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Humboldt Samba

25 years of samba at the North Country Fair



The relentlessly bright drumming, the staccato hip shaking, the exciting and colorful costumes -- it must the Samba Parade at the North Country Fair, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Since 2007 leadership of the annual processional has rested in the passionate and competent hands of Jesse Jonathon and Andelain Roy, who represent the next generation of Samba Parade royalty. Together they direct Samba da Alegria, the community dance and drum group that marches in the annual parade around Arcata Plaza.

The question: Can the drumming and dancing in samba be separated?

"No," according to Jonathon who directs the drummers of Samba da Alegria. "The relationship between the drummer and the dancers is what my focus as an artistic director is about. I spend most of my time collaborating with the choreographers, so I can get my rhythmic ideas to work with their movement ideas."

On top of a 2/4 time signature and syncopated rhythm, all types of samba music are formulated drawing on three different cultures, Portuguese, African and South American indigenous. Jonathon traveled to Brazil to study in the heart of samba culture. "It's a fusion of these styles, it's a folk music. When we studied in Brazil it was half traditional and half innovation."

The Humboldt version of samba finds Jonathon starting with the basic form and composing new music. Samba dances work the same way. Current dance leader Roy began dancing in the parade in 1994 when she was 14. Her mother, Kathryn Hopkins, directed the dance section for many years until handing the baton over to her daughter.

Roy is quick to admit, "I am not a traditional Brazilian dancer; I am a white girl from Humboldt County. I fuse a lot of my dance moves with my own inspiration." She draws on training in Congolese dance, hip hop, ballet -- and samba. She has studied with master teachers from Brazil in San Francisco and Portland including those fusing ballet with samba. Off-season, she dances with the local troupe SambAmore.

Another samba devotee, Maria Vanderhorst, from another local group, Samba na Chuva, began co-directing the dancers of Samba da Alegria with Roy in 2010. Vanderhorst first saw the parade go around the Plaza in 1998. "I told myself I have to be in that next year... My love for Brazilian dance just exploded. I started going to San Francisco to take dance from Brazilians." Like Jonathan, she has since traveled to Brazil to learn more. She and Roy both attend California Brazil Camp in Cazadero every summer with other dancers from the parade.

These artists are refreshingly serious about learning and living their craft. Where Roy has been immersed in the parade from a young age, both Jonathon and Vanderhorst were seduced by their initial brush with samba.

The ardor in which these three directors pursue their own training is matched by their commitment to bringing the underlying community spirit of samba to the North Coast. Jonathon teaches a weekly class at the D Street Community Center in Arcata every Sunday starting at noon. "Some people show up thinking it's a drum circle, but it's more of a class to prepare our drummers for the parade, while teaching fundamentals of rhythm and technique."

There are now two different dance sections: Roy teaches Fridays at the Hwa Rang Do Academy in Sunny Brea; Vanderhorst, Tuesdays at the Bayside Grange. Through August the classes are open to anyone, but in September they are limited for those who want to make a commitment to performing in the parade by coming to rehearsals and working on a famed Samba Parade costume. There is one band led by Jonathon -- the two dance classes perform different choreography to the same music.

The parade also includes dancers from the Humboldt Capoeira Academy and this year, for the first time, 12- to 14-year-olds from Erin Fernandez' Latin dance class.

The fusion aspect of this inseparable dance and musical form is intriguing, beyond the three origin cultures of Brazilian samba, there's the constant innovation at play, making the dance and music relevant to whoever is composing and choreographing and then playing and dancing.

Roy loves the playfulness. "It's street dancing and you use your own inspiration." Jonathon speaks of the, "actual impact when you have 50 or 100 people come to life. It's a great metaphor for how people can work together. I appreciate the cooperation it takes for the music to come alive." Vanderhorst is drawn to the openness and passion of the Brazilian people, "Coming from a country with a lot of poverty. Embracing what you have every day and celebrating."

Beyond that, she declares, "Samba changes lives -- I've seen it."

It's the transformation that occurs when people come together as a community to create. Traditional cultures have it. In the modern world we have to find it.


What: The Silver Anniversary North Country Fair Samba Parade

Where: Starting at the corner of 8th and G streets and circling the Arcata Plaza during the fair.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17


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