What with, just for starters, their ability to breathe fire. And not only that, they also juggle, twirl and spin their flames in incredibly intricate and perfect unison. They light up and create a dazzling inferno as they dance around each other in a daredevil display of truly mesmerizing and otherworldly skill.
But these people aren’t all fire. They provide all sorts of other entertainment that help make these events seem all the more magical. From decorations, like giant statue puppets to the huge variety of mysterious monsters that perched high on stilts navigate the crowded cobbled streets of the old town with apparent ease. (Which is pretty impressive. I mean, I’m no expert, but I hear it's hard enough just in high heels…)
The artistic association responsible for all this trail-blazing entertainment is called Satori. I’ve always sort of known about them, but a week or so ago they were having a parade down the main road in their hometown of Salir, and I was very kindly invited to come along.
Arriving late afternoon, I was treated to a behind the scenes look at all the work that goes into making these spectacular sparkling spectacles.
The first stop was at their headquarters. This, for anybody who's ever driven into Salir, is the beautiful graffiti-covered building just before the bridge as you drive up into town. It wasn’t always here however, and I later found out that when Satori was originally formed (in 1999) its original base was in Querença, in an even more idyllic spot just after the Ponte de Passagem. The place was an old olive oil press that they revamped and used for concerts. However, when a golf development moved in, they had to move out. They started again in nearby Salir. Where, in a somewhat cosmic coincidence, they found themselves once again in an old olive oil press next to a beautiful bridge.
The place for the last few weeks has been a flurry of activity as they have been creating and putting together the various vehicles to get ready for that evening's festivities. The theme: Algarvensis - Animalistic and Nocturnal.
After a little look around, we headed up into town to the back of the primary school that was being used as the base to put the final touches on these 'creatures of the night'. There were several tricycles, all with their own unique and very convincing monsters on the roof.
Salamanders, lizards and even a ‘bat’-mobile were getting their final coat of paint, as well as their final checks so that they were ready to roll.
Here I met Tiago who, I think it would be fair to say, is ‘head dragon’.
I had of course seen him before, but usually in deep concentration as he juggled great balls of fire around his head (not the best time for a chat). And, even if he wasn’t actually ‘on fire’ himself, he would usually be rushing around making sure the events go safely and that things don’t actually go ‘up in smoke’.
As per usual, he was busy preparing for the night's animalistic antics, but he took a minute to sit down and talk to me about this artistic association. Tiago has been there since the beginning and you can tell is incredibly passionate about it. However, he stressed strongly to me that Satori is bigger than any one person. It's a symbol. It’s for everyone.
In 2019, they opened the IluminArte (the yellow place opposite the Loulé market). Here kids can come after school to learn theatre, circus art and street art. Satori really helps bring the community together and gives kids with troubled backgrounds, who otherwise might get up to all kinds of mischief, the chance to come and channel their energy into learning truly incredible skills and to feel part of something.
Indeed, it became clear that Tiago really cares about people and what he wanted to stress was that the most important thing about the evening was that a girl called Leonor, who was born with cognitive issues, was that evening going to go up on stilts to lead the parade.
As the darkness descended all sorts of monsters, jesters and even ‘Russian’ vampires put on their costumes and make-up and started to come out to play. There were even kids that, after being covered in a coat of mud, were running around to dry before the show.
The beastly bicycles were then wheeled out and up the street to the starting line. I helped escort a giant ball and I was just wondering what on earth it was for, when this little mud covered kid (of around 10) jumped on top and casually walked on top of it as it rolled down the hill, keeping it at a slow and steady pace.
A crowd began to grow and at 9.30 the show kicked off with Leonor leading and Tiago at her side keeping her focused and in control. The terrifying tricycles followed, their eyes now alight and glowing in the darkness. Jesters juggled and played with the crowd and then, all of a sudden, there was a BANG and the first flare was off sparking the beginning of the show. The little mud monster rolled by, joined by his (I suppose) older brothers who were also up on top of their balls. And, as if to say that this balancing act wasn’t challenging enough, they were juggling as well.
Satori is very well known, both nationally and internationally. Which is really quite something, seeing as they are based in such a quiet town up in the hills. But these ‘Guerreiros de Arte’ (Art Warriors) as they call themselves, battle to promote art and culture in the Algarve and to put it on the map. To find out more about these flagrant flamethrowers follow them on Facebook at: Associação Artística - Satori