Friday, Feb. 12

It was not the usual indie-rock crowd: People traveled in from Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff and points farther afield in the Carnaval spirit. At least half of the audience seemed to know what they were doing—dancing with complete abandon while keeping perfect time. The beat was all but impossible to miss, resounding as it did with the refrain, "If it feels good, do it."

Capoeira Malandragem's limber fusion of samba and street-fighting kept the crowd angling for sight lines during their set (accompanied by DJ Dio). Capoeira is often called a "martial art," but it looks like the aggressive, competitive dancing of '70s DJ crews in the Bronx. Brazilian slaves were among perhaps the first hip-hop crews in the Western Hemisphere, and Capoeira keeps alive hip-hop's roots in African fighting styles.

Key Ingredients of African Soul set the Afro-Caribbean-South American tempos for the evening at a pace that could leave Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta in the confetti pile. Ivory Coast transplant K-Bass (Bassirima Soro) fronts this multinational, multipercussion ensemble with astonishing energy. He writes the songs, too, and Mike Olson, formerly of Batucaxé, leads the band as music director.

Batucaxé had a big night leading into its second annual Carnaval celebration on Saturday. The band's debut CD, eight years in the making, was for sale at the merch table, along with T-shirts to help underwrite Batucaxé's costs. The CD's title, The Blessing of the Beat, is a rough translation of "Batucaxé," a blend of African and Portuguese words.

Batucaxé performed songs from the CD, including "Guinea Samba," which K-Bass wrote for the band, and—another hip-hop history alert—"Parapoderembolar," a song in a Brazilian style in which singers compete in rhymes.

As entertaining and energizing as the whole performance was, Batucaxé's set belonged to lead singer, percussionist and booty-mover par excellence Diane Dominice. It's not that anyone was distracted by her shiny, gold micro-bikini, or the six-inch strands of beads that moved nonstop around her hips; it's that she seemed, from head to toe, to be the embodiment of the Carnaval celebration—pure joy in exhilarating music and the primordial urge to dance.

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