, samba is experienced through performance, dance, joy, music, movement, and celebration as a collective experience.

I give special thanks to my dear friend Jessica Phisterer who introduced me to Maisa Duke and her San Francisco based samba group, Energia do Samba, who gave me permission to follow their performances during a California Carnival season.


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