Friday, May 17, 2013

Souza Lima; O Fin

Monday we were back to work.  Keola and company had a fantastic program at the Conservatory Souza Lima, a very good music school in Sao Paulo.  First, the talented musicians played a set of chorinho music for us.  Chorinho ("little lament") music pre-dates Samba, and has a very fun Brazilian feel.  Then Keola and co gave a demonstration and lecture for the music student on Hawaiian music.  The students were extremely engaged in the program, and asked a lot of great questions about the intricacies of Hawaiian music.  Keola spoke movingly about music's power to connect and to heal.

Then the music students joined them on stage and jammed together through some Hawaiian and Brazilian songs.  The students took cue from Keola and began improve-ing through the set.  The whole endeavor was one of the better cultural interactions from the tour.  And interestingly, I noticed a sign on the wall for Berklee College of Music in Boston.  Conservatory Souza Lima has a connection with the Boston music conservatory, and some of their top students receive scholarship to attend Berklee.  A nice bit of academic exchange!

After a little break, we headed over to Danna’s apartment, where we were hosted for dinner at her place.  After eating out all month, it was very nice to have a lil home hospitality.  Danna and her husband had been posted in Sierra Leone, and had some incredible African masks and statues.  We were joined by the PD officer Katie, who had been with us in Curitiba and Porto Alegre.  It turned out to be a small PD world, as Danna had seen the documentary about American Voices’ work in Iraq, Camp Unity.  Apparently, her mother is friends with one of our board members, and he had given her the DVD.

After diner, Keola and Moana took a taxi back to the hotel, while Jeff and I decided to make a last night out of it.  We were to an AMAZING samba club called O Do Bogordo.  The modest place had some absolutely incredible samba music. The band included a guitar, a cavaquino (Brazilian ukulele), trombone and percussion.  The singer, a beautiful black woman with a big afro, belted out the samba tunes.  The whole place was dancing and singing.  Dancing in ways that I am not remotely capable.  I had a great time watching swaying hips move in unimaginable ways.  The club was really one of the highlights of the tour.  We danced until almost 3am, and ended our last  night in style!

The last day sadly came.  We had one last program, at a binational center for Access students.  The Access program is an English scholarship program sponsored by the Embassy and Consulates for disadvantaged youth, and is a great bit of public diplomacy.  Keola and co gave one last workshop on Hawaiian culture and music, and Moana gave the kiddies on last interactive demonstration of hula, which they loved.  Moana was also challenged to a samba dance throwdown by one of the students, which she happily picked up the gauntlet. It was a really special way to end the tour, getting to connect with youth on a real cultural level.  I always enjoyed hearing what the kids (or audiences) knew of Hawaii (surf, Elvis, hula) and seeing how much deeper they came to understand Hawaiian culture after the program. 
We drove through the evening Sao Paulo traffic, and I sadly bade goodbye to Keola, Moana and Jeff as they checked in and left for their flight.  Mama hen never likes saying goodbye.  Really, between the Dellas and Keola and co, I have been so incredibly lucky to get to accompany two phenomenally talented groups of cultural ambassadors on two incredible public diplomacy adventures.  I have been able to witness, on the ground, the power that public diplomacy at its purest- connecting people to people through music and culturel to see the two-way exchange, in witnessing how both audience and performers are affected by the experience.  It is a stirring reminder of why we do what we do. 

After a month of touring Brazil, from north to south, Keola, Moana and Jeff are returning home to their beautiful Hawaiian islands.  During their American Music Abroad adventure, Keola and co shared the richness and beauty of Hawaiian music and culture with a fascinated Brazilian audience.  And they taught the Samba Nation the intricate joy of Hula.  On the tour, Keola often spoke of the “Spirit of Aloha,” and its deeper meaning.  The Spirit of Aloha is the spirit of kindness and compassion, that ephemeral light that we carry in the calabash that holds our souls.  All along their journey the ensemble shared their Aloha with so many new Brazilian friends. 

I know will see Keola, Moana and Jeff again, they are like family now.  Just like I continue to pass in and out of the Dellas' orbit.  I will visit them someday in Hawaii, and in some form or fashion, will game out some Hawaiian public, cultural and gastrodipliomacy while visiting..  Until then, journey on Keola, Moana and Jeff.   Godspeed on your return to the beautiful islands you call home.  Mahalo (thank you) for teaching me so much about your unique culture and rich history.  Thank you for sharing your Aloha- that essence of compassion and kindness, with me on this journey.

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