Fogo Azul NYC is the brain-child of Stacy Kovacs, and is an all-female drumline, marching band, samba band, Brazilian band, and much more. Kovacs was formerly the founder of the New York contingent of Batala, which dissolved in 2016 and has been rebranded as Fogo Azul.
Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Women Crush Wednesday (#WCW), aims to recognize, celebrate, and inspire female percussionists of all stripes. Each Wednesday we’ll feature a profile of a drummer, who will share tips, advice, and videos.
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What is your city, country, and age?
I live in Queens, NY, USA. Age: 42
What’s the origin story of Fogo Azul?
In 2011, I experienced a group from Washington, D.C. called Batala at Brazilian Day in New York City. It was an all-women Brazilian percussion group, part of a bigger co-ed global arts project called Batala. Upon inquiring about how to have one in NYC, I learned it was easy to do — just start one! So, I did!
It proved to be a great experience and Batala NYC (the New York-based Batala band) at one point grew to 85 women! With the group I was able to travel to Brazil four times to play in Carnival. For five straight years, Batala NYC continued to play at more and more events. We became known as a party band, a wedding band, and an event band for all types of events. It was a great run.
Then, the summer of 2016 proved difficult for members of Batala in New York. A small faction of women within Batala in NY decided to go to the Maestre without me knowing and ask to take control of the band. They never told me once there was a “problem” and never asked to meet and discuss it. So, with support from other members of the band, and from my long-time mentor Marcus Santos of Grooversity, I realized that I must scrap it altogether and move on. I decided to avoid the potential drama, leave Batala, take all of the drums and equipment I owned from Batala (over 100 drums!) and start my own truly all-women organized band, not under the rules of any greater organization.
I chose Fogo Azul NYC as it means Blue Fire in Portuguese and Blue fire is the hottest flame!
Why did you decide to focus on an all-female Drumline/Samba/Brazilian/Marching band?
That’s a no-brainer! In a male-dominated world of music, and especially drumming, women are often neglected. This is also part of the reason I decided to leave Batala and do my own thing. I was treated differently by the Batala Maestro and project administration than other leaders, most of whom were male. The “all-women” nature of my band was met with negativity by members of the other Batala bands around the world. I realized a completely women-run project is the only thing that would be true to the idea of an all-women band. And that’s what FogoAzul NYC is. It’s a woman-built small business in the state of New York, managed, directed, and designed by women. It’s women’s empowerment to the max.
On top of that, typically in the United States, you’re given the chance to join band, usually in the third grade, right? If you pay attention, girls are offered clarinets, flutes, and violins. Boys are offered drums, trumpets, and guitars. It’s a set up of gender-based biases from generations ago. Most women who have come to the group to join say “I have always wanted to play drums, but wasn’t allowed because I was a girl.” So, it makes perfect sense to me.
How was it performing on SNL? How did that come about?
So the SNL thing came about from a bit of luck. From what I was told, the booking agent was contacted by the representatives of the group Disclousure looking for something to enhance the performance. SNL apparently suggest a “samba band” as the beats to them seemed samba-like. So, we were asked. We had a few rehearsals, which were fun, and then the day of a few run-throughs with tech, and then the “practice SNL” shoot with the audience, then the live one! It was cool to see how the show runs, etc, but honestly we were off on another floor and only able to watch the show on the TV. But still! An opportunity of a lifetime!
Who is your favorite drummer/percussionist and why?
I grew up with parents who showed me many types of music — Sandy Nelson was one of my favorite records, and my brother was a big Glen Miller fan, so through that I found Buddy Rich and that whole era of masters.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum! readers?
Well, I don’t play drum set. At all. Never have, and the few times I sat down at one, I honestly didn’t like it. I was taught concert snare drum in school, and with that led to the more classical instruments like orchestral percussion, keyboards, and then, the life changing drums: marching band. If it wasn’t for that introduction and the fortune of going to a school system in upstate New York, which had a giant music program, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
I believe music is a universal language. It is the language that everyone can speak, and billions of people do. It unites people, it brings joy, and it should be spread near and far. Some people may disagree with that, but I honestly can’t even understand why they would.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
Honestly, Fogo Azul NYC is my hobby project. I work as a Physician Assistant in a NYC hospital setting. For me, success is measured by how many women come through the ranks, learn the music and something new, make friends, get through tough life experiences, and most importantly have fun. Success is not something measurable to me. Every time we step out for a show, or in a parade, I know it’s going to be a “success” for the band, however, each time we are out there, I push for us to be better.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
“You can’t stop the beat.” From Hairspray: The Musical.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Totally. Just do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, you shouldn’t, or you aren’t “meant to” because you’re a girl. Start from the basics, as I said above, drum set isn’t all there is to drumming. In fact, percussion is the vastest genre of instruments! There are so many options, and you should try them all. As far as making it, from what I have seen in NYC, it’s skill mixed with luck. Maybe more luck than skill…
Where else to find Fogo Azul NYC
We love new fans! We love people to come and watch us. Our next big event is the NYC Dance Parade on May 19, 2018. We’re having a “Brazilian Dance Party” and a float! A float! No, the drummers won’t be on the float as there are, like, 70 of us, but dancers will be with balloons!