Can you imagine a social event where foreigners meet and mix with their Portuguese neighbours, enjoying a delicious barbeque, quaffing Portuguese wine and dancing to live music on a family-friendly Sunday afternoon?
If this is your idea of a good time, and more so a great way to integrate and immerse yourself in your new (or even long-time) local community, cast your glance this way and focus your attention for a moment on the Silver Coast, which I delight in calling home.
Zoom in if you will on the Medieval town of Óbidos, and once in its vicinity, drive up and out of the olde worlde charm towards a little village, where I recently found myself indulging in all of the above, in the company of a certain Richard Allen.
Rocked out, tastebud-tickled and with belly delightfully replete, after enjoying some great bands and grass-roots Portuguese hospitality, I sat back in my outside broadcast studio chair and enjoyed a great chat with this enthusiastic visionary, sought-after musician and this event’s co-founder.
Earlier this year, Richard created a Blues Brothers-themed fundraiser in memory of his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, with the idea of establishing a replicable, fun model for connecting expats and their Portuguese neighbours.
“I go to lots of festas with lots of Portuguese people there. But how many things do you go to where there’s actually Portuguese and expats together?” Richard asked me. This was after I managed to pull him away from his busy role of bringing the many threads of the day together, and out of the heavy rain, thunder and lightning (“very very frightening indeed”) that had all day threatened to dampen proceedings.
With hail pelting the roof above us, he continued: “It’s a bit unusual, but I think it’s changing. And I think we’ve got a lot to do with that. I came up with this name, ‘Communities Unite’, I don’t even remember how. Joe came up with a great logo, and we put it out there”.
Joe, by the way, is a fellow musician and event conspirator who plays drums and sings with the sensational Wild Flowers, who have just returned from their UK tour, having recently released their EP and debut single – Shady Lady – on this same, now hallowed ground.
Casting his mind back to the first Communities Unite gathering, Richard recalled the build-up to what is now an established and regular date in the Silver Coast diary.
“Let’s aim for fifty people. If we can get fifty people, it’ll be a great day,” he told me with a nostalgic chuckle.
“Two hundred and fifty people later, with a big old barbecue and great live music with people up and dancing, we had our first one in the bag!” the ‘Booze Brothers’ front man proudly shared.
Fast forward to the subsequent fixture, where we are now reflecting on the “enjoyable monster” that it has become, Richard told me more about what it takes, but why in the end, it’s all worth it.
“It’s a challenge, I’ll be honest with you,” he began. “Normally, we hold all of this outside here at ‘Capeleira’ in the main party area with lots of space, loads of tables, purpose built stage, the lot. However, when it rains or threatens to rain, it’s a different story”.
With the threat of impending Portuguese precipitation, a decision had been made to move the action inside, when setting up began early that Sunday. Fortunately, as with many Tardis-like Portuguese premises, this venue – known officially as Arcacen Capeleira E Navalha – just so happens to have a 250-seater sports hall.
That scene greeted me on arrival as I looked for a place to spark up the mobile studio. Beautifully laid out refectory tables, stage with impressive sound system and an army of volunteers ready to make sure everyone had a great time.
Three bands graced said stage as the party progressed, starting with Jess ‘Modest Midas’ Martins of previously name-dropped Wild Flowers (who also came together for their crowd-pleasing single), continuing with the legendary Silver Coast Blues band, and climaxing with local star Nelson Rodriguez with his ‘Dead Nelson Trio’.
This excellent afternoon’s entertainment, and more importantly, the cross-cultural togetherness it delivers is the result of popular demand. After the first roaring success, all those months ago, locals wanted another one. And I could see why.
“They wanted to book us. ‘When’s the next one?’ people asked” remembers Richard who of course at the time responded with a showbiz “Yeah, let’s roll with it!”.
“Music is the medium, it’s the glue that everybody can relate to, and there’s never been a war fought over music,” he wisely pointed out..
At each event Communities Unite are welcoming hundreds of fun-loving foreigners with progressively more Portuguese people turning up. What’s more, the co-founder remarks: “We’re getting asked so many times now: ‘could you do this where we live?’”.
It’s mission accomplished then for Richard, Joe and the many, many more behind the scenes, without whose goodwill and time, none of this would have been possible.
This IS a great model, and I think it’s a great solution to a predicament I have previously outlined in this column. It’s vitally important for us expats, foreigners, immigrants, whatever we call ourselves, to integrate and give back to the culture that has made us so welcome.
When it comes to our hosts, I joked with Richard that this wouldn’t be happening in every European country.
“No, I don’t think it would be happening in ANY other country. The Portuguese are incredible, friendly people. They’ve welcomed us AND I think it’s so important to connect and speak some Portuguese,” he replied quite rightly. If we can eat and drink Portuguese, the least we can do is speak a little too. And this is the perfect atmosphere in which to try.
“There was such a beautiful moment here at the last one we did, which was a couple of months ago,” concludes the unofficial integration ambassador of the Silver Coast. “There was this lovely old chap who must be in his 80s. He’s a local here. He was out there dancing with all the expat ladies. I’ve got pictures just of him with this group of girls and they’re all around him dancing!”
“That’s it. We’ve cracked it,” I thought at that moment. “When that happens, that’s what you want to see all around the country,” he added with a great sense of satisfaction and hope.
So there you have it. Communities Unite ‘does what it says on the tin’ and isn’t just good for relationships between foreigners and locals. It’s good for the economy too, local economies especially. Richard and the Communities Unite crew believe what they are doing is directly benefiting local Portuguese people.
They estimate too that more than fifty expat couples have got involved and many have said they didn’t even know such venues and associations existed, even on their own doorsteps.
If you want to see how much fun it is for yourself, just book a ticket for the next first Sunday of the month event and join Communities Unite just off the ‘Silver Coast Freeway’ AKA the A8. Find them on Facebook – www.facebook.com/groups/520673906873396