Out in Berkeley: From Brazil, a street party, a songstress

A Brazilian street party on Sunday at BrasArte on San Pablo Avenue will celebrate the Lavagem

No one is likely to mistake Berkeley for Salvador de Bahia, the northeastern Brazilian city famous as the heartland of Afro-Brazilian culture. But on Sunday, at least for a day, San Pablo Avenue will resound to the thundering pulse of samba drums and the springy twang of berimbaus, as the BrasArte’s Casa de Cultura celebrates Brazilian independence day with a Lavagem.

Founded and run by Conceição Damasceno, BrasArte is a dance studio and concert venue that serves as the Bay Area’s most vital island of Brazilian culture. The Lavagem, a ritual cleansing ceremony traditionally led by white-clad bahianas (women from Bahia and initiates in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé), will unfold as a street party featuring capoeira, dance demonstrations, Brazilian food, and a samba circle led by powerhouse Bahian-born singer Renni Flores (the first woman in Bahia to sing with the legendary percussion ensemble Ilê Aiye).

Though not nearly as well known as Salvador’s massive carnival celebration, the Lavagem do Bonfim is an equally vivid Afro-Brazilian institution, attracting about one million people for a series of percussive driven parades through the heart of the old seaside city every January.

Kenia: the lustrous Brazilian singer plays the Jazzschool on Saturday

While steeped in traditions dating back to slavery, the moveable musical feast that culminates in the ritual washing of the steps leading to the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim has long served as a creative cauldron for new musical movements and styles.


Some of that innovation will be on display Sunday evening when BrasArte turns into a concert hall, with a stellar cast of Brazilian artists who have just concluded teaching at California Brazil Camp in the Sonoma town of Cazadero. The musicians include 7-string guitar master Alessandro Penezzi, percussion great Jorge Alabê, reed expert Alexandre Ribeiro and many others.

And if you want to get an earlier infusion of Brazilian music, the lustrous Rio-raised singer Kenia celebrates the release of her tribute to the music of Dorival Caymmi at the Jazzschool on Saturday with the formidable Brazilian pianist/composer Marcos Silva, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Phil Thompson.

Street party and Lavagem, Sunday September 4th,  noon to 5 p.m. Free. San Pablo and Hearst. Concert 7 p.m. $10, Casa de Cultura, 1901 San Pablo Ave. 510-528-1958. For more information, visit the BrasArte website.

Kenia, Saturday 8 p.m. $15, Jazzschool, 2087 Addison St. (510) 845-5373. For more information, visit the Jazzschool website.

Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and East Bay Express.