You don’t have to be Brazilian to fall in love with the country’s music, and you don’t have to go to Brazil to party to its infectious beats – just ask Alex Bordokas and Jonathan Rothman. They’re two of the creative minds behind this coming weekend’s Uma Nota Festival, a celebration of Afro-Brazilian, Latin and Caribbean music and culture – and neither of them is Brazilian.
“We’re Brazilophiles,” says Bordokas. Both men are native Torontonians; Rothman is Jewish and Bordokas is of Greek descent. They both discovered the rhythmic music through Capoeira, a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance that is accompanied by drumming and singing. Each visited Brazil for the first time close to a decade ago, and both have been hooked ever since.
“There’s this neighbourhood called Lapa,” says Bordokas of a particularly vibrant part of Rio. “It’s where scoundrels, artists and intellectuals – every type of individual – come together. It’s a powder keg of culture. These different cultural manifestations are exploding all around, and this is what were trying to bring to Uma Nota.”
Along with DJ Jason Sanders, the pair have been throwing parties under the Uma Nota name every two months at the Gladstone Hotel since 2007. These raucous performances feature at least one live, typically percussion-heavy act, including many of the city’s Brazilian troupes, and one guest DJ playing groove-based tunes in various genres.
Many of those playing and attending the shows are local Brazilians, but just as many – like Rothman and Bordokas – are people from around the world that have simply chosen to embrace the vibrant musical culture. “We keep growing and it keeps working,” says Rothman. “We thought, ‘Where do we go next?’”
This festival builds on the success of those events and will also include film screenings, workshops, talks, and traditional Brazilian food and drink. Friday night’s live music showcase will feature Samba Elégua in collaboration with a host of other musicians. The percussion band features up to 30 drummers, and pounds out the tropical beat Uma Nota has become known for. Montreal’s MC Boogat headlines Saturday’s world electro dance party, and Sunday features a more rootsy vibe, with Maria Bonita and the Band and Tropicalia.
“Whatever we do, there’s Afro-Brazilian swing in the mix,” says Bordokas. He smiles: “It’s got that swing, that groove, that raw feeling. Close your eyes and imagine that warm kiss at the end of the best night. That’s Uma Nota.”