Every year, percussion groups gather in the port city of Setubal, Portugal for a giant drum party.
We were sitting at a little outdoor cafe in Setubal called De Pedra e Sal. They have amazing house-brined olives, BTW. All of a sudden we started to hear rhythmic drumming coming from different parts of the city.
A few minutes later, a drum line passed right by us at the restaurant.
I didn’t have my camera, so I whipped out my phone and started filming. We quickly paid our bill and followed the band.
They made their way a couple of blocks to the Praca de Bocage (Bocage Square) where they were joined by about a dozen other percussion groups who entered the square from different points. The bands formed a giant circle in the middle of the square and a large crowd gathered around them.
One by one, each of the groups took their turn coming to the center of the circle and playing a song or two punctuated with whoops and some choreography.
After about 2 hours, when each band had played, all the drummers played a song together in one cacophonous grand finale.
After the show, I tracked down the event organizer (luckily he spoke English) and asked him a few questions. He said that groups from towns all over the district of Setubal were represented at this event. Most of the bands were made up of teenagers and younger kids, although it looked like there might be a few with young people in their 20’s as well.
He said that the organization that puts together this event and others throughout the year, raises money for underprivileged kids in the district of Setubal. Because of the language barrier I didn’t understand if the kids in the bands were some of the ones that benefited from this program, but I am pretty sure that they are.
He also told me that the rhythms played by the drummers have a special connection to Setubal specifically and Portugal as a whole. For a few hundred years, most of the Iberian Peninsula, including Setubal, was ruled by Moors from North Africa. I was told that what the kids are playing is based on the some of the rhythms brought to Portugal by these Moorish people centuries ago.
To say that I was impressed by the energy and skill of these musicians would be an understatement. So, if you find yourself in Setubal, we sure to keep an ear out for the sound of drums.