Samba & Soccer 

Bay Area's top Brazilian band desperately needs a GOAALLLLLL!

There are several reasons this country marginalizes both soccer and Latin music: all those teams competing for recognition; all those foreign names ignorant Americans can't keep straight (Rivaldo? Ronaldo? Ronaldinho?); and then there's the odd monotony of so much action. These events seem so interminable: Even when the clock runs out, the game continues until the ref or lead singer arbitrarily blows a whistle. And then it's a tie! Bat Makumba, the award-winning, five-year-old Bay Area Brazilian funk band, illustrated this exquisitely during its 6/6/06 show at the Elbo Room. Wrapping up a song from its self-produced, self-released 2003 album, the six-piece had all the instruments pointed at a final beat. Six minutes of two-note, percussion-driven, Latin-sounding polka jamming seemed to be concluding.

Drums: Boomboom! Boomboom! BOOM! Silence.

Twenty-five fans struck their "final-note vogue poses," hands in the air.

Boomboom, boom, boomboom boom ...

People gyrated awkwardly some more as the song continued for several more measures. Then it finally ended, but everyone missed that and kept dancing like 'tards.

Freakin' soccer.

This month, Bat Makumba will do the unthinkable and actually quit playing this SF Mission District club for the first time in about two years. The Southern Hemisphere favorites who seemed destined for greatness when they arrived on the scene in '01, and snagged "Outstanding Latin Alternative Album" at the California Music Awards in '04, have since devolved into the Elbo Room's de facto house band. Bat Makumba is both loved and ignored, largely because you can see them for $7 whenever. Like the A's. Or a club soccer game.

On that subject, Bat Makumbans No. 1 (drummer Emiliano Benevides) and No. 2 (guitarist Alex Koberle) are taking six weeks off to head to Germany for the Super Bowl of Soccer. That's the monthlong orgy — ask Amnesty International about the 30,000 sex slaves allegedly imported for the event — of rampant nationalism and boozing officially known as the World Cup. Europe and South America's worship of this contest can only be matched by America's blissful ignorance, which is epitomized by a drunk young lady at the Elbo Room.

"Did you just say 'Blah, blah, blah, World Cup, blah, blah, blah?' she slurred.

She actually said the "blah, blah, blah" part.

"What's with this World Cup?" she added with a soused wave.

"Exactly," Press Play replied.

With cultural ignorance apparently at an all-time high, Press Play hereby presents a primer on blah, blah, blah, courtesy of superfan Emiliano.

Top Reasons Soccer Isn't Big in the United States

Communism: America actually kicked ass at the 142-year-old English sport until right before the Cold War. Then politicians started kicking soccer in the face, calling futbol the destitute hobby of the Reds. "They would show pictures of Cuba with soccer fields, showing that soccer was a communist sport," Emiliano says. "That brought it down a little."

Capitalism: Except for half time, soccer games don't really stop. Compare that to the seven thousand advertising breaks in the fourth quarter of any basketball game. "All the time you are stopping," Emiliano says. "That time is when you are showing your publicity. The TV is making money. The field is making money."

Gambling: Ties jack up odds, and ruin point spreads. "All other US games you cannot tie," Emiliano continues. "Baseball. Football. Basketball. Because of this, people are betting on them."

But, as Emiliano says, the Redeeming Aspect of Soccer (and, by extension, his band) has as much to do with context as content. "The first time I remember the World Cup, I was eight. Everything stops in Brazil. Nobody works. If they work, they work a half-day and then go home, and you don't see anyone in the streets. People watch the game at home or in bars. Then boom. The streets are filled. Big party-party."

Similarly, Bat Makumba's best shows tend to be the huge weekend summer festivals like Carnaval where a six-person percussion band can turn hot, packed asphalt into a rolling carpet of drunken bouncing heads. It helps if you have some Cuervo in you. "It's also about balance," Emiliano says. "In America, people don't stop too much. You have your misery and your greed, your personal day-to-day struggle, then there's the collective consciousness of a soccer game. You're with other fans jumping and screaming. Sometimes you have a fan close to you and the moment there's a goal you share a big hug with that person, or even kiss that person."

Correspondingly, the chances of making out with a random girl at one of his band's shows is about five hundred times that of your average indie-rock show. Guys take note: Chicks querem dançar.

"It's very emotional," the drummer says. "With the World Cup, every time Brazil loses, I cry. But every time Brazil wins, I cry."

Sadly, many also cried when Bat Makumba tried to cover Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast" for the ill-fated 6-6-6 Tuesday show. The vocals are supposed to join the song on the offbeat of an odd-metered measure, and lead singer Alex swung and missed. Twice. The song unraveled, although it wasn't all his fault.

Lineup changes keep sabotaging the band's sound. Emiliano, Alex, and bassist Carl Remde form the core onto which new members are constantly grafted. The follow-up to their 2003 debut won't be out until next year, with perhaps an EP in the fall, and the band used to be a lot tighter. I wouldn't write them off just yet, but they make clear the economics of maintaining a six-piece band in San Francisco. They just can't do it. They can barely tour the West Coast with so many people. Samba trio, anyone?

The same can't be said for Team America in the World Cup, Emiliano reckons. The ninth-seeded team is under so little pressure to perform that it's managed to keep the same coach, Bruce Arena, for years, and develop a strong lineup, although USA still ranks way below England, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and, of course, the top-seeded Brazil.

Out of seventeen World Cups since 1930, Brazil boasts five wins, Germany and Italy three each, Argentina and Uruguay two, and the English and French one apiece. That's a mere seven winners out of the more than one hundred teams handpicked each year from the best of their country's soccer clubs. Point of fact: The World Cup usually lets down almost everyone in the world save Brazil. Which makes Emiliano and Alex a bit like super-spoiled Yankees fans, rooting for the club that has dominated the globe for more than a century. Press Play hereby roots for Argentina.

Bat Makumba returns for shows in late July and August, and hopefully it'll be reinvigorated. The band is too good to just be another local club team.


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