Wearing blue shirts and seemingly unperturbed by the size and weight of the drums they carry from one street to another, these women crossing 25th Street near the Flatiron district caught my curiosity as I was about to finish my cover going to Union Square during the Car Free Earth Day Celebration in New York City.
I first caught a glimpse of Clare Fleury, who was wearing striking high yellow socks matched with yellow sneakers walking towards my direction. She joined the band just recently and is enjoying her part in the ensemble. She satisfied my curiosity by telling me what the band is. I've been living in New York City for six years now and it was my first time encountering an all women drum band. This is made up of women from all walks of life. A quick scan of the drum band and you will notice the obvious diversity of the members, race and ethnicity aside, it was diverse in many aspects including backgrounds and work.
As I decided to follow them, being really curious as to what these women can do with drums and pairs of sticks, I bumped into Vicki Winters, whom I was able to meet in one of their pre-performance stops at 26th Street. She is a travel agent with a bubbly personality. She recognized my accent and immediately told me an amusing story of an American guy who wanted to be fixed up with a Filipina woman back home. She was easy to talk to, in fact she made me laugh quickly with her wit and humor, thinking to myself, what a great spirit inside her despite the seemingly heavy equipment she carries. In my brief interview with Clare and Vicki, my mind was a bit distracted by the thought of the weight they carried, It wasn't easy to see women carrying these drums, not because I see them weak, in fact I know how it felt. I was a drummer boy when I was 12 in my school and I used to carry the really large Bass Drum on my shoulders for miles. But the physical exhaustion was immediately relieved by the performance we did. As I followed them around, I saw the same satisfaction in their eyes. It was exhausting, but once they beat those drums, all hell breaks loose and the party starts rolling.
Vicki had help. She carried her drums with a bike. She is not alone. At least three of the members I saw have the same mode of transport as hers. Most of them are from New York City and carrying those drums with bikes makes it easy to go around. But unlike some of them, one woman was very creative in moving her drums. Anna carries her drums with a stroller. I find it ingenious and creative. Like many women in the band, Anna has a day job and so does Tina who I was fortunate to meet at the end of their performance and Cecile who is a full time mom with kids. Being a full time mom with kids is also a full time job, and seeing Cecile in the band made me admire their dedication and hard work.
Cecile reiterated the importance of the band in her mental health, serving as a therapeutic way of releasing stress and angst. I knew this for a fact because I used to channel my teenage angst while in puberty by beating my bass drum during practice and performance. It is a fact that drummers are happier and fitter because it releases endorphins and enkephalins, both neurotransmitters that act as painkillers and mood enhancers. This is evident among the members. The glow in their faces and the smile they emit was truly ephemeral, if not, outright contagious. Many of them really seem happy in what they do and they really get along well. Tina, who was at the frontline of the performance, wearing her big smile and tinted sunglasses, shared to me that the band is also a support group for her. They are there for each other and even developed strong bonds and friendship among each other.
And then I saw them perform. My jaw dropped. These women are amazing in what they do. Daniella from Colombia, for instance, was literally dancing while beating those drums. Stealing scenes from time to time and gaining adulation from the crowd. These women literally rocked the world at that moment.
The passion that these women do is evident in their band's name, Fogo Azul or Blue Fire. According to the band director, Stacy Kovacs, she started the band in 2016 and from there they evolved what they are now. She got the inspiration from Samba Reggae Brazilian Rhythm during many of her trips to Brazil during the Carnival.
I am not the first one to write a profile about these women. A quick google search and a browse at their official website, you will see tons of articles written about them. But the thing about journalism, photojournalism in my case, is that you breathe a new life to an already existing story.
The Fogo Azul is beating the drums during the time that women are being empowered left and right. Women in Congress are up and numbers of women candidates into leadership positions in all walks of life are increasing at a rate we have never seen before. Suburban Black Women for example were a major driving force that won the election for Joe Biden's Presidency. It was also this year that we saw for the very first time that two women presided both house chambers in the Capitol during the State of the Union Address and just recently, a woman of color was appointed to a lifetime seat in the Supreme Court.
Women's power is not a vacuum. It is actively evolving. Searching for their identity and making their way, curving their path into a world which for so long, has been monopolized by men. Fogo Azul is the musical embodiment of women reclaiming their power and spotlight on the world stage. I grew up among powerful women in my lifetime; my mother and two sisters were a very strong female influence in my patriarchal family. Femininity in my family was never a conflict, but actually complimented the strong masculinity that my father exuded. This balance of power is what the world needs. Neither is dominant nor overpowering, but rather equal and complementary to each other.
If women are the heart of the family, then it is fitting that these Women Drummers are the heartbeat of New York.