Holland-born Ramon van Meer loves Brazil, and he wants the rest of Las Vegas to fall in love, too.
He and his wife, Charlene Santos, had the idea to start the Vegas Loves Brazil Festival a year ago. The two threw a Brazilian-themed party in Sunset Park for their family and about 25 friends.
“Everyone had such a good time that we decided to do it again the next month,” van Meer said. “We had over 200 people at that one.”
A festival celebrating the unique culture of the South American country and its peoples’ love for life meshes well with Las Vegas’ similar attitude, he said.
“Vegas is the perfect city for this,” he said. “The food, the music, the dancing … I know for a fact that people will fall in love with Brazilian culture.”
The first-time festival organizer had a similar transformation four years ago.
“Before I met my wife, I thought Brazil was just soccer and samba,” he said. “(Brazilians) have such a passion for life. The festival will hopefully educate people on all aspects of Brazilian culture.”
The festival, set for Saturday at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, is set to feature food from the restaurant Texas de Brazil and others; five different musical acts; a kids area; and demonstrations of Capoeria, a Brazilian martial art.
Santos, van Meer and fellow organizer Cliff Martin said they hope the festival will help spur support for a Brazilian community center in the valley, a place where Brazilians and others can take Portuguese, cooking, music and dance classes. They also want to host events such as a Brazilian movie night.
“My wife speaks her language to our son, but he doesn’t know how to read or write Portuguese,” van Meer said. “We’ll have classes for kids to read and write and learn about the country’s history.”
The couple said plans for the center are in place. They just need to drum up support — with samba drums.
A longtime friend of Santos, Rejane Costa, is slated to serve as this festival’s Samba Queen. A native of the Amazon, Costa said the dancers’ alluring costumes are a favorite for many, but the attire serves a more important purpose than sex appeal.
“The colors, the patterns, everything is designed to show happiness,” she said. “It all makes for a welcoming environment for people to learn about Brazil.”
Kyle Bissantz is a member of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ “bateria,” a type of Brazilian drum line slated to participate in the festival. Mocidade Rebelde, meaning rebellious youth in Portuguese, features about 40 percussionists playing eight different instruments.
“The different sections have a specific groove, much like pieces of a puzzle,” said Bissantz, who plays a surdo drum. “There’s a distinctive swing to it that really takes on its own form when everything comes together.”
The Wichita, Kan., native said the upbeat samba has universal appeal.
“You don’t have to be Brazilian to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s dance music meant to be enjoyed.”
Van Meer said this type of exposure may open doors to these authentic Brazilian, or at least Brazilian-style, performers.
“Once people see what a true Brazilian party looks like, they’ll be hooked,” he said.
For Santos, the festival will act like a sort of Brazilian census.
“There are many Brazilians living here, but they’re spread out,” she said. “Hopefully, we can bring the Brazilian community all together.”
She said she is proud of the work her community has done to put this festival together but that they want to do more.
“The idea is just to keep growing,” she said. “I didn’t imagine it would be as big as it’s gotten. The festival will be a great asset to Vegas.”
Vegas Loves Brazil is scheduled from 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults or free for children 12 or younger. Free, on-site parking is available.
For more information, visit vegaslovesbrazil.com.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0492.