Meet the Samba-playing farmer and the energetic band he performs with!
PUBLISHED: 15:26 04 July 2016 | UPDATED: 15:26 04 July 2016
Gill Heavens meets up with a colourful and creative bunch of musical enthusiasts
I had heard rumours about my friend Brian Brown. The word on the street was that by day he worked his farm near Honiton, but by night his alter ego played the drum in a Samba band. Hard to believe, but the stories persisted. This needed more investigation, so I valiantly volunteered to accompany him to a practice night.
As we drove to the rehearsal, in an Exeter school hall, Brian explained how his Samba days began. One Christmas, whilst late night shopping in Exeter with his daughter, he heard an intoxicating rhythm. Like the Pied Piper, it drew him unwillingly towards the source of the music. Rounding a corner he found Street Heat entertaining the flagging shoppers with their mesmerising beat. Before he was dragged away for more shopping, he was given a card by one of the players.
A couple of years passed but he did not forget the band…the seed had been sown and it was waiting patiently for the chance to germinate. The opportunity came when Brian saw that Street Heat were running workshops, which were organised to find new members. This was exactly what he had been waiting for and he jumped at the chance to try it out. He didn’t consider himself to be especially musical, although he had always enjoyed listening to music, and it took a little while for him to gain confidence. The first instrument he tried was a small drum called a caixia but he later moved onto the much larger surdo, which suited him better. After six months of practice he was let loose on the unsuspecting public and five years later he is still totally smitten.
When we arrived at the training hall, I was introduced to some members of the group including the band co-ordinators Dan Hagan and Kev Gibbs. I was given a big smile and handed a pair of earplugs. It didn’t take long to understand why I needed this protection. What followed were two full hours of unremitting enthusiasm and energy. Forty or more people, whose ages range from 16 to 75, played a variety of exotic sounding instruments, often with choreographed moves. Each section of the band had their moment of glory from the agogô bells to the giant surdos. There were shouts and trills, whistles and animal noises, primarily emanating from the leaders.
Street Heat perform a type of Samba known as batucada. This is a percussive style specialising in fast paced rhythms or tunes. A band that performs batucada is known as a bateria. Street Heat’s original compositions are based on traditional Samba, but with their own dance music-influenced twist. These tunes include a magnificent rendition of Reel to Real’s ‘I Like to Move it’. The energy of the players is admirable, but the leaders are magnificent in their enthusiasm.
It was fascinating for me to watch the ‘newbies’, as the beginners are known, and how they learn these intricate rhythms. The earplugs make it impossible to have a proper conversation, making teaching a challenging prospect. The only way to learn is by a kind of osmosis, by observing and copying. The band were keen to explain that Street Heat is not just about playing ability, but also about personality. To be a member you must definitely be in touch with your fun side.
Performing for an audience is the main reason for Street Heat’s existence and they relish the interaction that playing to the public allows. Spectators are encouraged to shake off any inhibitions and join in. You will find them at fairs, fetes and weddings - anywhere that fun and a little Samba passion is needed. Members include nurses, doctors, teachers and, of course, farmers. This true community band have one thing in common, they love the Samba beat and want to share it with us. I for one, am very pleased those rumours about Brian were true.
Meet Street Heat
Traditional batucada bands tend to just play percussion, with separate extravagantly dressed dancers and performers. With Street Heat you get two for the price of one - not only do they play, they dress up and perform.
The band has two main costumes, ‘Flames’ and ‘Swirls and Curls’. Accessories include a variety of hats and head dresses, sequins, feathers and, for night time performances, lights are attached to shirts and drums. Understated it is not!
As well as many local events, such as Exeter Pride, Sidmouth Folk Festival and many county fairs, Street Heat have performed all over the country and Europe. These gigs include Car Fest South, Glastonbury and events in Nice and Berlin. They are also regulars at Jersey Battle of the Flowers where they decorate themselves and their instruments with flowers.
Street Heat are always looking for new members, all that is required is energy, a youthful outlook and be prepared to have fun!
The band are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and to celebrate they are having an event in Exmouth, where the band originated.
For details of events and more information on workshops visit street-heat.co.uk