By Kellie Hwang The Republic | azcentral.com Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:36 PM
Everything at the Carnaval do Brazil in March appeared 100 percent Brazilian: the sultry samba dancers, the leaping capoeira performers, the tasty feijoada and pastels, the strong caipirinha libations.
The music, a relaxed, well-woven mix of Afro, samba, axe and bossa nova tunes, was spun by a DJ named Miguel, who looked every bit Brazilian.
But Miguel Ivery, aka DJ Seduce, isn’t Brazilian at all. The 35-year-old has never been to Brazil and speaks Portuguese haltingly. A native Arizonan, his father is Black, his mother Mexican and European.
A former insurance man turned self-taught DJ, he had never heard Brazilian music until 2001, when he chanced upon a song by Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor. The soulful vocals over heavy jazz grooves left Ivery in a trance, hungry for more.
As DJ Seduce, Ivery spins mostly Brazilian music, runs a Brazilian label called Afro:Baile Records and hosts two of the largest annual Brazilian events in Arizona. His next big gig is the fourth annual Brazilian Day celebration on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Ivery has found a niche in the Brazilian community. It wasn’t easy to make a name for himself as an outsider, but many Brazilians appreciated what he was trying to do.
“Brazilians have this easy-going ‘Let’s hang out and work later’ attitude,” said Ivery, who lives in Gilbert with his wife and two daughters. “They are so passionate about so many things; they love food, they love music, they love soccer.
“The Brazilian lifestyle for me has rubbed off in my approach to running Afro:Baile, and I’m just having fun while I’m doing it.”
The local Brazilian community — estimated at 3,000 to 3,500 people — typically hosts private events or smaller, casual ones at private homes. There were no major events until non-profit Casa Brazil was founded in 2003. It hosts an annual Carnaval fundraiser attracting about 500 people, mostly from the Brazilian community, to benefit needy children in Brazil.
Until Ivery came on the scene, there wasn’t much for younger Brazilians and the outside community to get excited about.
A new gig
Growing up in downtown Phoenix, Ivery didn’t think much about his racial background. When his family moved to Scottsdale and he attended Saguaro High School, though, he began to reflect on who he is.
“I started to appreciate more where I came from, and it really made me explore my African roots,” Ivery said. “One weekend, I’m having French food with my grandmother at her house, and the next, barbecue and red-velvet cake with my dad.”
He started listening to the Motown and soul albums his father loved so much, and he dabbled in Latin music and heavy metal. His parents encouraged him to play saxophone, drums and bass. He earned a music-business degree from Scottsdale Community College but ended up working a standard suit-and-tie job in the insurance industry.
With the music bug still in him, though, Ivery started playing on his brother’s old disc-jockey equipment and reading his DJ magazines. Ivery entered a contest that one of the magazines held and won the complete catalog for electronic-music label OM Records. That led to a revelation in 2000.
“One day, I walked into work and realized, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ ” he recalled.
With scant experience, Ivery scanned the newspaper classifieds for a DJ job and auditioned at a pub in Tempe. He got the gig, then several others, before landing at the AZ 88 restaurant and bar in Scottsdale, where he stayed until 2005.
Ivery continued practicing at home and exploring new music. In 2001, scouring a record store for different sounds to blend into his mixes — he spins only vinyl — he came across a record of batucada, which is African-influenced samba with pulsating percussion and fast-paced rhythms. Intrigued, he picked up another batucada record; its B-side featured Jorge Ben Jor.
“I saw he was a Black guy speaking what I thought was Spanish,” Ivery said. “I didn’t know it was really Portuguese, and that there was a whole movement of Afro-Brazilian culture and music that happened when the slave trade came to Brazil.”
Ivery dove into Afro-Cuban, Venezuelan and Peruvian music, falling in love with the whole Afro genre, surprised that there was such a large African influence in other parts of the world.
In 2005, he launched a monthly Afro night, called Afro:Baile (baile means ball in Portuguese), at the Loft in Tempe, inviting various bands to perform. Latin bands, particularly Brazilian ones, began reaching out to Ivery on MySpace.
“I got all this really good, unsigned stuff from all over South America, so I invited some of them out to play,” he said. “In 2007, I got the idea to put together a compilation of all the bands who ever played at Afro:Baile and released a CD.”
This spurred the creation of the record label of the same name. Soon after, Ivery signed his first group, the Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra, a 12-piece Afro-beat band from Tucson.
“This whole time, I was starting to fall in love with Brazil and had all of this Brazilian music I didn’t know what to do with,” he said. “So I put together a Brazilian compilation with all the demos I had gotten through MySpace.”
“Brazil-Sambossica” came out in 2008.
“The album started selling in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand,” he said. “It was surreal. I was just a guy in Arizona who had never been to Brazil, and couldn’t speak the language, yet people were buying the album.”
Ivery released two more compilations, the album “I Love Bossa Nova” and several albums of little-known Brazilian artists.
As the only Brazilian-music DJ in metro Phoenix, Ivery was tapped to perform at a private party in 2009 for Leandro Barbosa, a São Paulo native who played for the Phoenix Suns from 2003 to 2010. He brought with him a capoeira group and Brazilian band.
“The chemistry was so great among all the performers at Leandro’s party, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we do our own Carnaval event?’ ”
But gaining the trust of the Brazilian community wasn’t a sure thing.
“People were skeptical,” Ivery said. “Was this guy trying to cash in on our culture, or does he genuinely care about it? For me, it was about saying, ‘Here’s this culture I know about, and I want to share it with everybody.’ ”
Ivery bought Portuguese-language CDs, studied the culture online and met members of the local Brazilian community face to face. He was determined to re-create the high-energy-party atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Carnaval celebrations — with bands from Brazil, real Brazilians making salgadinhos (finger foods) and the right brand of cachaca liquor in the caipirinhas.
More than 500 came out to the first Carnaval at the Sail Inn in Tempe in 2010, prompting Ivery to move the event to a bigger venue the next year. Gina Lombardi, owner of the Sail Inn and formerly of the Loft, said Afro:Baile and the Carnaval party were something fresh and new.
“It’s different from what anyone else was doing on Mill Avenue, and if you were 21 or 80, you liked it,” she said. “Miguel captured a crowd that I never knew existed out there. ... The music is so catchy that anyone can enjoy it. I’m impressed at how far he’s taken it all.”
The same year, Ivery launched an event for Brazilian Day, the country’s independence day, which would focus more on the culture.
Adriana Elsholz, 40, who was born in Brazil and lives in Prescott, has been to all of Ivery’s events.
“When you’re at his events, it feels like you’re back in Brazil,” she said. “I was so impressed from the first event, and the second event, I brought back a bunch of friends. It brings in so many different people.”
Clarice Deal, a Brazilian national and professor of Portuguese at Arizona State University, met Ivery when he approached her with the idea of promoting his events in her classes.
“I was really surprised because he looks Brazilian, and I started to become a fan because he’s promoting my culture,” she said. “He does incredible work because he can bring 1,000 people together from different backgrounds and make it feel like Brazil.”
Carnaval do Brazil in March was sold out, bringing 1,200 people to Venue of Scottsdale. The Brazilian Day celebration, which is open to all ages and has moved to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, is expected to draw up to 3,000.
The home Ivery and his wife, Christina, share in a quiet, gated community in Gilbert is not much different from any other young family: photos and mementos dot the entry hall, a play area for their girls is in one corner, and pet beds and toys for his cat and dog are in another.
But one room is Ivery’s sanctuary: his recording and practice studio.
His Technics turntables are at the center of the room, facing a large, bright-yellow Afro:Baile Records banner with the tagline “Discover the ‘New Sound’ of Brazil.” Surrounding it are posters promoting past events, from Afro:Baile nights to Brazilian Day to Carnaval. His “right-hand man,” Alonso Murillo, designed the posters and album covers and created videos for Ivery’s events.
Such books as “Dirty Portuguese,” “How to Be a Carioca: The Alternative Guide for the Tourist in Rio” and a Lonely Planet guide to Brazil sit on a shelf above Ivery’s record collection, which lines one wall and is sectioned off by genre.
It’s a small space but well-organized, and it’s just enough for Ivery. It allows him to be home with his wife and his girls, ages 4 and 5, who also are smitten with Brazilian music.
“They get excited when they hear him play it,” Christina said. “Any time he puts on a record, the first thing they do is run down to his studio and dance and sing.”
Although Ivery has been successful enough to support his family and avoid returning to a desk job, his business still faces obstacles.
“The label has always been a challenge, to turn classics out of these underdog musicians,” he said. “I work every day to learn to read, write and understand Portuguese and speak more fluently one day. I just hope to keep bringing the Brazilian culture to the masses in any way I can.”
Amid the gigs and events, he’ll finally get to experience firsthand the culture he has made a career out of: He plans to visit Rio in the fall.
“Some people tell me I have more heart and soul than actual Brazilians they know,” he said. “It took a lot of time, but now I feel part of the community.”
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