To pay the bills or play the beats

Published on 13 September 2018

The resident samba band of the Singapore Management University (SMU) has been growing from strength to strength since it formed 15 years ago. Photo: SMU Samba Masala

By Tan Ying-Yan

There are perhaps few things as polarising as the choice between passion and practicality, and the dilemma is one that is close to the heart of the 90-strong Brazilian samba band, or bateria, Samba Masala.

Its members, students of the Singapore Management University (SMU), must regularly choose between rocking the electric, heady rhythms of samba music, and cramming for school and internships to pay future bills.

They have since turned that perennial pain into art.

More specifically, the storyline of their inaugural showcase, Dive, at the SMU Arts Festival. The show follows the struggles of the protagonist, a recent university graduate diving headfirst into an uncertain phase of life. He must decide if he will pursue passion or settle for practicality.

His inner conflict is brought to life in the production, which fuses African, Brazilian and Asian rhythms, primarily through tempo. The fast and slow beats reflect the changing emotions and moods of the protagonist, and the storytelling is complemented by choreography, lighting and costume changes.

For students Keshav Raj and Tang Chin Fang, members of the band’s executive committee, passion often wins in the toss-up between samba practice and finishing a school assignment. Raj, a third-year marketing major, plays the tamborim, the smallest but loudest instrument in the bateria. Tang, a second-year business student, plays the surdo, a large bass drum often described as the “heartbeat” of the band.

On the band’s three-hour-long rehearsals, Tang says: “When you get into it, it doesn’t feel like a chore.” The camaraderie within the band, forged over the social, fun-loving spirit of samba, also helps to keep its members going. The group has been practising for the show for 2 1/2 months.

The resident bateria of SMU has also been growing from strength to strength since it formed 15 years ago. The group, whose members include those without musical experience, regularly performs at the biennial International Samba Festival in Coburg, Germany, the biggest samba festival outside of Brazil. And it even has followers there who are won over by the band’s unique blend of Brazilian percussion with Indian dhol drums.

As to whether life will imitate art for Raj and Tang, the answer remains unclear. Raj says he is contemplating a career in the creative field while Tang remains undecided. But for now, there’s no doubt about their passion for samba music.

Dive opens on 15 September at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts. Tickets are on sale here.

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