Carlos Aceituno and Fogo Na Roupa:


By Sarah Breed

San Francisco Carnaval 2005 Parade Grand Champions Fogo Na Roupa are back again this year ready to move your mind, body, spirit, and soul with a vibrant contingent of dancers, drummers, and musicians who will parade together under the theme, Fogomorphosis of the Monarch.

After sixteen years of devotion, hard work, and creativity expressed Fogo Na Roupa emerged as the Grand Carnaval Champions last year, taking home first place Parade overall, first place Brazilian contingent, first place Brazilian music, first place Brazilian dance, first place Creativity/ authenticity, first place Carnaval spirit, and first place Overall visual presentation.

Fogo’s themes have paid direct tributes to powerful members of the dance and music community in the past. In 1995 the contingent honored Andy Davila with Firebird. 2004 saw a heart wrenching, soul blazing tribute to Ta Malonga Casquelourd with Kongo Ya Bayoko. This year’s theme subliminally honors Fogo Na Roupa’s community members who have passed, but more directly focuses on the transformation that accompanies death, symbolized by Nana and the Monarch butterfly.

Of those to whom this year’s contingent pays tribute are the late Icelya Hernandez, daughter of Carnaval pioneer, director and number one promoter, Roberto Hernandez; Kip Farris, director of Batu Pitu and long-time Fogo member, master craftsman and engineer of endless Carnaval floats; Patricia Vattuone, a dynamic warrior, dancer, mother of four, and activist; and Gyasi Ramos, a young artist who dedicated energies and boundless creativity to the manifestation of Fogo’s 2005 award winning Spirit Tracker float.

For Fogo Na Roupa artistic director Carlos Aceituno, those who have passed represent both the generative and destructive aspects of nature, the tenuous cycle of life. “One was an artist beginning his path, another a complete artist who had realized many visions, others, powerful women who shared the creativity of motherhood and artistry. All represent what it takes to be a creative person. As the overall theme for the Carnaval this year, Land of Childhood Dreams, professes, you have to keep the energy of being a kid alive in order to be creative. The process it takes to create a theme, a song, a dance, a music piece, a child. It involves a period of gestation and suspended animation. ”

As Aceituno reflects on the lives of these great people, called to the next world, he is moved by aspects of transformation and metamorphosis. Images emerge in his mind. The color orange: bright, dynamic, attractive. Movement: fluttering, predictable, mystic. Swamps: turgid waters of life and death, mud, hues of purple. The life cycle of the butterfly, Monarchs, sovereignty, command.

Fogomorphosis of the Monarch

The Aztecs believed adult monarch butterflies to be the incarnation of their fallen warriors, wearing the colors of battle, vibrant fiery orange and steely black, colors so vibrant only nature could have drafted them. These patterns of movement and color defy human qualification.

The life cycle of the Monarch is another of the great spirit’s marvels. Caterpillars attach themselves head down to a convenient twig and shed their outer skin to begin the transformation into a pupa or chrysalis. As the process of transformation progresses the pupa becomes increasingly transparent. The butterfly emerges from the now transparent chrysalis. It inflates its wings with a pool of blood it has stored in its abdomen. The Monarch emerges.

Each year tens of millions of Monarch butterflies spend the winter in the mountain forests of central Mexico. As the weather gets colder, the Monarchs begin their annual migration. In the spring they make the journey north, and lay their eggs along the way. Reports come in from the Mexican states of Queretaro and Guanajuato, even Central Texas.

The arrival of the butterflies to the north each year is proof of shifting and a testimony to the resuscitative power of nature. Monarch butterflies follow the same migration patterns each year. See them gracefully fluttering with their orange and black regalia. During migration huge numbers of butterflies will move miles, cross continents together. So beautiful you want to reach out and touch, or capture one in your hand. But the toxins from the monarch’s milkweed diet have given this butterfly a defense; it is poisonous to its predators. Like many animals, the Monarch advertises its poisonous nature with bright colors. So if you’re so moved by the swarm moving down Mission street this Carnaval weekend, beware, “Don’t touch!”

For this year’s Carnaval, Fogo’s Borboleta Bebida Section will feature the Monarch butterfly, in vibrant purples and oranges, with silver accents and trims, representing the sensual powers of the Monarch butterfly drunk on fermented nectar.

Fogo’s float this year (sponsored by Macy’s) will be a recreation of the realm of Afro-Brazilian deity, Nana. A huge sculpture of the proud and robust Nana, holder of both the power of life and the power of death, will preside over a black deck, symbolic of the murky waters of the bottoms, deep muddy areas where debris sinks and transforms itself into new life.

If the butterfly symbolizes the ability to transform oneself, then Nana represents the depths to which one descends before transformation is possible. Owner of mud, silt, and the marshy lands of rivers and seas, Nana’s habitat is the swamp. Nana receives the dead inside her, making rebirth possible

Like the devastation by water in New Orleans this past year, the image of the swamp seems to underlie Fogo’s presentation this year. What happens from unjust death and devastation is Fogo’s concern. How one might be lifted from the depths to recreate oneself once more, after such devastation, such loss. Carnavelescos will move to the rhythms of the Fogo Na Roupa bateria, create the visuals, repetitively rehearse the choreographies in unision, and arrange sound breaking rhythms, in community. This will lead to a transformation, a shedding of the outer layers, a certain exposure and metamorphosis. What happens to dancers, artists, and musicians as they engage in this creative process is often an individual transformation. What you see on the street is the incantation of this transformation, as majestic and domineering as the movement of water and the migration of the Monarchs.

Dancers expect to recreate this realm in the Nana Section, deep purple fabrics will cloak wide skirted Bahiana’s as they twirl and stir the waters of the swamps, receiving the dead, making rebirth possible. Further down the line look for the kids section dedicated to the warrior aspects of Nana and the Monarch butterfly, playfully fluttering above a darker world.

The Fogo Na Roupa bateria’s signature sound, lead by seasoned percussionist Jose Rivera promises to move, rattle, and roll. Revisiting all rhythms from samba to sambareaggae, maracatu to hip hop, ijexa to frevo, whatever they choose to blend is sure to blaze with that fiery Fogo flava. This year Rivera has created a rhythm inspired by an ancient Aztec drum beat and titled it Evolution. “Fogo is more about the essence of what we are doing than it is about the particulars,” chants Aceituno with a wry smile, and for those of you who know Fogo, you know what not following a recipe is all about.

Carnaval 2006 features the theme Land of Childhood Dreams, a world where all dreams are possible. For Aceituno many dreams have been realized. Maturing as an artist, as director of award winning Fogo Na Roupa, and one of the Mestres of the Omulu Guanabara Capoeira group, his legacy is now laid before him. His artistic background encompasses various forms of music and dance study: Latin, Afro-Brazilian, Jazz, Modern, and African. In 1989, he formed Fogo Na Roupa, consisting of both a performing company and a Grupo Carnavalesco.

Under his artistic direction, Fogo Na Roupa’s performance highlights include Bay Area opener for Brazil’s popular Olodum, collaboration with prominent Bay Area jazz ensemble, Mingus Amungus, and opening for Carlos Santana. Days past include Fogo performances at the KMEL Summer Jam ‘96-‘97 and a ’99 opening for the internationally acclaimed Brazilian recording artist, Carlinhos Brown, and finally 2005 San Francisco Carnaval Parade Grand Champions.

Carlos continues to be a true ethnomusicologist of the indigenous variety by providing travel study tours to Brazil. He has worked directly with such artists as Jorge Alabe, Mestre King (renowned pioneer of Afro-Brazilian dance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil), Rosangela Silvestre, and the Bale Folklorico da Bahia.

The ancient Greeks believed there is a divine spark to be found within every mortal. If so, Carlos Aceituno seems to have been hit by a thunderbolt. Perhaps this is what makes him a magnet to so many people who is turn call Fogo their home. He has a gift for working with people of all ages. Students of his are able to express their life essence as they work with him through music and dance. An older male student who suffers from arthritis dedicates himself to dance and creates his own style. His willingness to learn is healing. A beautiful young woman comes to Fogo with her vigor and youth, the dance and teachings act as a vehicle for transformation as it does for the rest of the youth. Beyond the beauty and the physical rewards, Aceituno claims, “What they can get from dancing, will help them in their transformations.” Beyond individual metamorphosis, many who have passed through the ranks of Aceituno’s devoted training have gone on to form their own legendary groups,
or been featured artists on stage, and inspired community leaders.

“It’s important to have your dream. If you’re an artist it means you’re a visionary. I think that’s a childhood dream,” Aceituno muses with an incapturable sparkle in his eye. Ever try to catch a Monarch butterfly?

Carlos Aceituno trains youth and adults in Dance, Music, and Capoeira throughout the Bay Area and currently teaches at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco and the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts in Oakland.

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