Carnival is shining a spotlight on Afro-Brazilian culture; its complex musical rhythms, colorful athletic dances and nature-centered spirituality. Nowhere are these elements more alive than in Salvador, Brazil.
As CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports, resistance to over 300 years of slavery produced one of the most spectacular carnival celebrations on earth.
Salvador is the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia where about 80 percent of the population is of African descent – the highest percentage in any city outside of Africa itself. It’s carnival is a celebration of not only the survival of ancestral culture, but also for art forms that, for centuries, lived underground.
Capoeira is one such uniquely Brazilian practice that has achieved international renown. It is a deadly martial art disguised as an acrobatic dance with high kicks and punches that are thrown but never land. Swaying and lunging to the music of a single stringed berimbau, “Capoeiristas” attempt to throw each other off rhythm.
“The most important thing to understand is that Capoeira is a symbol of resistance. It was the first form of fighting against slavery, racism and all types of prejudice”, said Tonho Materia, founder of the only Capoeira Carnival group in Brazil.
After being banned for centuries, Capoeira was granted the status of cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2014.
Aspects of Salvador’s African heritage are visible in the other more than two hundred groups that parading here. Some revelers dress as “ orixas” the deities of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. Hunters and muses, maids and royalty are also on display.
The music played live on the top of “trio-eletrico” sound trucks, sings of a world without conflict and to the beauty and power of nature. It is uplifting and produces one of the biggest street parties on the planet.
The city celebrates off the parade route too. Small bands called “blocos” stream day and night along narrow cobblestone streets through neighborhoods and commercial districts with revelers in tow, displaying some of the oddest characters.
“Pelourinho” is Salvador’s historical colonial center. Named after one of the whipping posts used to punish the millions of slaves brought from Africa to Brazil, it’s where, in the 1970’s, some of the most famous Afro-Brazilian bands were formed.
One such group is the internationally acclaimed Olodum, now celebrating its 40th anniversary. Known as much for its colorful costumes and stylish performance, Olodum has appeared in videos of such acclaimed artists as Michael Jackson and Paul Simon. It, too, was created as a form of resistance.
“Pelourinho used to be a very marginalized place. People would come just to use our services (as musicians) to play for the rich bands and forgot that we were citizens, until we decided to create Olodum for our own leisure,” said the group’s lead singer Lazinho.
While racial discrimination is stubbornly pervasive in Brazil, there is an immense and still growing-pride among the residents of Salvador for the authenticity and longevity of their art and musical forms. As it always has been, their outward exuberance and joy are also expressions of strength and power.