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THE BIG MIX : Night Moves : Brazilian Beat : Samba E Saudade keeps going, though not always in the same place

February 05, 1989|DON SNOWDEN

On the stage a six-piece Brazilian band played a series of melodically intricate songs bordering pleasantly on jazz. But the Saturday night crowd's response was muted to this show, a celebration of Brazilian music and culture at the weekly Samba E Saudade nightclub held at the spacious Cover Girl club in Culver City.

Then, a crowd-pleasing ice-breaker arrived halfway through the second set when a trio of dancers, sporting string bikinis and feathered headdresses that brought Vegas showgirls to mind, took over the dance floor. By the end of their five-minute stint of lithe, sensual dancing, the trio had repeatedly charged into the audience seated at tables to lead patrons into a swirling, festive atmosphere on the dance floor.

The momentum didn't fade even after the dancers quietly slipped off to their dressing room and the band wrapped up its set with a final percussive flurry. Samba E Saudade's DJ took over to keep the bodies flying with an international mix that, during the evening, included high-tech Brazilian dance music, the Gap Band's "You Dropped the Bomb on Me" funk attack and infectious slices of Caribbean soca music.

Bringing this facet of international entertainment into the Los Angeles night-life scene hasn't been easy for Maria Lucien, who founded Samba E Saudade in 1986. It was only the third Saturday that Samba E Saudade, which has been presented at several Los Angeles area locations in the last three years, had taken over the Cover Girl, and the mixed audience of Brazilian and Americans Lucien has cultivated hadn't yet discovered the new location.

That night, Lucien wasn't able to field her full complement of artists--her "capoeira boys" (two male dancers who perform the Brazilian dance/martial arts form) were in San Francisco, and financial considerations have limited her to only three dancers instead of a customary five-woman troupe. But Lucien vowed to continue her fight to make Brazilian culture and music a part of the American cultural landscape.

"After so many years with jazz, the music I want to help and fight for is the Brazilian music," said Lucien, 50, during an interview at the Hollywood Hills home of her brother-in-law, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. "Americans are not familiar with Brazilian music because it's not a commercial music in America."

Lucien had experience in tough sells before undertaking Samba E Saudade. In New York City, the Portuguese native promoted early-'70s concerts pairing jazz and rock artists on the same bill. She moved to Los Angeles in 1973 and started Samba E Saudade following her divorce from singer/songwriter Jon Lucien in 1985.

" Saudade (pronounced sawl-DODGE ) is a Portuguese word and there is no translation," Lucien explained. "It's so abstract--one time I heard it described as 'the presence of the absence,' like the remnant of something you desire that you'd like to have again."

Lucien has struggled here, despite early appearances by friends such as Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock and vocalist Dianne Reeves. She has also imported several leading Brazilian musicians--including percussionist Nana Vasconcellos, singer Joao Nogueira, vocalist/guitarist Kleber Jorge and noted Brazilian Carnival performer Martinho da Vila--to appear at her events.

But Samba E Saudade lost its original location when the downtown delicatessen it called home filed for bankruptcy. The club popped up at several Hollywood locations, usually on weeknights when the club scene isn't as vital, before currently settling in at the Cover Girl on Saturdays.

Lucien said she sold her home and some personal possessions to keep Samba E Saudade alive, but she won't be swayed from her quest to provide an elegant showcase for Brazilian music in Los Angeles.

"They always give me difficult tasks, like, 'OK, Maria, kill me a dragon. Prove that Brazilian music is good,' " Lucien lamented. "Many times I almost wanted to give up, and then I have a streak in me that says I'm going to succeed and that someday Brazilian music will be loved and respected by Americans in a larger way.

"People follow me because they know that Samba E Saudade is the genuine one. Many people try to imitate it and catch on to my work but Samba E Saudade is the real thing."

Lucien will present the Carnival Hawaiian Ball (Hawaiian dress required) at Spice, 7070 Hollywood Blvd., tonight.

Samba E Saudade returns to the Cover Girl , 9300 W. Jefferson Blvd., Culver City, Saturday with a Bahia Carnival.

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

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