Jaime Martinez

Karina Vela
Oscar Gonzalez
Stephen Tiffenson
Wilson Low and Rhonda Stagnaro Low
Kelly (Kellita) Garton
Jimmy Biala
Maria Souza
Tomi Seon
Blanche Brown
Sistas wit Style
Wendell Seifert
Maisa Duke


Who's Who in Carnaval San Francisco?

 by Jan McDermott

    Who are the masterminds behind the gorgeous floats, attractive choreography and the charisma to attract and keep hundreds of people in their contingents? Although I know lots of the Contingent leaders, I was in for a surprise when I conducted the interviews for this article. Yes, I knew that they work their fingers to the bone every year, pay big money out of their own pockets, lose sleep,and use up their valuable time. I knew they were miracle workers. They are artists and dreamers, and they make their visions and dreams come true. Their concerns include giving back, and improving their community. It's hard work, love and commitment. And they do it every year.


Jaime Martinez
One of our cherished Kings of Carnaval, started dancing at the age of 5. He earned high accolades dancing folk and modern dance, and eventually achieved elite stardom as a soloist with the National Ballet of El Salvador. He performed for several years as a soloist, and reminisces about one of the most beautiful experiences of his life: the entire theater full of people, the music of the Symphony, and himself performing. He is from a country where there is Carnaval, but it's celebrated on various Patron Saints days, in different months. There are parties, festivities:


"One of the biggest is the Carnaval of San Miguel.  Groups from other countries were invited, and there was special music, dance, King and Queen, parade, floats, for the whole week. The traditional music, with rhythmic elements, is called 'Xuc'. One song goes something like this: have fun, sing, dance; come to San Miguel, everything is equal in Carnaval. Everything is equal because everyone wore masks, so there was no difference between rich and poor. The streets were for everybody."


When Jaime arrived in San Francisco, he participated in the Carnaval, showing the authentic San Miguel Carnaval. That was the year it rained like crazy! Another year, he organized a huge float. He works so hard for the Carnaval, with no sponsor. He does so much work himself, but he appreciates the artistry of Carnaval. It gives him motivation to create. He expresses an idea, puts it together. It's good to spend energy on that. When he envisions something, he wants to make it exactly the way he sees it. It's easy for him to go over the bar, to achieve his dream. He's a perfectionist. Little by little, he's learned to be more balanced, and learned to organize and work with people. The shock comes at the end; all that work, effort, realizing the dream, and then it ends so quickly!

Carnaval has changed his life by allowing him to express his creative side. Although he has a dance company, he doesn't do that many shows. His big event is Carnaval.


He is the owner of Latin American Workout, and is celebrating its 16th year. He pioneered the concept of exercising to Latin rhythms. He has found his niche, but at times, it's difficult. He has training, certificates, 31 years of professional experience, but he sees his job being taken over by Americans. He laughs when he hears the comment that Latinos are taking jobs from Americans.


He would like to correct a misconception: Carnaval is not just bikinis and feathers, but a cultural event that promotes enjoying your life, and having fun. He would like to do some workshops to teach families what Carnaval is about, and increase participation by the entire family.


Karina Vela is the Ballet Folklórico dance instructor at Monroe Elementary School in the Excelsior District. The 2007 Carnaval, will be their 4th Carnaval during which they have received First Place in the Children's division!

"My favorite thing about Carnaval is the image of clothing and ribbons all moving at the same time. Crowds cheering, students expressing themselves, representing their school and feeling completely supported. The students work hard: learn steps, learn to smile, to bring joy to all those people. After the effort of practicing, being focused, they appear beautiful and appreciated. This year, I will be teaching the kids to do more dancing. Elementary School children are such a pleasure to work with. They have no inhibitions; They yell! They dance full out! in the future, I would like to see more kids dancing cultural dances of all ethnicities. I would like to contribute. It's such an opportunity for them to express themselves, and learn about their own and others' cultures.  

"My first experience with Carnaval was as a child, watching Carnaval San Francisco. Thinking back on that, I feel a strong connection with my mom, who loves music. I was born in Guatemala, and came here when I was 2. I started doing folkloric dance when I was 14. I studied with Martín Cruz, and now with Carlos Moreno. I have a degree in dance from SF State, and have a teaching credential too. Besides Monroe School, I teach folkloric dance in Berkeley and San Mateo.

"As a teacher, I encounter controversy. There are parents who are not comfortable with the lack of clothes in San Francisco's Carnaval. To me, that's a learning opportunity. Children will be exposed to lots of things. Partial nudity can be looked at as being free, dancing. Even when I take off my shoes in class to dance barefoot, the students stare at my feet. When they take off their own shoes, they feel naked and vulnerable. The floor is cold to them. I have faced this challenge by treating it as a learning experience for the children.

"Carnaval is lots of work, but it validates something that I have loved for so long, and believed in so strongly. The elements behind cultural dance say what that culture is about without really saying it. It gives voice without using the mouth. My family, who watched me studying dance for years (you want to get a degree in WHAT??) now see tangible results. What I spend my time doing now, is the end product of long studies. They get the big picture of who I am and what I am."


Oscar Gonzalez, who is the director of the Guatemalan group PFG Xelaju, never participated in Carnaval until his performing group was invited to join us a few years ago.  He likes everything about Carnaval: the meetings, the opportunity to help out, and especially the parade itself. "I hope everybody has as much fun as we do", he says. He appreciates all the work done by the Carnaval committees and volunteers who make it happen.

His performing group got started ten years ago. While he was celebrating the Festival of the Black Christ of Guatemala, or Señor de Esquipulas, with his church group, he noticed that there were Peruvian groups and Mexican groups performing. The next year, he built his own folkloric group, specializing in Guatemalan culture, music and traditions. PFG Xelaju does charitable works in the community all year around. At the moment, they are in the process of raising money for people in Guatemala who lost their homes in the hurricane last year, and are still homeless. They work with Habitat for Humanity, and donate their time to help. He volunteers at a school in San Mateo. His motto? Never say No.


As a child in Trinidad, Stephen Tiffenson remembers his family walking behind a steel band, down to Sangre Grande, about a mile away from home. He loved Carnival, and never missed it. In town, they had Traditional Mas (masqueraders), which he found scary. Some of the people painted their skin black or blue, put a chain around their waist, had someone behind them, holding the end of it. These Devils wore horns on their head, and for clothing, wore only short pants. They did a particular stomping kind of dance, using a long pitchfork. Others, "Jab Molassie", coated themselves with oil or molasses. Still others, called Jab-jab, wore a fabric costume, and had a wooden stick used for fighting other Jab-jabs they met on the road. The costumes were very padded, so although it generated a lot of noise, it didn't hurt. Some people dressed up like mock plantation owners, or made sailor outfits out of flour sacks. There were Midnight Robbers, with elaborate hats, who were actually rappers. But after hearing what the Midnight Robbers had to say, today's rappers are a joke.

Pan wasn't that widespread in those days; more usual was Tamboo Bamboo, which Stephen played in.


"The Tamboo Bamboo ensemble took the place of African drums to provide rhythmic accompaniment for the Afro-Creole street culture. Kalinda, Dame Lorraine and carnival parades all swayed to the beat of the tamboo bamboo - an ensemble made up of different lengths and sizes of bamboo which simulated the four main voices of music, soprano, alto, tenor and bass," according to Selwyn Taradath on

I have heard Tamboo Bamboo on occasion, and not only is it intensely rhythmic, it has quite a unique sound. I also read that in bygone days, each Tamboo Bamboo band had its own distinctive identifying rhythm, in case they were interested in clashes with other Tamboo Bamboo groups.

Stephen first put on a costume and joined Carnaval San Francisco many years ago. He had a yearning to produce a band as a way to get a bit of what he was missing back in Trinidad. He then collaborated with David Williams and Lewt Carrabon to form a small group; at one point, a reporter noticed the costumes being constructed, and decided to write an article. Since they were making Mas, they took the name Mas Makers and Friends. As the years went on, Mas Makers grew, with as many as 500 people at one time.

The more he puts into his contingent, the more satisfaction he gets. As a matter of fact, he is "100% committed--or more!"

On one hand he is innovative, bringing out different costumes, styles and scenes every year.  On the other hand, he keeps it authentic, so that the community can get exposure to Trinidad and Tobago's rich culture. Our Carnaval has also broadened Stephen's scope. He sees African culture in the Brazilian, Mexican, Colombian, and other contingents.

The San Francisco Carnaval is only a small part of what happens in Trinidad and Tobago all year. It is an all-year endeavor.  For example, research has to be done, history reviewed, to decide on a theme. The music has to be organized, for instance, this year he is bringing a famous band from Trinidad. Costumes must be designed, budget calculated, and public relations attended to. This all takes skill. Everyone has to come together. The success of Mas Makers Massive is due to all the people involved over the years, for instance Colleen Tiffenson and many others too numerous to mention but too important ever to be forgotten.

In addition to the work on their contingent, Mas Makers Massive is committed to the youth of Oakland, where they keep the Carnival legacy alive through their work in various schools. Their efforts have been important to huge numbers of children. For Stephen, "It doesn't matter what band you play with, just so long as you play mas and join Carnaval."


MaraReggae was founded by Wilson Low and Rhonda Stagnaro Low. Wilson painted a vivid picture of Brazil's Carnaval. There was never a first time for him; he was born into carnaval. He discussed the various types of carnaval in Brazil. The first kind is in the streets. It's so wild, that it would never happen here in the USA; the laws here would never allow it. People hang off trucks and buses. They throw water at each other, paint their skin, go with few clothes, honk, walk around with drinks all day long, make fun of famous people, and even cross-dress. The second kind is a parade that people pay to watch; it's a show. An example of this is the Sambodromo in Rio. The third kind is inside a club. It's an all-night affair. People come in bikinis, and act sexy and crazy.There is even a fourth kind, in smaller cities; different again.

Rhonda feels that Carnaval changes the individuals who participate. The challenge to be creative is met head on by MaraReggae. Over the course of each year, she envisions and brings a new vision to San Francisco.  As the years have gone by, there is a real progression of her themes.  "We are movement!" At the beginning of the season, people in MaraReggae draw a card. Each character is developed.The innovative spirit permeates every participant. 

In MaraReggae, there is constant reevaluation, and if certain things don't fit, they aren't used. Unlike Rio and the traditional Samba Schools that faithfully portray Rio's style, MaraReggae is innovative. For instance, theirs was the first Brazilian Contingent that had stilt walkers. Rhonda's thinking is in the present, but never forgetting the past.


"We pay homage to the people who have gone before us, sacrificed for us. We give respect to the Ancestors, and the great knowledge that they have given us."

She sees value in this work. She started doing Carnaval with Escola Nova de Samba.  She was living a mundane life, and wondered if there might be something more. "When I found Samba, I wanted to live!" Her mission as a leader is to change the American idea. Rather than "where's my piece of the pie", she sees that each one of us has a passion, a flame that never goes out. Let's get back in touch with it. When there are thousands of people in the street, it's possible to get back in touch with that. There is something bigger than ourselves. There is a one-ness with the universe, and people can connect.

On the other side of the rope, onlookers are saying "I wish I could do that." She replies: "Come on!"


Kelly (Kellita) Garton is the Artistic Director of Hot Pink Feathers, a performing group which does samba, cabaret, and burlesque. She has appeared in Carnaval San Francisco with various samba groups, and the very first time she experienced it, in 1997, she was hooked. "I live for this!" she says. The street filled with people parading, dancing and marching joyfully! Color, exuberance: all this counteracts the images of  doom and violence that people today face, day in and day out. It can be life-changing.

In February of 2005, Hot Pink Feathers combined with Blue Bone Express, a brass band that plays New Orleans style music, to appear in Carnaval San Francisco.


"We bring a different esthetic; New Orleans and Cabaret together. One of our choreographies this year is a New Orleans jazz band rendition of a Venezuelan folk song, in an Eastern European gypsy band arrangement."



Jimmy Biala, director of SambAsia, was born here in the San Francisco Chinese Hospital. His parents are from Pangasinan, Philippines. He started playing drums when he was seven years old. He played mostly jazz and popular music on drum set until at age 30 he decided to start studying Cuban music. He went to Cuba to study at the University of Matanzas with master musicians and dancers there, and that experience opened new doors for him in terms of wanting to study more and more. Eventually he made his way to Brasil. He studied in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Bahia and also went researching to meet a Taiko sensei (teacher) in Sao Paulo. He has also studied the Kulintang gong music of the Phillipines and the music of the Ewe people of Ghana, Taiko drumming of Japan and Pung'mul drumming from Korea.

SambAsia is now four years old and continues to function as a community music and dance ensemble that acts as a real means of building cultural bridges between the many diverse communities of the Bay Area across generational lines.

"Carnaval represents the pinnacle of our annual performing season. We bring all of our different dance and music sections into one place to celebrate our hard work and life together."


He feels the San Francisco Carnaval is a very unique blessing to the communities here in San Francisco and to the Bay Area and beyond.

In turn he is very proud for all that SambAsia brings to the San Francisco Carnaval. He sees that people are very receptive to their ensemble and recognize SambAsia is something very unique in combining Brazilian music and dance traditions with the folk and festival music and dance traditions of Asia. he really does not think there is an ensemble like it anywhere in the world!

Over the last several months he has had the great opportunity to start establishing a sister SambAsia escola in Shijhih City, Taiwan. he is also going to Beijing this month to teach percussion workshops there, and will be in Taiwan from June 2006 to January 2007 to really work hard to bring a contingent of drummers and dancers there to the 2007 San Francisco Carnaval.

In establishing SambAsia in the fall of 2002 and bringing it to the 2003 SF Carnaval, he had to deal with a lot changes in his life. He was still working hard as a professional musician and collaborator and composer in many different kinds of projects, but then had to dedicate a new portion of his daily life to this new community music and dance ensemble. he learned a lot from that first SF Carnaval experience and strives each year to bring new and different performances and challenges to all of the community ensemble members.

They are very lucky to work with many supportive organizations and individuals. This is definitely not possible as a one person operation! Everyday he is inspired by all of what he's learned from his teachers and students from all parts of the world that he has been. He hopes to continue to respectfully bring all of their blessings to the community and to the San Francisco Carnaval for many years.


BIG MAMA Maria Souza, first encountered Carnaval in her home town in Minas Gerais, Brazil, when she was 8 years old. That was a great experience, all family; cousins, brothers, mom, and she was dressed in a blue costume with glitter and sequins on the skirt. In those days, the street parades were on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday, with the kids parading in the afternoon and the adults at night. The  music was called "Marcha". It had lots of instruments like flute, saxaphone, and trombone. Actually, when I was in Recife and Olinda for Carnaval, in the 90's, that's what I heard in the street too.

She is the founder and contingent leader of Aquarela. Nowadays her favorite part of Carnaval isn't just the parade. It's getting ready. Thinking about the costume design, concentrating, getting excited. Rehearsals. Waiting for the parade to start. Then, dancing for the whole thing! Even with the inevitable problems, it's as though nothing happened; only fun. So enjoyable, but over too soon.

She feels that her contingent is very professional, but at the same time, it's like an extended family. Everybody is treated as equal. When someone has an idea for the costume, it's taken seriously and used. The daughters and sons of the contingent have become participants, and bring that youthful excitement every year. As she experiences Carnaval San Francisco, she has learned how to understand and be with people. She is not affected by the inevitable politics, and what she hears, she leaves it there. She doesn't let it get inside. Her focus is to do her thing, make her people happy, and make their dreams come true. She shows San Francisco what the true Rio de Janeiro has about Carnaval. It's an authentic experience including the float, the music, and dance routine. Maria herself is not only is one of the Carnaval Queens, but she has the most Queens and Kings of Carnaval in her contingent. It is the Royal Family.

In the future, hopefully things will get better, for instance maybe the City can help support contingents. It's very expensive now, not just the parade itself, but rehearsal space. Her dream is that one day, every Samba School will unite into one big school.

"Just come to the street and have fun!" she says.  And one year, when the small group I was in disintegrated because the musicians didn't show up, 3 of us found ourselves in Maria Souza's family for the day. Even without previous notice, she saved the day for us. Thanks, Mama.


Tomi Seon, of Islands of Fire, grew up in Trinidad, in the West Indies. He first played mas as a 12 year old, along with his classmates in Belmont. Their theme was "Day of the Races" and they dressed as Burrokeets. " Trinidad’s carnival folklore, a donkey has been symbolically freed from his labours and so is able to join in the festivities. This donkey was constructed from bamboo in a way that gave the illusion that the dancer was riding a small "burro" or donkey, when he put his head through the hole in the donkey's neck and the body of the animal fitted around his hips.
The donkey's head was made from coloured paper on a wooden frame, while the body was covered with a satin skirt with a hemp tail. The 'rider' wore a satin shirt and a large matador's hat or straw hat and danced making the donkey caper and bow to the accompaniment of guitars, cuatros and shac-shacs",
according to

In the Carnaval of his youth, he remembers lots of people in the street on Carnival Monday, dressed as Midnight Robbers and Devils. Others carried clever, humorous signs commenting on important social or political themes. These signs used to have a big effect on everybody.

People also came out to the streets in partial costumes, but unlike today, there were large amounts of beautiful and regal materials such as velvet.

Back in those days, things were stricter: everyone left the streets at midnight. it was a time of gangs and fighting: Desperados, Invaders, and other Steel Pan groups from "behind de bridge"  marched on the road-- but had to either avoid each other, or clash!

His favorite part of Carnival was playing Drunken Sailor Mas, a very popular mas. It was a performance! Not only donning a costume, but also performing specific dance steps! He had a walking stick, and used to dance around it. Appreciative onlookers were expected to pay. (A custom true not only in Trinidad, but also Haiti, Panama, and other countries during Carnaval.)

When he was in his early twenties, he became the lead male dancer in Julia Edwards' Dance Company. He traveled all over the Caribbean, Africa; performed for the Queen of England, at Carnegie Hall, and the Ed Sullivan Show. But he had a hidden quest, he jumped ship, and went looking for his daughter. It turned out to be quite a quest: it wasn't until 1984 that he finally found her and established a loving relationship with her. 1966 found him in Buffalo, and then he volunteered for the armed services. During those 8 years, he still entertained by dancing to keep up the soldiers' morale, and found himself traveling again: Vietnam, Germany, Thailand.

On discharge, he went to Letterman Hospital, and found the Bay Area to his liking. Not only was his sister living here, but also the weather was very good. In the late 70's, he found himself in the first Carnival parade here-- it was in the Western Addition, with Connie Williams, Val Serrant, Gloria Toolsie (one of the coordinators), and Pete and Harry Best. Subsequently, Carnaval, as it is called now, had a jam session in Precita Park with Marcus Gordon, Jose Lorenzo, and others, which then moved to Civic Center for a few years, then into the Mission.

This year, he will join Mas Makers Massive, and next year, bring Islands of Fire to the streets of San Francisco again, with noted world renowned band leader/ costume designer Stephen Derek. The Stephen Derek Mas Band celebrates 30 years of producing costumes and presenting their productions in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

His philosophy has always been to give somebody something. That's how you get back. You come away satisfied. That's how he started out, and that's how he was when I first met him. One year, in Carijama, Oakland, I appeared, heard the music from his truck, and realized that I was desperate to join, so that I could parade to that beautiful Soca music. When he understood this, he stapled me into one of his new costumes, even refusing money when I returned the costume. I stand in a huge group of devoted fans of Tomi Seon.





"Carnaval is about fun!" says Blanche Brown, who has been a contingent leader off and on for the last 25 years. Her contingents bring Haitian music and dance to the streets of San Francisco. This year, she is choreographing one of the groups within the Haitian Contingent "Rara Tou Limen", led by Portsha Jefferson.


Her greatest expertise is choreography, in my opinion. She believes that "short and simple" is better; for instance, if you have 102 steps, you will get tired, and you will forget. If it's simple, it's possible to play with the audience. 


"When you dance, you don't just dance for yourself, but for everybody else too. That's part of Haitian culture."


She focuses on spaces, and tries to convey strong emotion. She always moves in a forward direction. She allows improvisation in her choreography, and believe me, that makes it fun. Even if you don't know how to improvise, it's constantly amusing to watch the antics of those who do.


The last year that I participated in her group, she had 3 signals. One whistle blow was the slow choreography. Two whistles was the dancing while not moving forward, and there was lots of interaction with the audience, and 3 whistles was for the faster clip. There was no rushing, and no standing around. No matter what our speed, we were looking good! It was no trouble to keep up, and the variation in tempo made it interesting.


She remembers the very first time she did the parade, when she was at Third Wave. Her group only had a pick-up truck, with a generator for the sound. She still remembers the fumes from that generator. Everybody had their own costume. It felt authentic, and there was lots of freedom in the choreography. She says part of the culture of Haiti is that carnaval is small.


"We didn't have to spend a lot of money, or rehearse a lot. The parade route started on 14th Street and went up Mission to 24th!" 


Two years later, her contingent had a big sound system, and was much more elaborate. There was so much work to do. She was up all night, before the parade. It rained, and everybody looked like wet chickens! Needless to say, she decided never to do it again.


Leading a contingent is massive amounts of work, that can't be done without help. A costumer must design and make the costumes. A technician must be responsible for the sound system. Blanche really admires the schools, like Buena Vista. People work so hard. It's really nice to see.


Reminiscing, she says that there have been so many good carnavals. Each has its own emotion. Her own greatest pleasure in carnaval has been dressing up. One year, she joined MaraReggae, and that experience stood out for her. That was the year that Milanda Moore (a Queen of Carnaval and now director of the Baby Buggy Brigade) and Roger Delahunty (King of Carnaval) were MaraReggae's Queen and King.

Although her favorite part is dancing, Blanche has experienced Carnaval in many different ways: as a judge, on the steering committee, on the advisory committee, to name a few. Being a judge was particularly nice, since she was able to see all her friends, and all the floats.


How did she get started in Haitian music and dance? Well, she was attending SF State, taking dance, and once she encountered Haitian movement and drumming, she fell in love. Opportunities happened, doors opened. She went to New York to study. "I didn't choose it; it chose me!"


How has Carnaval changed Blanche? " It has enhanced me, and allowed me to perform without a lot of pressure. It's about fun!"


Sistas wit Style are here to say that youth can make a difference! They are led by a remarkable trio of teenagers, Merissa Lyons, CEO, Valencia Newton, COO, and Kianna Rachal, CFO. Their manager is Anabelle Goodridge, Merissa's mom, who is originally from the Caribbean. Through her, they learned about the culture and music of Trinidad.


When Merissa was little, she participated in Mas Makers Massive. When the other girls got a taste of that beautiful Trini music and dance, it was just a matter of time before they decided to start their own group. Once a year was just not enough. They enjoyed it so much, that they founded the Caribbean Folk Performing Dance Company when they were 9 and 10 years old. They now teach dance at six different elementary and high schools in Oakland, as well as classes every Saturday. They have the kind of commitment and focus rarely seen in kids that age. Last year, they launched their contingent, Sistas wit Style, and won prizes for costumes and performance.


The girls handle every aspect of running their contingent, although they are quick to name the many people who have given them support. They all agree that there is lots of work, but they each have their own part to do. They work as a team, helping each other out when necessary. And the work pays off for them. Part of their motivation is the wish to give back to the community. There is so much negativity, and they want to turn it into something positive, and spread the word. They accept donations for the kids who can't afford costumes.


Their self-esteem is bolstered by working with people; they are role models. It motivates them to keep going. It reminds me of the feeling of dancing in a contingent, on the street, to beautiful music. There's no stopping, even if you want to. It's like magic. "As long as you can walk, you can dance", they say, and every one is welcome to dance with them.


Wendell Seifert, Band Leader of Bay Area Caribbean Connection, started out as a steel pan player when he was just a child. It was a great experience, he feels. The band (panyard) was just two minutes from his house, in Arima, Trinidad, and was called Melodian Steel Band Orchestra. Back in those days, Steel Pan was not respectable, and children were strictly prohibited from frequenting the Panyards. Hence, all of the musicians I have met from that era had to sneak to the practices. As time evolved, the instrument, as well as the crowd, became more refined, and presently, there are Steelbands all over the world. It is the only musical instrument invented in the twentieth century! 

Three years ago, wanting to introduce his nieces to the beauty of Carnaval, he took over BACC. He figures that since he is good at getting people together and making deals, he would give it a go. Carnival means many things to many people, but for every Masquerader one sentiment is's a time to have FUN, a time to forget the cares and frustrations of the real world, a time to jump, wine and wave with total abandon. He appreciates that fact that here in San Francisco, everyone comes together for Carnaval.

 This year, his contingent is drawing people from as far away as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and San Diego to participate. There will be people representing other islands, like Grenada. His costume designer, Kojo Mason, is a noted artist from St Vincent, who has won top honors in St Lucia, St Vincent and Brooklyn Carnivals. His Choreographor, Oneida Maria Cordovia, from Oakland, is known as the Panamanian Princess. He is also bringing a Steelband, called La Horquetta, fromTrinidad and Tobago. (They placed second in the Single Pans Panorama Finals, 2006.) His favorite part of Carnaval is getting together, seeing people enjoying themselves and letting go of stress. His goals for the future are to involve younger kids and schools. He wants to "show the world what we do, and especially give the kids a chance to experience it." Carnaval is a beautiful thing. Every year, he is encouraged to do it again, and keep it going. His nieces love it!


Energia do Samba was founded in 2000 by Maisa Duke, the director and choreographer of the group. Maisa was born in the Americas' capital of the African Diaspora, Salvador, Bahia Brazil. While most people are familiar with the Rio style of Samba, Maisa demonstrates a more playful and joyful samba, without the lyrics found in Rio that tend to be serious social commentary.  

As far as she can remember, dancing is what she enjoyed most. Maisa started entering and winning dance contests when she was ten years old. Her ability to move her perfectly toned body to the complex, frenetic polyrhythmic beating of samba music is wonderful to see. She brings explosive energy to the dance floor! 

Maisa immigrated to the U.S. in 1998. She has been teaching dance for over 10 years. In 2000, she founded Energia do Samba Dance Company. Her dream is to promote and share Brazilian culture and carnaval through music, dance and colorful costumes. She attracts experienced dancers as well as live musicians to her group. The name Energia do Samba (The Energy of Samba) was chosen by Maisa because it is the positive energy of Samba, that she believes is the essence of Samba. Energia do Samba's dancing is the embodiment of that energy.

Maisa has performed with many dance groups in California, including including Robin Williams' 50th birthday and events for the late Christopher Reeves, and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown at City Hall, Warriors basketball team, San Francisco Giants games, Academy of Sciences in S.F., California Music World in Oakland, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, The Queen Mary in L.A, and for Pele, the most famous soccer player in the world. ||