Emilce Guilhermina de Alexandre
(19th November 1955 – 22nd August 2014)
Photo: LSS Archive
Madrinha of the London School of Samba 2015-2016
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Dona Emilce, one of the most important witnesses to the history of the London School of Samba. She was present at the beginning of the school in 1984 and was perhaps one of our biggest fans and supporters in our 30 year history. She was someone who was always there – you always knew it was Carnival time when Emilce turned up, normally in the last couple of weeks of July to sit outside the Waterloo Action Centre and come and learn that year’s samba enredo. She died just two days before our 30th anniversary parade in the Notting Hill Carnival in 2014.
Although I had noticed her at our barracão many times in the 1990s, it was only when I took over as the Mestre de Bateria in 2000 that I really got to know her. As someone keenly interested in documenting the history of the school, I immediately realised that she was someone very important, as she proudly told that she was there the first time the LSS paraded in the Notting Hill Carnival in 1984. She told me that she had come and supported the LSS at Carnival every year except one year she couldn’t make it for some reason (1991) and the year we didn’t parade (1992). This made her the only person to witness all but one of our parades.
My eternal memory of Emilce is her sitting at our barracão in Maxilla Gardens with her bag – which always contained food and cachaca – watching the bateria rehearse with the lyrics of that years samba enredo in her hand.
She was fiercely independent – she was one of those people who like in Rio was a fan, a supporter of the school. People often asked her to be a steward, and she would agree, but on her own terms. She would always be there on the morning of Carnival just before the school left the barracao – but would often prefer just to wear the schools t-shirt for that year and walk along as we paraded around Notting Hill. She would always be there at the end of the parade, but then would disappear, only to return the following year.
She was an example of how the samba school is such an important organisation in the community. Like in Rio, it provides a musical home, a dance home and a social and community one for many people – especially for those who are neither performers or able to get involved in the administration of the school. For them, the samba school provides a place of belonging, in a city which can be big and lonely for many – especially a Brazilian like Emilce who lived by herself in London, with her family in Brazil.
From the year 2000, I began to build up a list of early members and supporters of the school so as to keep them informed and involved in our key events every year. This was the year that I started to use email to communicate with everyone in the school (up until then it had been by post or by ringing people up). Emilce was the only person who never had email and I’m proud that I did so much to keep her informed of everything we did – notably our anniversary parties, or other special events like our Rainha da Bateria and Samba de Enredo competitions – and of course Carnival. Some things she would come to, some things she would not – but the one thing she never missed was Carnival. Every year I would ring her and let her know the details of where we were (as sometimes this would change) and tell her the times we were around. She was always grateful and her enthusiasm for Carnival was clear: “thanks for much Mags for letting me know – of course I will be there to support my samba school!”.
She told me once she had actually been a performer with the LSS, when she was a baiana at a gig we did once in Bradford, Yorkshire. This was on 26th September 1987, when the LSS returned for a second time to play at that city for a Latin American festival.
She finally got the opportunity to take part in our parade at Notting Hill from 2009 onwards when I formed the Ala Velha Guarda to represent the early members of the school. For some reason she missed joining the Ala that year – but still came out as a steward. However, she joined the Ala for the first time in the 2010 parade, then missed it again in 2011 parade (but again, still came out as steward). But this time, I realised that she would either be there or she wouldn’t. She loved the idea of being part of the Ala, but in her own independent way, reserved the right to join it on the day – or not at all, and just walk alongside the parade on the day. However, she joined the Ala again for our parades in 2012 and finally in 2013.
In 2014, she missed our 30th anniversary party at the Conway Hall as she told me she got on the wrong bus and ended up somewhere near Kings Cross and didn’t know how to get back to Holborn as it was getting late. I didn’t hear from her for a couple of months after that but then saw her one Sunday when I turned up at WAC. She didn’t look well and told me that she had been coming every week in the hope of seeing me and letting me know what had happened at the Conway Hall. I saw her two times at WAC, the last time I noticed again that she was not well and looked noticeably thinner. She told me that she had been in hospital, but was OK and that she would be at Carnival for our 30th anniversary.
It was thus devastating for many in the school to hear the news that she had died two days before our historic parade. As a tribute to her, many wore black armbands and remembered her on what was the wettest parade since 1986.
Her funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 23rd September 2014. Attended by many members of the LSS, along with Mariana Whitehouse, I had the honour of placing on her coffin the flag of G.R.E.S. Unidos de Londres – as a tribute to one of our most honoured Velha Guarda. A eulogy was delivered by one of her long-term friends, Jason Agnew:
A Vida da Dona Emilce de Alexandre
Our friend Emilce was born on 19th November 1955 in the state of Espirito Santo, just north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a person from that area she was called a Capixaba. She came from a humble background and often spoke fondly of her short childhood.
At 11, she moved to Rio to work as a domestic maid. On days off she liked to go with her friends to listen to samba – this was her release.
In 1981, the family she worked for moved to London bringing her into the unknown. Yet again, being the strong girl that she was, she loved it – and for some strange reason, she liked the climate. She worked, cooked and cleaned and one day, a guest called Antonio Carluccio (TV chef) came to the kitchen and told her that she’d made the best feijoada he’d ever tasted. I can only agree.
After five years, the family headed back to Brazil, but Emilce, courageous as ever, decided she would stay and take a chance on a new independent life – a big step. She found a small room in Bayswater, her place of freedom where she’d cook, play music and receive friends. This was the period that I met her and her wonderful friends Dona Julia, Dona Ilda, and Dona Dilda. That love of good food, good music and irreverence (deboche) sealed our friendship.
In 1996, she was taken ill and spent 3 months in St. Mary’s Hospital. They finally discovered that she had lupus – a disease that attacked her auto-immune system – a condition she bared with courage and dignity for the remaining 18 years of her life.
Always loyal and generous, she often turned up at my flat with her Union Jack apron and Videla mop, told me to get out and cleaned the place from top to bottom, uninvited and refusing payment.
Emilce was so proud of having been with the LSS since its inception in 1984, and in 2009 when the school was celebrated as the Madrinha of samba in the UK, she was proud to be recognised as one of the Velha Guarda. She used to phone me at 8 o’clock on Carnival Monday and shout in her inimitable way, “Get downstairs – I’ve brought you food!”. I’d come down a mess and receive the most wonderful empadinhas de camarão e de palmito, little prawn and palm heart pies. The rest she would take for the LSS as she liked to feed them.
She was taken ill, could not eat or drink in July and when I finally managed to speak to her and realised how sick she was, rushed her into St Mary’s, where I thought she would be for a long time but she was released in less than a week. She claimed she was getting stronger, but it was a vain hope.
In the last week of her life, when I begged her to let me take her back to hospital, she refused – her voice weak and inaudible: “No Jason, if I rest enough, I’ll make Carnival!” She missed the School’s 30th parade by just two days.
Today, we’ll have the samba here to send her to a better place.
Acabou nosso carnaval,
ninguém, ouve cantar canções
Ninguém passa mais
E nos corações
Saudades e cinzas
Foi o que restou…
E no entanto é preciso cantar
Mais que nunca é preciso cantar
É preciso cantar e alegrar a cidade…
(Marcha de Quarta-Feira de Cinzas, Vinicius de Moraes)
One final thing I would like to say:
Emilce, livrada da dor, do racismo e da pobreza, que sua alma voe. Descanse em paz, minha amiga e irma
(Emilce, free from pain, from racism and from poverty, may your soul fly. Rest in peace, my friend and sister)
Jason Agnew, 23rd September 2014
LSS dancer Petula Dennis said:
A Beautiful service for Emilce. The sun shon, with blue skies and was a sign that she was looking down on us and smiling. It was humbling listening to some of the stories of Emilce shared by members of LSS and her close friends, whilst looking back at her time with LSS. Every (almost) Carnival (and the pre-rehearsals) she was always there, smiling and welcoming everyone. I came to see her as “part of the furniture” when it came to Notting Hill Carnival. Always remembered and not forgotten.
It was an honour to lead a small bateria and some of our dancers to do a little bit of samba at this service. In honour of her contribution to the LSS, it was decided at the 2014 AGM to make her the Madrinha of the school for the year 2015-2016 – something I know she would have been greatly honoured by, as she told many people that this is what she felt she was, and that some people had considered her this in her life. Her spirit will be there with us in Carnival this year and I know will always be there for the LSS.
A memorial was held for her on Friday 26 Sep 2014 at the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, in Queensway.
Our special thanks to Maria Celilia Barker for all her help sorting out arrangements for her funeral and memorial.
5th July 2015
Many tributes were made on the news of her death, here is a small sample of them:
Very sad news – gone, but never be forgotten! In our thoughts forever!!
Celia Emony (1984)
I remember Emilce well as she usually had us laughing with her infectious chuckle and wicked sense of humour. You will be missed my sympathy go out to her family and friends at this difficult time.
Sharon Bannister (1985)
Very, very sad. Dona Emilce will be missed.
Åke Persson (1985)
I’m shocked, I was only speaking to her the other day and she seemed well. R.I.P dear woman – she was allways great fun and part of the furniture I’m very sad to hear of her passing.
Daniel Shrimpton (1985)
I really missed her at Carnival. That lovely smiling, welcoming face.
Nat Perez (1986)
RIP Dona Emilce
Dave Willetts (1987)
Emilce! She was like the talis(wo)man of the LSS. She stayed always modestly in the background when she made her regular appearances at the beginning of each carnival period, mostly by the door somewhere, like a good luck charm. Loved her smiles and her laughter, loved her undying love for our school!!
Uwe Mayer (1987)
So sad, one of those people that were always there.
Clive Foden (1987)
So sorry to hear this as Clive Foden said she was always there!!
Helen Bradford (1987)
R.I.P. Emilce, will be missed. An ever present at carnival for LSS
Paul Rumbol (1994)
I wish her to rest in peace.
Edson Bispo (1994)
You never saw her without an LSS t shirt wherever she was, she was devoted to the school, what a loss, she always came up to me straight away to chat whenever she called at WAC.
Paul Marwood (1994)
So sad, she was like my aunt, rest in peace Tia Emilse
Xavier Osmir (1996)
That’s so sad. I remember her being there all the carnivals I attended. My condolences to family and friends.
Babett Pönisch (1996)
She was lovely, this is so sad.
Viky Mayer (1997)
She was one of the first people from LSS I met back in the waterloo days. I’m very sad to hear about this. Descanse em paz amiga.
Karim Oliveira (1999)
Real sad to hear this… So much history is going with her. Always smiling and in good mood, will be missed, R.I.P. Emilce, god is in good company now.
Marcus de Orleans (DJ & promoter)
She was absolutely lovely and the timing of the tragedy just before the anniversary just makes it hit home more so. She was always friendly and green and white proud from the day I met her. R.I.P. Emlice, I will miss her a lot.
Mestre Fred (2000)
Beautiful woman with a big heart. Always remembered me every year though I barely knew her.
Alan Dickens (2001)
I remember her so well, she was such a lovely lady. May she rest in peace
Mary-Ann Anaradoh (2001)
The memory of her smile will always remain as a feature of my carnival reminiscenses.
Dave Brett (2002)
She was a constant presence around carnival time and I am sure she will be with LSS in spirit
Hawah Bunduka (2003)
I’m so sad to hear this. Such a lovely smile and warm heart! I will remember our chats after lessons and shows with LSS. Somente boas lembrancas das coisas Que Sao deixadas para os que ficam. NHC will miss you!
Leandro Brizad (2012)