Dancing to a Different Beat

Courtesy of Maracatu
Carnival dancers in colorful costumes and musicians beating energetically on drums: not exactly what one would expect to come across in the seemingly never-ending gray of a Moscow winter.

Founded in April 2001, MaracatU is a collective of dancers and musicians that has performed around 350 times at a variety of events and venues, from clubs such as the bohemian Apshu to corporate functions for TNK-BP. The group bases its energetic carnival show around the beat of drums -- from eight to 30, depending on the event. There are also dancers, singers, a jazz saxophonist and an accordion player.

"People need celebration in their lives," said Boris Popov, the collective's leader. He puts the group's popularity down to its discovery of a niche. "The traditional Russian carnival is Maslenitsa, so the idea of carnival music is not new. But the tradition of this festival has only recently been revived, which means that 'carnival culture' is not developed."

The audience's reaction to the group's first performance at Moscow's Theater Olympiad convinced Popov that this music was in demand. "We found a response in people and brought them a lot of positive emotions."

MaracatU's uniqueness, he said, comes from its fusion of different music styles. "We use some Russian folk songs as well as traditional carnival tunes." The most important thing is the quality of the performance, which for Popov means not only the musicians' professional skills: "It's very important to get drive and passion from the group members. I try to avoid cold professionalism in our performances."

The group is a mixture of nationalities but is made up mainly of Russians. Popov usually trains the musicians himself, and it can take a few years for a person to reach performance standard. People with a musical background are sometimes harder to instruct, as they need serious retraining, which isn't always successful. The group has its own dance school, where it trains dancers and has also invited dancers from Brazil and Cuba to take part.

Courtesy of Maracatu
Part of a Maracatu performance involves getting the audience to participate in the fun by dancing or playing instruments.

The name MaracatU comes from a traditional form of dance and music in the state of Pernambuko in northeastern Brazil. It originated as a performance at the investiture ceremonies of Kings of the Congo -- leaders among the community of African slaves in Brazil. Slavery was abolished in 1888, but the tradition continued.

MaracatU's own concert lasts around two hours, but corporate events are often shorter, sometimes lasting just a few minutes. The regular show is split into two parts. It begins with a performance by the drummers, carnival dancers and singers, who sing in Portuguese, Russian and English. The show is all about color and energy: The drummers don't just stand and play their instruments, but dance and move around while they're playing. The singers perform a mixture of their own compositions and classic carnival hits -- from samba to funk.

The second part of the show is a so-called "master class" for the audience, which consists of handing out up to 70 instruments -- drums, cymbals, bells and maracas -- and getting everyone involved. "We give people the possibility to take part in the celebration directly," Popov said. After two minutes of instruction, the joint performance begins. "We can get lots of people involved -- up to several hundred at a time."

MaracatU has performed at a wide range of venues and events across the country: festivals, corporate events, advertising campaigns, clubs and sports events. Some members of the group have even performed at carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and London.

The group has taken part in some unusual events, Popov said, and often have to adapt their performance to the venue. As a result, the group prefers not to stick to a strict program, but adapt and use their imagination. Whenever and wherever MaracatU performs, the audience can expect the unexpected.

For more information, see MaracatU's web site at www.maracatu.narod.ru. A performance can be arranged through Boris Popov by calling 8-903-610-0635.