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<p>Victor Souza, lead vocalist in Maca Reggae Samba, gets the crowd ready for the live music and dance at Heartwood Soundstage Saturday Jan. 23, 2023.</p>

Victor Souza, lead vocalist in Maca Reggae Samba, gets the crowd ready for the live music and dance at Heartwood Soundstage Saturday Jan. 23, 2023.

For musician and event planner Victor Souza, a crammed room is a good room. 

Souza, originally from Salvador, Brazil, worked with Heartwood Soundstage to organize Brazilfest, an annual event that offers individuals a glimpse into Brazilian culture. After a three-year hiatus following the COVID-19 pandemic, around 200 people attended the festival Saturday. 

Brazilfest, which lasted from 4-10 p.m., aimed to expose Gainesville residents to Brazilian art, cuisine, music, fashion and style.  

The event took place in the Bob Mcpeek listening room, a small soundstage lit by the colors of the Brazilian flag: green and blue. A collection of purses, bags and jackets decorated the bottom of the stage as live music filled the room and the crowd began to dance vibrantly — some by themselves and others with friends, family or even strangers.

“We want people to stay closer together — as close as possible,” Souza said. “It’s the Brazilian way.”

The event cost around $5,000, funded by Ready to Paint, Gainesville Circus Center and Visit Gainesville, he said. 

Brazilfest started in 2009 and occurs twice a year: once around Carnival, a Brazilian celebration that includes live music in the streets, costumes and parades, — and again around Sept. 7, Brazilian Independence Day. 

This year, the volunteer base primarily consisted of students and members of BRASA UF, the university’s Brazilian student association.  

In the past, around 70% of Brazilfest’s audience was non-Brazilians, Souza said. Today, however, this number has changed due to the high volume of Brazilian immigrants in the area.  

Souza’s group, Maca Reggae Samba, performed with Brazilian Maestro Hugo Sambone and Chocolate Costa around 6:30 p.m at the Bob Mcpeek listening room.

Acts played a range of popular Brazilian music such as forró, a northeast rhythmic genre composed of accordions, zabumba and a metal triangle; bossa-nova, a 1950’s fusion of samba and jazz; and MPB, also known as música popular brasileira, a post-bossa-nova genre that mixes elements of samba, rock, and regional music.

Other performers were Pamelli Marafom, Rafael Abdala, Welson Tremura and others.  

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As the band made its way into the stage, the crowd stepped back to make room for the dancers.  

Flores do Samba, a dance group specialized in Afro-Brazilian dance, marched in from both sides of the stage wearing feathered crowns, high heels and bejeweled outfits. The group was led by Corey Souza, Victor’s wife.

Outside, three food vendors were set side-by-side under large tarps. The line made its way inside the venue as people waited to taste feijoada, coxinha, espetinho, moqueca and other traditional Brazilian goods.  

Jaina Macleod, a friend of Souza, moved from Goiás, Brazil, to Gainesville eight years ago and works a day job as a housekeeper. At the event, she sold chicken and beef espetinhos that came with farofa e vinaigrette.  

“I came [to the United States] looking for a better life for my daughters, and now my grandsons,” Macleod said, as one of her grandsons ran around kicking a ball.  

Beside her were other business owners, such as a plastic surgery artist, a financial adviser and a designer. 

Gloria Helal, designer and business owner, sold colorful dresses, scarves and mosaic art partially inspired by Brazilian folklore and scenery. Although this was her first time participating in Brazilfest, she previously sold her pieces in North Carolina and Rio de Janeiro, where she was born, she said.   

Sofia Portugal, a 22-year old UF advertising senior, from Salvador, Brazil, found the event through Facebook group Brazileiros em Gainesville. 

Now  the president of BRASA, she joined the club in 2019 as an international student looking to feel part of a community that feels like home, she said. While Portugal said she wished there were more vendors and a larger variety of vegan and vegetarian options, she still enjoyed Brazilfest.

“I thought the event was cool, and it would be nice to bring a younger student community to experience Brazilian food, music, all of that,” she said. 

Contact Ana at Follow her on Twitter @anamattiuzzi.

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