The Surdos drums are sounding out over Norwich, calling families that love music and dance to samba their way through summer. Emma Harrowing reports.

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Families in Norwich are celebrating this summer. You may be Jubileed out after four days of garden parties, bunting and cake, but with the impending European football championships, the London Olympics and the Lord Mayor’s celebrations there are a lot more jubilations to come.

It is the latter event that has many people of different ages swinging their hips, playing percussion instruments and dancing to an infectious Brazilian beat – they are part of Norwich Samba.

The community percussion group are getting ready for their 13th summer of performing at shows, carnivals, festivals and street parties, and it is the Lord Mayor’s Celebrations they have set their sights on. Percussion and dance workshops are in full swing and now the organisers of Norwich Samba want to bring out the musician and entertainer in you.

“Norwich Samba are focused on lighting up this year’s Lord Mayors Celebrations, it’s an event the band has taken part in every year since 2000,” says Hei Jones musical director for Norwich Samba.

“Brazilian culture has a great many things to offer and the ethos is simple – you can stand and let the whole thing wash over you and passively absorb the energy created by the drums and dance, or you can roll up your sleeves, throw away centuries of British restraint and get stuck in and become a part of the living, breathing party.”

In the run-up to the summer the group will be running a series of dance workshops at Chantry Hall in Norwich with the aim to get families young and old to join Norwich Samba during the Lord Mayor’s procession. Although the workshops have begun there is still a full month of dance tuition left from the group’s experienced dance leaders.

If dance is not your bag perhaps you would prefer to vent some of the daily stresses of contemporary life on an innocent drum skin. Percussion workshops run every Tuesday night, all year round at the John Innes Centre and everyone over the age of 16 is welcome.

“Everyone can and should give it a go,” insists Hej. “The vast majority of our members had no musical experience at all before joining the band.

“It really doesn’t take long to become entirely and inescapably hooked.”

Norwich Samba was set up by Paul Weston and Marcus Patteson. Hei played bass guitar with Weston in a local indie rock band and became involved in Norwich Samba after he saw its potential as a community music project.

“I became so engrossed that in 2002 I upped sticks and moved to Rio de Janeiro where I lived for six years,” says Hei. “Whilst there I had the opportunity to study with one of the most respected contemporary bands in Rio – Monobloco. Their carnival parades in Rio (held at 9am on a Sunday morning) are attended by 500,000 people, and their bateria (percussion band) is made up of 150 drummers who train for 12 months of the year to attain the level of competence required to be consistently voted ‘Best Bateria of Carnival’ by the Rio de Janeiro press.”

Hei encouraged Monobloco to bring a smaller version of their band to England and toured with them in the UK and Ireland. When Hei returned to Norwich in 2008 the experience of working with a professional Brazilian band gave him the skills needed to instil a little Brazilian beat into Norwich Samba.

“The workshops involve smiling from ear to ear as you bash your chosen instrument,” says Hei. “I liken it a quote I heard about rugby teams, that there is a place for everyone, no matter how big, how small, how strong or how fast you are on a rugby pitch. It’s much the same in the Norwich Samba bateria – there is an instrument for everyone, some more technical than others which suit experienced musicians or percussionists and others that are more basic and suit complete beginners who very quickly become experienced percussionists and move onto the more technical instruments.”

The two separate groups – percussionists and dancers come together so that new members can decide where their preference lies. Beginners are treated to an hour of learning about rhythm structures for dance and instrument and performance techniques before they are encouraged to stay and join in with the band.

Hei says: “As neither we nor are audiences are Brazilian we have introduced some contemporary British rhythms such as drum and bass, funk and even some dubstep.

“As is traditionally the case in Brazil, entire families can and do get involved and my own personal view is that everyone should give it a go.”

Martine Beattie from Norwich has been part of Norwich Samba for six years; recently her daughter Anna has joined the band.

“I have watched my mum performing in the samba band for years,” says 16-year-old Anna. “I joined the band as soon as I was 16 and I love performing at carnivals and festivals. The weekly rehearsals are really fun too and are a good opportunity to meet new people.”

Mum Martine, 47, agrees: “It’s a lot of fun and I’ve made some good friends here. I love the excitement of playing in carnivals and community events. Two of my daughters will be performing with the band for the Lord Mayor’s Celebrations this year making it a really special family event for us.”

Members of Norwich Samba come from all over the UK. Tina Mieles who recently moved to Norwich from Germany says that the dance and percussion workshops and shows bring people together from all parts of the community.

“I always wanted to play in a percussion band since I saw parades in Berlin,” says 36-year-old Tina. “Since leaving Berlin ten years ago I actually gave up that dream. Then last year I saw Norwich Samba at the Lord Mayor’s parade and the rest is history. I joined in September and liked it, then fell in love with it and hopefully will never leave it! As well as the performances the band socialises together so you have your own network of friends who you can go out for meals with and celebrate birthdays with.

“The highlight of my week is going to rehearsals every Tuesday night.”

Sue Stothard and Mick Traube, from Upton, recently retired and have found joining Norwich Samba has given them a new lease of life. Sue says: “Joining the samba band was one of the best things we have done. We would recommend it to anyone wanting to get out of their box.”

Adds Hei: “The idea is that everyone can do it, no matter what your musical experience might be, with a little practise everyone can be an intrinsic part of the rhythm. Who in their right minds would not be tempted?”

As well as the Lord Mayor’s Celebrations, Norwich Samba are performing at the Olympic torch event and Wells, Sheringham and Cromer carnivals.

Anyone interested in finding out more about percussion or dance workshops, performances or tailor made workshops for your school or community group can contact info@norwichsamba.org or check out the website www.norwichsamba.org.

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