I was approached to see if I would come and run some samba workshops as an activity for a school fete last month. As usual, I said “Yes” first (they were offering a fee !!!) and then began to think about it afterwards.
A lot of the issues were solved by the school – they provided space in a marquee so my instruments would stay dry, and they were incredibly well organised for admin – I arrived to find a clip board with a list of attendees for the three sessions, someone from the committee to run that side of things, and even sticky labels for the children!
I didn’t have to worry about money, as they wanted the activity to be free to all comers.
I set out a number of picnic blankets, which had the dual purpose of defining the different instrumental groups and also acting as boundary markers. I used some of the instruments from my “real” samba kit; surdos (drums), ganzas (shakers), and agogo bells. I augmented these with items from my “street”, or “found” samba kit (that sounds so much more upmarket than “junk” kit). Drums – large, plastic upturned patio tubs, played with mallets made from wooden dowels padded with toy stuffing and socks, tamborims (hand drums) – metal cake-baking dishes and cheap red plastic beaters, and more agogo bells – enamel mugs played with short lengths of dowel. I put out a total of around 30 instruments, and had my trusty boomwhackers in reserve should more be needed.
The plan was to run three 25 minute sessions, and then a final parade of whoever wanted to join in.
It started as envisaged – a group of a dozen children, aged between 6 and 8, turned up, got their name stickers, and we set to. A bit of “listen and copy”, with opportunities to change instruments, and then “Samba, samba, we love to samba” – my favourite beginner samba rhythm. I introduced the idea of how to stop VERY early on in the proceedings, and then added a few simple breaks;
- hold up four fingers, blow the whistle “Toot, toot, toot-toot-toot” means everyone stops and says “samba, samba, we love to samba four times
- as above, but single out one group and give them a signal to continue playing; blow the whistle, and then that group continues playing by themselves, everyone joins in again after four lots of “samba, samba”
- wave my stick around wildly in the air – everyone plays as fast and as loudly as they can (a “rumble”) until I blow the whistle “Toot, toot, toot-toot-toot” and they go back to “samba,samba”
Doing all this, and swapping instruments, easily occupied the 20-25 minutes.
However, the next workshops didn’t follow this plan At All. Only a couple of very young children turned up for the next session, stayed about ten minutes and drifted off. I was a bit worried about earning my fee.. but I needn’t have been. What tended to happen for the rest of the afternoon was that groups of friends would drift by, accept an invitation to “have a go” and spend some time, depending on age and interest, doing the activities from the first session. At one point I had about 8 young teenagers all working away at Samba Funk, creating their own breaks, and developing a fairly intricate samba for nearly three quarters of an hour.
The parade didn’t happen; there was a sudden change in the weather. The sky turned black, the heavens opened, and suddenly my samba tent was full. I seized my drum and whistle, and soon had an all-age band going, parents, children, grand-parents (“just give me a shaker, dear”).
I had another fete at another school the following weekend. We had put together a similar plan, which followed a similar path – one relatively “formal” workshop, and then a steady flow of young children and parents passing through, some staying longer than others, some suddenly dropping their instruments because it was time for – whatever the next attraction might be.
It was an interesting experience – and gave a lot children the chance to have a go at something new.