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Jazz Fest Part II: 2nd weekend opens Thursday with festival spotlighting Brazilian influences

NEW ORLEANS - A colorful 165-foot snake built of vibrant fabric slithered through Thursday's crowd at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, leading dancers and musicians in a foot parade similar to a New Orleans second-line.

The snake's giant head — its mouth agape and fangs exposed — took two people to hold up as more than 30 people followed in procession under the long, tent-like dome of wire and fabric that formed the creature's body.

"It represents the enchanted snake of the Amazon," said Fernando Augusto Goncalves, a puppet master from Olinda, Brazil, and one of the seven artists who worked for about a month to make the snake. Goncalves spoke to The Associated Press through a translator.

Goncalves said the snake, in Brazilian culture, is a good omen: "It means good luck for all."

He said the snake's giant head was fashioned from a combination of fiberglass and Styrofoam and then covered in paint, glitter and glue in a technique similar to papier m�ch�.

When not being paraded through the festival grounds, the snake was among the so-called "puppets" on display under a huge pavilion at the Jazz Fest. Every year the festival highlights a country or culture that has influenced New Orleans' culture. Last year, it featured the heritage of American Indians.

Inside the pavilion are more than a dozen puppets with giant heads, known as "bonecos gigantes," which are common sights in Brazil's street parades. They are also popular at major festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Many of the puppets depicted women with large heads and colorful ruffle dresses. Some had exposed breasts.

As two Brazilian musicians played flutes they'd made, another artist moulded clay figurines in the shapes of bulls, clowns and mule-drawn carts.

Art and music are important in Brazil, much like in New Orleans, said Joao do Pife, a musician and drum- and flute-maker from Caruaru, Brazil, speaking through a translator.

The cultural exchange extends beyond simple samba and Carnival.

Tizumba & Tambor Mineiro of Minas Gerais, Brazil, entertained fans inside the festival's Blues Tent, offering ryhthm, chants and dances of the Congado tradition, an Afro-Brazilian religious ritual. And Ginga Mundo Capoeira of Bahia, Brazil, gave fans a look into Brazilian martial arts.

And while not from Brazil, Chegadao fits in with Jazz Fest's focus on Brazil. The New Orleans-based group, which combines samba, funk and forro, made its debut Thursday at the festival. "Our style is Brazilian with a little of our own New Orleans and American twists," said band leader Scott Myers.

In an earlier interview, Myers said he hoped the appearance would expand their fanbase. "There's a lot who know us but there's also a lot who don't. The music is too much fun to keep it all to ourselves and you don't have to know anything about it, the music or speak Portuguese to love it."

Pife, 70, said his music and handmade instruments, which he learned to make from his father and grandfather, are popular at Catholic religious ceremonies in Brazil.

Brazil and New Orleans both have strong Catholic roots and traditions. Besides Carnival, Brazil holds a monthlong festival in June honouring St. John.

"It's a very important time because a lot of people come to Brazil during that time, from all over the world," he said. "That is what Jazz Fest is for us also, an opportunity to share our culture with other people from all over the world."

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