Brazil Gets Into Carnival Mood to the Afro Beats in Salvador

The biggest party on the planet, carnival in Brazil attracts millions of tourists during its days of revelry. In Salvador, Bahia, the party has grown to such an extent that it’s now spread over three main points in the city: Pelourinho, Barra-Ondina (Dodo) and Campo Grande-Avenida (Osmar).

This year, with half a million tourists expected, the theme for the Pelourinho carnival is ‘Black Carnivals’ and the main stages will be in Municipal and Sé squares, as well as in the famous Pelourinho. This last, in the historical centre, is the most fabulous, most fun and best-organised.

The traditional Pelourinho Carnival will gather a variety of musical attractions of different styles, such as samba, reggae, percussion and the Bahian guitar (theme of Salvador Carnival in 2013). All of these, of course, have African roots.

Party revellers enjoying carnival in Pelourinho. Photo by Carlo Alcantar on El Cabong website (used with permission).

Party revellers enjoying carnival in Pelourinho. Photo by Carlo Alcantar on El Cabong website (used with permission).

Known as the main generator of Bahian culture, Pelourinho is the base of a number of Afro carnival ‘blocks’ (groups) [pt] from Salvador, such as the famous Ile Aye, Filhos de Ghandi (Ghandi’s sons) and Olodum. Preserving Afro-Brazilian culture is key to the Bahian carnival, which carries with it the influence of African cultures and the struggle of those kept on the margins of society. The crowd goes mad and the tourists want to connect with Bahia, land of Dorival Caymmi and Jorge Amado, to the sound of the hypnotic and happy beat and the sound which takes over Pelourinho.

Ilê Aiyê, founded in 1974, is the main headline of the Afro carnival ‘blocks’ (groups). As its objective is to value black culture, it doesn’t accept white people into its group and has been responsible for the so-called ‘re-africanisation’ of the Salvador Carnival, to the extent that it’s brought items from African culture to its parade, such as ‘atabaques’, ‘timbaus’ and ‘repiniques’, percussion instruments which give it a sound which harks back to African roots.

Check out the clip below from Ile Aye, in partnership with the Sao Paulo rapper Criolo, on the project ‘What block is this?’ [pt], an initiative from Petrobras which intends [pt] to ‘bring the music and world of the Salvador Afro blocks to the world of national pop’. This show took place in Liberdade district, in Salvador:

Is there anywhere in the world which has a Candomblé [Brazilian cult of African origin] following of almost 10,000 people parading through the streets? Salvador does. It is the AfoxéFilhos de Gandhy (Sons of Gandhi) [pt] block, founded by 33 stevedores in 1949, who watched a film about the Indian leader and decided to found a block in his honour. The success of handing out bead necklaces in exchange for kisses during carnival has grown, and seems to have become the main focus of the club. It is a candomble without an overly religious link, which brings agogôs [a Ghanaian musical instrument] and atabaques [an Afro-Brazilian hand drum] to honour the Orishás [spirits or deities in the Yoruba religious faith] directly to the people, with a flavour of the peace preached by Mahatma Gandhi.

Image of Filhos de Gandy from Facebook (used with permission)

Image of Filhos de Gandy from Facebook (used with permission)

Based on percussion, the musicality of the Olodum block, is based on beats such as ‘ijexá’ [pt], samba, ‘alujá’, reggae and ‘forró’, amongst others. The fusion of these various rhythms, mixed with samba reggae, is the basis for Olodum’s music, which, with the creativity of using these elements, has influenced numerous bands and national and international artists, such as Jimmy Cliff, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Leci Brandao, Zig Marley and many others, including those in the Bahian carnival. The following clip shows some of the best of Olodum:

About 130 groups will entertain at Pelourinho point during carnival. The Salvador blog by Estefano Diaz, posted about Muzenza block’s rehearsals [pt] on 30 January. While rehearsing in the streets where it will parade, the beat of its drums apparently piqued the curiosity of Bahians and tourists alike: ‘Perfect sound, beautiful!’ was how he summed up what one of the French tourists he met who was following the parade, said.

O Pelourinho é um grande fomentador da cultura. Este espaço é uma referência para nós do Muzenza e é sempre muito especial fazermos nossos ensaios aqui”, define Jorge dos Santos, presidente do Muzenza. “Nós não temos repertório definido, vamos sentindo a resposta do público e tocamos os grandes sucessos como ‘Guerrilheiros da Jamaica (Mama África)’, ‘A Terra Tremeu’, ‘Brilho e Beleza’, dentre outros”, finalizou Jorge.

Pelourinho is a great ‘hatching’ of culture. This space is a reference for us, from Muzenza, and it’s always special for us to have our rehearsals here’ says Jorge dos Santos, president of Muzenza. ‘We don’t have a pre-defined repertoire, so we go by the public reaction and play great successes such as ‘Guerrilheiros da Jamaica (Mama Africa) (Jamaica warriors)’, ‘A Terra Tremeu’ (The Earth Shook), ‘Brilho e Beleza’ (Sparkle and Beauty), as well as others’. Jorge adds.

The theme ‘Black Carnivals’ is part of the ‘African descent decade’ in Salvador. Just like the First Meeting of Black Cultures [pt], the choice for the theme of the Pelourinho carnival slots into the International Decade of People of African Descent [pt] in Salvador, as set up by the United Nations after the Ibero American Meeting of the International Year of African Descent (Afro XXI), carried out in 2011. This was an opportunity for themes of racism and the social, economic and political situations of black people throughout the world today to be discussed.

During Afro XXI, the Bahian capital was given the title ‘Ibero American Capital of African Descent’. For the director of CCPI, Arany Santana, ‘the theme of the Pelourinho Carnival matches with the United Nations’, agenda, with the reality of Salvador and its cultural policies which Secult is supporting, such as the Black Gold Carnival. Carnival is an excellent opportunity to showcase these actions in the best way, giving recognition to the shaping of its (Salvador’s) identity as the city with the second largest number of black people in the world’ (outside the African continent) Arany points out.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.