August Artist Spotlight: Marcus Santos

Contemporary percussionist, musical educator, and activist Marcus Santos is a native of Bahia, Brazil. Having been raised in the uniquely rich African-influenced culture of Bahia, Santos has passionately committed his life to the study, preservation, and teaching of Afro-Brazilian music and heritage. His dedication to this cause has earned him a variety of opportunities and international success. After first studying music and business at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, Marcus obtained a scholarship to Fenway Alliance Member Institution Berklee College of Music, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in the performance of hand percussion, as well as the Outstanding Musician and Community Service through Music awards. Marcus was later awarded the 2013 KOSA Recognition award, the 2008 Outstanding Arts Performer award from the Brazilian Immigrant Center, and endorsements from the world renowned names in percussion Vic Firth, Latin Percussion, and Cooperman Frame Drums.

A Musical Movement

In 2004, Marcus founded Grooversity (groove + diversity); an innovative global drumming network that includes twenty four drumming groups from the USA in Massachusetts, Ohio, Philadelphia, Colorado, and Arizona, as well as Canada, Germany, Mexico, and France. After growing up in Brazil in such a rich musical climate, Marcus saw a need to engage communities in the US with music. Particularly, Marcus was passionate about injecting social relevance into his own musical practice by injecting music into communities where the arts are often under-funded and forgotten. The goal of Grooversity is to promote Afro-Brazilian percussion as an educational resource, a source of entertainment, and a catalyst for social change. Grooversity focuses on community outreach for positive outcomes in global diversity, physical and mental wellness, civil rights, participant and audience self-esteem, and most importantly according to Marcus, “enjoyment!”
The Grooversity musical repertoire is based on Marcus’s original percussion compositions, which combine traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms with infusions of world-music and a modern approach. By design, Grooversity’s performances hold equally important roles for percussionists of every level of experience and ability. “Some patterns are intricate and challenging for the most experienced professional drummer, and others are simpler yet equally important patterns for the amateur player. In fact, the simplest patterns are the most important components of the ensemble because they keep the other elements together.”
For 19 years, Marcus has collaborated with the Fenway Alliance by bringing Afro-Brazillian percussion groups (that we now know as Grooversity) to our annual Opening Our Doors festival. Each year, Marcus and Grooversity stand out as an overwhelming crowd favorite. The energy, enthusiasm, and life Marcus is able to bring to our audiences is truly unmatched. “I’ll never forget, 19 years ago at our very first festival, he called me out by name to dance,” recalls Fenway Alliance director Kelly Brilliant, “I don’t dance in public. But there’s something about Marcus’s sincerity of spirit that is impossible to say no to. Not only did I get up and dance in public, I loved it. If joy were a person, its name would be Marcus Santos.”

An Illustrious Career

Marcus Santos has performed with several world renowned artists such as: the Gipsy Kings (France), 10-time Grammy Award–winner Paquito D’Rivera (Cuba), Daniela Mercury (Brazil), the Brand New Heavies (England), and more. In 2001, Santos was featured on Mambolada’s Larica Maria, which sold more than 100,000 copies in Brazil alone. Santos also toured Italy with Grammy-nominee Osvaldo Golijov for his show La Pasion. In July 2007, Santos taught and led a parading group of 300 drummers in Cleveland, Ohio, alongside Paul Simon’s percussionist, Jamey Haddad.
Over the course of his career, Marcus has performed at various international venues such as Hard Rock Café (Orlando, U.S.), Kouen Mae Dori Classics (Tokyo, Japan), Rock in Rio (Brazil), Buddha (Mexico), Lincoln Center (New York, U.S.), Blend (Honduras), Parco della Musica (Rome, Italy), Holland Festival (Amsterdam, Holland), and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, U.S.). He has also been featured in multiple film and television productions on networks such as NBC and MTV. In 2008, Santos performed alongside Cyro Baptista in the Oscar-nominated film Rachel Getting Married under the direction of Oscar–winning director Jonathan Demme. View Marcus’s performance in the film here!
Marcus also spends ample time in an educational role. He has authored texts on Afro-Brazilian musical techniques, such as The Modern Approach to Pandeiro. He has also taught classes and led workshops on Afro-Brazilian Percussion and using music for social change in festivals, universities, and conventions around the world such as: Fiesta Del Tambor (Cuba), Carnegie Hall (NYC), the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC), Drum Talk 2007 (Pittsburgh), Harvard University, MIT, Fenway Alliance member Berklee College of Music, Brown University, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Nagoya University (Japan), Cultural Institute Brazil, various TEDx events, Fenway Alliance member New England Conservatory, Middlesex Community College, and Somerville High School.

Keep Up With Marcus!

Despite the pandemic’s limitations on in-person performances from Grooversity, there are still many ways to experience Marcus’s work online. Marcus recently launched Grooversity TV, a virtual platform where subscribers can find percussion lessons, play-alongs, interviews, and discussions for all levels of drumming experience. In addition, there are also videos covering the benefits of drumming for wellness and guided practices with mindfulness goals. Soon, Marcus will transition the service to app-format.
Marcus’s next goals surround a further exploration into the positive impacts of music on mental health. Follow his journey on his Facebook page and Instagram.