Newtown Fair 2024

Sparkle Ponies ahoy!

Wellington Batucada dancers at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Harriet Payne

It was a bright and shiny day in Wellington, as befits our maddest parade of the year at the Newtown Fair. I seem to recall reading somewhere that this year’s event was the biggest ever, which makes sense, as it just keeps on getting better and better every year.

Our outfits for the day’s shenanigans were CubaDupa 2023 for the drummers (mostly red with a massive Batucada logo on the back) and my most favourite outfit for the dancers – “Sparkle Ponies”. It’s days like these that I wish I were a dancer so I could wear the outfit. Except I can’t do choreographed dancing to save my life, and no-one wants to see my bare midriff – so I guess I’m sticking with the chocalho for the time being.

Wellington Batucada at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Petra Alsbach-Stevens

It was a huge contingent of drummers and dancers this year (isn’t it always for Newtown?) and once again our Green Room was the very handy Newtown Community Centre – newly done-up and very fancy!

We began, as always, in front of the stage in front of the Community Centre, and kicked off with Rocinha samba, at an absolutely cracking pace. Crikey! I think our director Tim must have been a bit excited – or maybe he’d had one too many coffees that morning. We could barely keep up – which is always fun, ‘cos it really gets us going.

Wellington Batucada drummers and dancers perform Rocinha samba at Newtown Fair 2024
Video by Therese Grobler

Wellington Batucada drummers at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Vicky Lin

As this is the last gig before CubaDupa, we ran through pretty much the full repertoire of pieces we’ll be playing there (all except for our top secret new song!). We’d had a good first run of the Chegou chant and Olodum samba reggae at the T20 cricket a week or so earlier, so we were ready and raring to go.

I’m finding the Chegou chant incredibly energising – and I think our audiences are feeling the same way. It’s the first time we’ve had a football-style chant (plus a bit of a song) in our repertoire, and it turns out we can really turn it on when we’re jumping up and down and yelling it in a performance (as opposed to the much less out-there renditions we’ve been doing in band practice). Who knew? Plus the Mangueira funk that accompanies the song and chant is particularly awesome – super-fast and super-aggressive (in a good way) which really adds to the whole crazy vibe of the thing.

Wellington Batucada at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Kelly Etuata

For the last few years we’ve arranged to do a bit of a jam with the band that’s scheduled to be performing on the Community Stage at Constable Street when our parade arrives there. It’s a bit of a tricky timing challenge for the director. The streets are absolutely jammed – and for good long periods of time during the parade we aren’t actually moving forwards at all, because there are just too many people all around us. Then we’ll get a bit of space, and move ahead a short distance, and then stop for a while again…

Wellington Batucada drummers and dancers perform Merengue at Newtown Fair 2024
Video by Therese Grobler

The director’s got to direct (while walking backwards so he’s facing us) and keep an eye on the crowds all around him – and also keep an eye on his watch so that he can try to time our arrival at the Community Stage. We don’t want to get there too late and miss the band we’re supposed to be jamming with, but we don’t want to get there too early either, because our sounds are going to drown them out, and they’re going to have to stop their set so they can jam with us. Our arrival pretty much signals the end of their set, and we don’t want to cut it short, as that would not be a polite thing to do.

Unfortunately the timing also depends on whether our partner band has been able to start their set on-time or not. If they started late, they will have had even less time to play before we show up with our loudness and our random drumming and dancing. Oh no!

Wellington Batucada and Crash Bandihoot at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Harriet Payne

Our partners in this delicate tightrope walk were the very wonderful Crash Bandihoot brass band. I’d seen them playing on the street earlier in the day, and stopped to have a good old boogie, because they really were fabulous, playing New Orleans street style grooves. I so desperately wanted to get my chocalho out and play along, but I’m pretty sure there’s some serious musician etiquette for that sort of thing, so I didn’t dare.

Not to worry – I got my chance to play with them once we crashed their show at the Community Stage. Considering that we hadn’t had a chance to discuss what we would play, and certainly no opportunity to do any practice together, I think it went pretty well. It sounded good to me, anyway!

Wellington Batucada drummers and dancers perform Olodum at Newtown Fair 2024
– with a tiny bit of Crash Bandihoot at the end (wish it was longer!)
Video by Therese Grobler

Crash Bandihoot and Wellington Batucada at Newtown Fair 2024 - photo by Crash Bandihoot

Very unfortunately (and unbenownst to us at the time), the delayed-start scenario had actually played out that afternoon, which meant we did cut their set short, although obviously we didn’t mean to. We’re so sorry Crash Bandihoot! I hope we can play together again someday. You’re awesome.

Wellington’s such a fantastic melting-pot of creative endeavours, with musical styles of all kinds from all over the world. We’re so lucky to be a part of it, and I think the Newtown Festival showcases all of Wellington’s many and varied performers in just the best possible way. Apart from our fellow-musicianship faux pas, we all had the most brilliant day. It was lovely weather, the crowds were super-enthusiastic and happy, we were super-enthusiastic and happy, and we were able to finish the Festival with a cheeky beer served by our very own Amelia, followed by a jolly good curry. I love Newtown!

Wellington Batucada drummers and dancers perform Rocinha samba with quite a bit of funk at Newtown Fair 2024
Video by Therese Grobler

Photo gallery

Photos by Crash Bandihoot, Gina King, Harriet Payne, John Pilley, Kelly Etuata, Melisande Ewer, Petra Alsbach-Stevens, Rebecca Routhan and Vicky Lin. Click on any thumbnail to see the larger version:

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