You hear the crowds cheering and dancing to the beats of Brazilian Samba. It’s alive in the air, electric, right down to where you are, just off-stage. It’s been an incredible past two years, training, growing and learning with your friends and fellow musicians, and you’re ready to go in three.. two…

Samuel Heah and Javier Lee led the band during Samba Masala’s trip to the Coburg Samba Festival in 2013, as the training director and music director respectively. While they’ve handed the reins over to their juniors, they’re very much still in touch with the band, and you’ll find them playing away on the weekends, to that familiar Samba beat.

2015-10-10_Snapshots - Samuel Heah Javier Lee__DSF3363

Samuel: Joining Samba Masala was very natural for me. I came from a musical background, and have been playing percussion for more than half my life.

Javier: I can’t believe that I managed to get through the Samba auditions back in Year One. I was really bad during those auditions. I’ve been doing sports the whole while, so music was a whole new ball game for me. But after getting through, it just grew from there. Music was something different, something very interesting for me.

2015-02-07_Samba Masala Viva O Samba__DSF4956

J: Leading by example is a very big part of our culture at Samba Masala. It’s about working hard to better yourself, so that others can follow and learn from you. I didn’t have a music background, so I made sure to put in extra hours on top of our usual band practices. Almost every day for my first year in Samba, I’ll head down to ACC to practice for an hour, two hours. I’ll grab Samuel if he’s free. If not, I’ll practice by myself. You’ve got to do the work yourself before everyone comes in for practice, so that you’re able to lead the band.

S: In terms of effort, Javier puts in a lot of time and effort. No one can dispute that. He puts in more hours than I do myself.

J: I had to catch up. There was a lot of pressure!

S: It’s commendable. And the band recognises that as well.

2015-02-07_Samba Masala Viva O Samba__DSF5054

S: Performing at the Coburg Samba Festival was phenomenal for the club. This is the world’s largest Samba festival outside of Brazil, held in Coburg, Germany. There were so many other bands from all the world– we were the only Asian band! We performed for a crowd of 10,000, which was really an amazing experience. Especially for a band where most members join with no experience in percussion music. And after just a little more than a year, you’re performing overseas for one of the biggest crowds in the Samba world. It’s an incredible feeling.

J: I’d never imagined performing in front of 10,000 people. I never even thought I’d be playing drums! The crowd was insane. In Singapore, the audience is usually pretty chill, taking photos, that’s about it.. but in Coburg, they were dancing on the spot, screaming, cheering. It was really, really good.



S: Before going up, everyone’s a bit nervous but really excited as well. It’s a festival, so everyone’s really happy. We’ll do our warm-ups, encourage one another. “Give it your all, this will be fun,” things like that.

J: People started giving speeches! In Samba, we sort-of graduate from the club after two years, so that our juniors have a chance to perform, gain experience and go for the next Coburg festival. It was a special moment for all of us that year.

“Cherish this moment! This is one time you’re going to get, this is our last year in Samba.”
2015-02-07_Samba Masala Viva O Samba__DSF5838

S: When you go on, you can’t have anything holding you back. Even if you’re scared, you’ve got to walk on like you’ve got the all the confidence in the world.

Javier: You’re bound to be nervous, especially if you’re doing a solo part. If you miss your solos…

S: Eye contact really helps. We’re always maintaining eye contact, giving each other assuring nods, essentially saying, “This is it. Go for it.” We can trust that we’re here for one another.

J: Once we start, everything just goes from there. The crowd was amazing. The energy level at Coburg was on a whole new level, compared to Singapore. You feed off that energy– you want to do more, you have to give more!

2014-07-12_Snapshots - Samuel Heah Javier Lee_IMG_6203

S: When it comes to leadership, I make sure that people feel encouraged and motivated. You’ve got to take the time to connect with your band, on the ground. If they’re not getting things right, instead of scolding them, I’ll show them how to do it, and motivate them to want to work better.

J: I can be great friends with you, but when the going gets tough, I can be very straightforward. If you’re not doing well, you can see it on my face. I can’t hide my emotions. But they respond to it. With the two of us, it’s “good cop, bad cop”!

2015-02-07_Samba Masala Viva O Samba__DSF5695

J: I remember this piece of advice from my soccer days. My coach said this to the team. It’s absolutely true, whether you’re in sports or the arts.

“There may be days when you cannot pass well, cannot shoot well, or cannot dribble properly. But there will never be a day when you cannot work hard.”

J: When I look back at Samba and my experiences at SMU, it wouldn’t be the grades or the studying. It would be the people you spend it with. I remember the feeling when we were onstage, what our band looked like, but I don’t remember the crowd much. These are the things you’ll never forget: the practices, the conversations over lunch, having fun and playing together as one band. Don’t forget the people who are with you.

2015-10-10_Snapshots - Samuel Heah Javier Lee__DSF3414

Samba Masala is SMU’s resident percussion group. They are best defined by their unique fusion of Afro-Brazillian music and Asian flavours, represented by the Indian dhols. On an international scale, Samba has paved its way across stages from Coburg to Los Angeles and London. As a progressive performing arts group, they are constantly exploring new methods of presenting Samba music and improving their art form, such as when they organised their first ever Samba festival this year, Viva O Samba!

Check out SMU Samba Masala on Facebook or Instagram at @sambamasala!

© 2018 Snapshots by SMU