Cyro Baptista's Banquet of the Spirits

Juniata Presents had the honor of welcoming Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits on March 25, 2017 held in Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts. The title itself suggests the audience could expect a lively performance that would lift the spirits of all ages and have everyone dancing, even the performers themselves.

Originating from Sao Paolo, Brazil and making his way to America in 1980, Cyro Baptista has definitely come a long way to promote the wondrous sounds of the Brazilian culture and his philosophy of anthropofagia. Multi-talented percussionist Cyro Baptista has taken the world by storm, figuratively and literally through his uniquely created instruments. His extraordinary résumé consisting of performing and recording with various artists such as David Byrne, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and James Taylor just to name a few. Baptista also had the honor to perform on five Grammy award winning albums one of them with Yo-Yo-Ma titled “Obrigado Brasil.” Described by NPR as “one of the most enduring proponents,” Baptista’s accomplishments speak for themselves.

Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits is an impressive quartet made up of talented individuals. Arranger and producer Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz plays the gimbri African lute as well as the bass. Brian Marsella is stupendous on the piano as well as the harpsichord and Tim Keiper plays the drums and percussion as well as the ngoni guitar. This talented group has performed in established venues such as SJ JAZZ and Adelaide Festival in Australia.

Cyro Baptista plays a huge assemblage of instruments, many he has made and others originating from Brazil and from across the globe. Some of his uniquely defined instruments include the gas pipe and something he likes to call a waterphone. These instruments are more than unique to say the least, especially the sound you hear once it’s played. For example, when you hear him play a set of pipes with flip flops, it resembles the echo of a cave.

On Friday, in the Global Commons Village the artists led a workshop to give students, staff and locals a taste of what was to come on Saturday night. The setting made the performance more interpersonal, especially when Baptista asked the audience to get up and participate with the band. He directed the audience to stomp their feet and clap their hands to a one-two-two-beat. Everybody was smiling or laughing because some had lost the rhythm or just having a good time. This small performance was surreal and set the excitement level for the main event.

At the beginning of the performance we experience Baptista’s creativity listening and watching him create animal noises by using a little device resembling a whistle. What only seems to be the sounds of birds transcends to frog and elephant noises. We are no longer in Rosenberger Auditorium but rather transported to a rainforest through Baptista’s unique sounds and rhythms. With the scene set, maracas heighten the Caribbean experience culminating with the powerful tribal chants coming from the quartet.   

It hasn’t even been five minutes and you could already see children and adults nodding their heads to the rhythm of the music. A woman taps her fingers and feet as the vocals get higher and we hear the stringing of the guitar. Children in the front row begin to get up and start jumping up and down with their hands in the air and heads nodding to the beat of the guitar. The encouragement of the groovy dance moves from the band encouraged the audience to feel the music and get up and dance. Juniata College senior, Kaila Carrasco states, “as a percussionist I was really intrigued by the unique rhythms and instruments.”

If the music wasn’t enough to love the band, Baptista’s very charismatic personality throughout the performance would make you love the band even more. He would tell the audience jokes through performance intervals about having to change the title of his group from anthropofagia to Banquet of the Spirits because Americans could not pronounce the word.  

Towards his last set the audience were encouraged to participate with the band by yelling, “woo,” to add to the unique piece that they were already playing. The amount of energy from the audiences’ participation and Baptista was inspirational to say the least.

Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits incorporated sounds from all around the world through unique instruments. Senior Marissa Woodman stated, “I enjoyed the clear level of talent that the performers had. The vocals were another wonderful part of the show. Overall, it was an incredible listening experience for fans of pop, primitive, modern and more.” This is surely a must-see production that invites all people from different ages to get up and dance and explore sounds from all across the globe.

 —Gaby Atayde '17, Digital Media Writer Intern