Born in Amherst, Mass. -- and not Brazil -- Michael Stevens developed a love for samba during his college years at Wesleyan University.
There he learned of percussionists from Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, in northeastern Brazil — Eduardo “Dudu” Fuentes, Junior Teixeira, and Bernando Aguiar — people who eventually became his teachers when he visited Brazil. During his sophomore year, he discovered Philadelphia’s samba music scene, made drumming friends, and grew inspired by the work of ’70s and ’80s Philly Brazilian drumming bands like Banda Bacana. He moved here in 1999, became a music teacher, and was performing with the local drumming group Alô Brasil by the next year.
Eventually, he founded the samba school Unidos da Filadelfia in 2005, and drawing from the best students, Stevens formed the Brazilian music band PhillyBloco in 2008.
The band, which has hosted a winter carnival for nine years, is introducing its first summer version this weekend. On Friday, the 11-year-old Brazilian music group will welcome 15 additional drumming students from Unidos da Filadelfia to its 20-member band of percussionists, dancers and singers in beads and masks for a two-hour show at 9 p.m. at the World Cafe Live.
We talked with Stevens, 42, a samba music professor at the University of Pennsylvania, about what to expect from the first PhillyBloco Summer Carnaval
We celebrate Brazil’s carnival each year, that regularly takes place in February or March, with a local show that brings people together for the love of samba and Brazilian culture. This event takes place in the wintertime here, when it’s summer over there. So, we wanted to share with all what it feels like to get together and dance, this time in the heat.
We organize a Halloween performance, a New Year’s Eve event, we celebrate Brazilian carnival and run a spring show in April. We want to try this one out, because we think that carnival is a way of celebrating life and we should have more reasons to do so. Why not do it twice a year?
I think that the people who come will have a moment to cut loose and be free to express themselves dancing to very fast-paced and intense samba rhythms from Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, while enjoying PhillyBloco’s unique use of drums, guitar and horns in the more Afro-Brazilian genres like samba funk and maracatu.
Songs will be predominantly in Portuguese and a couple of them are in Spanish. You might also hear a Bob Marley or a Stevie Wonder song in English, as we try to approach different audiences with Brazil’s music and culture. But what we are mostly excited about is watching Lela perform that night. [She] will be dancing on stage, wearing her feathers costume and a headdress, and is 28 weeks pregnant.