Students from Occidental and residents from the surrounding area gathered at the Oxy Arts building on York Boulevard to enjoy an Afro-Brazilian Drumming, Dance and Culinary Workshop Sept. 15, led by Shelby Williams-Gonzalez and Clarice Cascilho, known by her stage name Clarice Cast. Cast is a performer, recording artist, composer and educator who teaches at institutes across LA. Williams-Gonzalez is a dancer and choreographer who dances with groups based in Los Angeles. She is also an art administrator at artworxLA.
The workshop began with the drumming portion, led by Cast. Participants chose between four different types of Afro-Brazilian drums — surdos, snare drums, repinique and timbaus — and got the opportunity to try out multiple varieties throughout the hour of drumming. Cast started the drumming section with a brief description of each instrument, but soon moved into drumming. She taught the rhythms for each type of drum, with students repeating each sequence after her.
Once everyone knew their part, Cast called the starting rhythm for a song. Each drum started one at a time until all four types of drums were playing together, creating a booming song that reverberated throughout the space.
After the song was played through once, the attendees rotated to try out a new type of drum. Each time the song was repeated, the speed increased, and the drums became louder the faster the sequence went. Cast said that this was one thing that initially attracted her to drumming.
“It was just me following my intuition,” Cast said. “Just really loving the sound of the drums, and the communal aspect of drumming together, I think, was a big part of it too.”
Following the hour of thunderous drums, Williams-Gonzalez acknowledged the recently opened Oxy Arts building. The first dance, called Evenhia, welcomed everyone to the new space. Another dance called Samba Afro celebrated the African heritage of Brazil.
“There is a contemporary side of Afro-Brazilians that is so steeped in the African diaspora and the African influence in the culture — Brazilian culture — that I really identified with, being an African American woman and identifying with the, basically the ramifications of the slave trade,” Williams-Gonzalez said. “The African diaspora has spread throughout the world, and it comes up, and it is celebrated in dance. That movement really is what hooks me, and then I’ve loved it ever since.”
Williams-Gonzalez taught the Samba Afro dance with incredible enthusiasm. The dancers started in a circle, warming up to the movement, but soon enough, everyone was spread out, and dancing to the beat that Cast played on the drums.
The instructors fully demonstrated every new Samba Afro dance move they added to the choreography before the full group attempted it on their own. The energy was high as everyone smiled and moved to Cast’s beats on the drum.
Hyun Gill (sophomore), an attendee of the workshop, said the dancing was beautiful and not something you would typically see in the U.S. Miranda Gruber (junior) echoed Gill’s sentiments.
“[The workshop] was open and stress-free, the instructors both had a lot of space for laughter and messing up,” Gruber said.
At the end of the workshop, the participants were welcomed to join its leaders for dinner at Cafe Chimichurri, a Brazilian restaurant in Pasadena.
“It seemed like everyone was really open to trying new things and exploring the drums and the dancing,” Cast said. “Oxy Arts was really on point with organizing everything. It’s a lot of moving pieces, and so that was really awesome to know that we could rely on the production side.”