Issue 6.2: April/May 2003

Happy Feet

story by Liza Simon
photos by Elea Dumas

In its Brazilian homeland, samba is not just a dance; it is life itself. At Carnival time, all business as usual comes to a halt to make way for round-the-clock pageantry by intensely competitive samba schools, whose dancers’ hips and feet shimmy wildly beneath the sparkle of their massively plumed headdresses. So when a group of Brazilians living in Hawaii found themselves thousands of miles away from Carnival’s Rio epicenter, in a place where life somehow goes on without samba, something had to be done.

The result is Honolulu’s premier samba troupe, Axe—pronounced a-SHAY—a word that hearkens back to samba’s African roots, while transcending any precise definition. "It means loving, caring, sharing, the spirit in your life," says Axe member Maze Lima. "Think of it as the Brazilian form of aloha." Axe was founded six years ago by a handful of transplanted Brazilians who initially gathered informally to hold samba jam sessions. Soon, however, their vibrant choreography attracted bookings for a host of public events.

Axe’s sambistas have been thrilled with the response they’ve gotten from Hawaii fans. "We meet people who may know nothing about Brazil," says Lima, "but when they start to move with us, they instantly feel the culture." Join the celebration, she says, and you’ll find out why "the saying in Brazil is that samba can make you a king for a day." For information, call (808) 377-DRUM.