Courtenay Place Winter Parade 2024

An amazing atmosphere on a cold winter’s night

Wellington Batucada at the Courtenay Place Winter Parade - photo by Jeff Mein Smith

Jamie, who was co-ordinating the gig, described it thus:

“The various owners of the bars/venues/places of Courtenay Place are supporting a series of events along Courtenay Place throughout June/July. That means we’re doing a night parade! Twinkly lights! Drums! Dance! Action!”

And it really was – all of the above – and much, much more. It was quite a magical night, in fact.

It’s a very long time since I’ve hung out on Courtenay Place on a Friday night – but I’ve certainly had my moments there over the years. Loads of fun – sometimes there’d be a bit of drunken mayhem as people let off steam at the end of the working week, perhaps a wee bit of trouble – probably not somewhere you’d be likely to take your kids or your granny to. How things have changed.

I know that the last few years haven’t been easy for the hostelries and eating places of Wellington, or anywhere else in Aotearoa – or much of the rest of the world, for that matter. So I can understand how this idea to bring a regular bit of creative life to Courtenay Place has come about. I think I just wasn’t prepared for how much life, energy and sheer good vibes a bunch of brightly-costumed drummers and dancers can bring to a social space that’s – let’s say – quieter than it used to be.

And yes I know that the brightly-costumed performers were us – and that we were in it, as the people bringing those good vibes and all that great stuff – so how could we really tell how it felt from the outside – but honestly – you really really could. It was amazing.

As we walked up the street from our Green Room at the Pow Wow Club to the start of our show at the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki Street, there didn’t really seem to be anyone much around. A cold, clear, still Wellington night (which was good) but completely no sign of an audience at all (not so good).

Courtenay Place just before the gig - photo by Satya Priyomarsono

Courtenay Place just before the gig – photo by Satya Priyomarsono

And yet somehow – within seconds of us gathering on the street corner and taking up our performance positions we seemed to be surrounded by a really rather large group of people who had appeared out of nowhere. Wuh! Where did they all come from?! Everyone was wrapped up warm to watch us – in contrast to the band and especially the dancers who, as you probably know by now, don’t have the most substantial costumes in the world. Thermals are a performer’s best friend in these conditions, for sure.

We began with a super quick intro from director Darryn and then we were into samba with gusto and enthusiasm, the dancers twirling and whirling in front of us as we played. It was great! At the first brief break to regather ourselves and begin again from the top with our long intro, the crowd went a bit wild (no really – even in Wellington this can sometimes happen) and we knew it was going to be a good one.

We ran through most of our samba patterns and breaks – including our new-ish break “Mangueira funk” – which generally goes down pretty well with our audience as it includes not only a bit of singing, but a bit of football-chant-style shouting too. Always fun, especially as it’s accompanied by a pretty full-on and fast samba funk pattern.

It was lovely to be out on the streets of Wellington doing what we do, what we love, and almost unexpectedly finding a rather substantial and appreciative audience to share it with us.

Our second song was Olodum samba reggae, a great piece for parading – so Darryn signalled for our audience to part in the middle like the Red Sea, and we began our long march down Courtenay Place.

Wellington Batucada at the Courtenay Place Winter Parade - photo by Donna Jennings

Two aspects of the parade really stood out for me. Firstly – that I love parading along pavements because when you go under the shop awnings you get fantastically loud acoustics which sound amazing. And secondly – literally every venue, every food place, every bar we went past, patrons jumped out of their seats and came rushing to the door to see what was going on, everyone with huge grins and expressions of surprise mixed with joy on their faces, waving at us and dancing along with the drumming. It was so brilliant. Our audience from Taranaki Street came with us – and we picked up more and more people along the way.

We went past a busker who just had the biggest smile on his face for us, even as we interrupted his show; we picked up street people and rough sleepers who came along for a bit of a boogie; furry(!) helmet-clad bikers revved their engines and madly nodded their heads to the beat – and when we had to cross Tory Street at speed (heaps of us, not enough green-light time) Darryn stood in the middle of the road and conducted the cars to honk their horns in time with the drumming while they waited. Quite mad.

Wellington Batucada at the Courtenay Place Winter Parade - photo by Kamille Joyce

On arrival at the Tripod Sculpture at the far end of Courtenay Place we positioned ourselves ready for another static performance, once again surrounded by our very happy and enthusiastic audience. At this point Darryn decided to throw oldie-but-goodie Sambanui samba reggae into the mix.

This was a bold choice, as it’s a slightly tricky piece, which we haven’t played very much recently. The caixas set off with great enthusiasm at a cracking pace – I think we need to tie them down or something when we play this song. It’s tricky because – as a classic reggae pattern – much of the action happens on the off-beat. For my instrument – the chocalho or shaker – it’s like having to thread a needle through a very narrow channel of sound – and when it’s played fast, it’s quite a challenge to stay in the groove.

Anyway – we all kept up – the dancers wore themselves out dancing this very choreographed piece at high speed – and everyone watching completely loved it and it was all rather wonderful. Good call, Darryn!

Wellington Batucada at the Courtenay Place Winter Parade - photo by Jeff Mein Smith

Look at our audience! Grannies, kids, and everyone in between – photo by Jeff Mein Smith

We finished with another round of samba to say thank you to our lovely audience, and to segue into the next act of the night – the completely fabulous Hoot’n’Annies! Awesome! Half the band are in the Hoot’n’Annies as well (slight exaggeration), so they are totally family and we love them.

Many of us stayed for a bit of a boogie and a sing-along (and maybe also a bit of a play-along – we just couldn’t help ourselves) until our sweaty bodies started to feel the cold, and then one by one we headed off to the rather pleasant Saint Diablo Bar just down the road, where they were providing our first drink of the evening on the house. How very kind!

It was a fantastic, magical night, with the most wonderful atmosphere. We’d like to thank the venues of Courtenay Place for organising this series of arty events in their neighbourhood. We hope you all had as good a time as we did, and that we can all do it again sometime. Cheers!

Photo gallery

Photos by Anny Freitas, Donna Jennings, Gina King, Jeff Mein Smith, Kamille Joyce, Satya Priyomarsono and Vicky Lin. Click on any thumbnail to see the larger version:

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