Robert plays drums in two Brazilian bands, Jangada (a mix of samba and reggae) and Banda Braza (traditional Brazilian forró). Since 1998, he has traveled to Brazil seven times to study music. He's connected with Candomblé, an African religion brought to Brazil by slaves. Candomblé shares traits with the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santería; drumming is integral to both.
"You use different drumming rituals to invoke the saints," says Robert, who admits he's not "fully initiated" as a Candomblé drummer. "You have to go through a series of initiations. Initiated drummers have to stay away from certain types of people and certain foods based on what saint watches over you. It might be determined the sacred fruit of your [saint] is pumpkin. You can never eat pumpkin. I offered a red shirt to a friend as a gift, and he said, 'Oh, man, I can't wear red.' When a person becomes a full priest, he can only dress in white."
About animal sacrifices (an aspect of both Candomblé and Santería), Robert says, "People see it as devil worship. They see animal blood and they forget Jews used to sacrifice rams and sheep. There is nothing sinister with it. Nine times out of ten we eat what we sacrifice. The only time we don't eat it is if we want the animal to absorb negative energy."
Drummer Mark Lamson has introduced scores of locals (including Robert) to Brazilian drumming. He estimates that there are 300 San Diegans who practice Santería and a handful who practice Candomblé.
Jangada appears at Kava Lounge on Sunday and Banda Braza appears Wednesday, February 14, at Portugalia.