A chance encounter at the Doheny Blues Festival two years ago proved to be a pivotal moment for North Park blues woman Whitney Shay, who met a Brazilian guitarist/concert promoter named Igor Prado. “A couple of months later,” says Shay, “he asked me if I’d like to perform in Brazil. I’ve actually been there four times now in the last 15 months.....
“From the moment I got there, I experienced this amazing connection — the people are incredibly warm and friendly. I just felt at home there. The energy is very different — all of the musicians I work with are my age — which never happens in the United States.”
The blues scene in South America attracts a huge, devoted following.
“The first gig that I did was this massive festival called the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival. There were five stages and I was the headliner on the ‘women’s stage.’ Which was nice in a way, because women are a little under-represented in that genre — but it was also a little weird. There were probably 10,000 people there; it’s the largest blues festival in South America. Afterwards, they had this huge jam session, and all of these players from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile are singing in English — even though most of them don’t speak English!”
Did Shay encounter any overt sexism or other uncomfortable cultural issues while leading a variety of local pickup bands on the Brazilian festival circuit?
“I’ve learned over the years from playing with so many bands how to be a strong, effective bandleader. Even with the language barrier, I’m able to cue the musicians so that everyone can follow me. Maybe I’ve just been sheltered, but I’ve never really encountered any problems with sexism from any of the musicians — so for me, that whole machismo thing might be blown out of proportion.”