While most may not think of Utah as a hub of multicultural artistic expression, the 13 dancers and 25 drummers that make up Salt Lake-based Afro-Brazilian group Samba Fogo are working to change that. For 25 years, their signature shows, which incorporate traditional drumming and dancing, as well as fire performances, have thundered through venues across the state, and the group is only gaining momentum.
Though there are many samba groups throughout the U.S., the components of Samba Fogo’s performances are unique to Utah. “A lot of other American samba groups tend to focus on one element: either drumming or dance,” says Lorin Hansen, Executive and Artistic Director of Samba Fogo. “Our concept was to pull together disparate performance elements that existed in the community.”
Lorin and her husband Mason Aeschbacher, Samba Fogo’s Musical Director, were active members of a community Brazilian drum line created in 1991 by University of Utah professor Jon Scoville until he asked them to take over leadership of the group. According to Mason, their first order of business was to add visual components to round out the sound. “We are the only U.S. samba group that incorporates the use of live fire, which is not necessarily a Brazilian tradition, but definitely pairs nicely with the intensity and energy of samba and Afro-Brazilian music,” adds Lorin.
Aside from Samba Fogo’s robust and complementary elements, members and students also attribute the group’s sustained success to their home state. “Utah is, in a lot of ways, a fairly closed, shy, prudent culture with many taboos. There is something about the open-hearted, joyful yet intense nature of samba and Afro-Brazilian dance that speaks to Utahns, lights them on fire a bit, ” says Lorin. “It definitely did that for me, as someone born and raised here.”
The changes that Samba Fogo has undergone in the years since it was created, including becoming a nonprofit organization, have helped perpetuate the group’s mission: to study and train members in Brazilian cultural arts, and to share these amazing art forms with the community through performances and community classes. “Sharing and experiencing cultural traditions is something that brings us together, and I believe many lessons contained within Brazilian cultural music and dance traditions are extremely valuable, for humans, no matter where we happen to have been born.” says Lorin. “We really believe in this art form’s power to connect, inspire, uplift and empower people, and we are very passionate about sharing it.”
On Saturday, February 6, 2016 Samba Fogo will host the 7th Annual Samba Queen Contest at DF Dance Studio on 2978 So. State Street, Salt Lake City from 8 pm to midnight. Visit http://sambafogo.com/calendar/ for more information.