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Brazil in Culver City: Sensuous, Swaying, Sweaty Samba e Saudade

Visitors to Samba e Saudade, a Culver City nightclub that serves up the sensuous rhythms of Brazil, would do well to recall their geography lessons of yesteryear: It’s hot at the Equator.

Samba e Saudade is spicy hot. Sweaty nightclub hot. Sizzling dance and dazzling costume hot.

The Brazilian club--which has popped up in downtown delis, grimy Santa Monica Boulevard warehouses and a former Hollywood Masonic lodge--is the brainchild of an effusive Portuguese expatriate named Maria Lucien, whose avowed life goal is to re-create the lush ambiance of Brazil in arid Los Angeles. And Samba e Saudade may have found a permanent home on Saturday nights at the Cover Girl Club on West Jefferson Boulevard, where it is to open Oct. 29.

Saudade, Lucien explained, is a Portuguese word for “nostalgic melancholy, the feeling one gets after love has gone.” Samba is the Latin American dance form commonly lumped with Ricky Ricardo, the mambo and the cha-cha.

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Samba e Saudade is a Brazilian smorgasbord of music and entertainment. One can sway to the soca rhythm, which is faster than calypso and reggae, and the African-flavored Bahia, after the Brazilian port of the same name, and then amble over to the bar to quaff fiery drinks made with cachaca, a liqueur distilled from sugar cane.

Or one can sample feijoada, a Brazilian stew of black beans and meat, while watching the fearsome Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance capoeira, performed by bare-chested men in flowing pantaloons.

“Most Americans, they don’t know about the great music that Brazil has, the legends and culture. I want to show them all this,” Lucien said.

With Samba e Saudade, she is trying to capitalize on America’s renewed fascination with the sounds of Brazil, more than 25 years after the mellifluous strains of bossa nova first drifted over the Equator and into American consciousness.

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According to Sergio Mielniczenko, a cultural attache with the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles, “Brazilian music is having a high point right now.” Mielniczenko, who is host on radio station KPFK’s “Sounds of Brazil” each Thursday between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., added, “The major record companies are releasing more Brazilian artists, and there’s great numbers of Anglos listening.”

Indeed, Brazilian artists Milton Naciemento, Azymuth Djavan, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Bosco are helping spread the Brazilian gospel in the United States. In addition, Manhattan Transfer last year released to critical acclaim “Brasil,” an album of Portuguese songs. Sarah Vaughan’s “Brazilian Romance,” Lee Ritenour’s “Rio” and Tania Marie’s “The Lady from Brazil” also helped popularize the sound.

Samba e Saudade stimulates interest in Brazilian music by exposing Angelenos to good name artists, Mielniczenko said.

Lucien “has a very good idea of music and the resources to make it happen,” he continued. “We need a place to get together. The most incredible thing about the club is it’s not just a place for Brazilians but a mingling for all people who love music.”

In the past year, the club, in search of a permanent home, has floated from Lindsey’s, a downtown restaurant-deli on West 9th Street, to Circus Disco on Santa Monica Boulevard to Hollywood Live, in an art deco building on Hollywood Boulevard. Lucien hopes the latest incarnation will be the last. Her shows draw between 150 and 300 people on Saturday nights, even at the relatively steep $18-$20 cover charge.

Samba e Saudade has featured everything from languid, Milton Naciemento-type jazz to soca. Fire-eaters, martial arts demonstrations and exotic dancers in sequined showgirl costumes who conjure up images of that girl from Ipanema sometimes accompany the musicians.

On Oct. 29, Lucien has scheduled two bands: Jaoa Nogueira (“The Nat King Cole of Brazil,” she said) and Roots of Bahia, a young group that specializes in reggae and calypso-influenced Brazilian music.

Peter Holmsky, an architect from Argentina who now lives in Hollywood, seems to typify the Samba e Saudade crowd.

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“I go wherever a Brazilian party is. I enjoy the music, and it’s always a surprise, depending on where the band’s from,” Holmsky said, taking a moment’s break from the dance floor.

“I’m always looking for that Brazilian rhythm. It’s like a magnet to me.”

Samba e Saudade can be found Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Cover Girl Club, 9300 West Jefferson Blvd. in Culver City. For more information, call Lucien at (213) 876-6934 or the Cover Girl at (213) 870-1595.


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