Afro Brazilian Religions Continue to Influence Songwriters
Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a given. If you’ve listened to enough Brazilian music, you’ve surely listened to songs that are influenced by the Candomblé religion and the orixás. As much as Brazil has done to try extinguish the influences of this African spiritual system, it is so deeply ingrained in Brazilianism that it’s almost impossible to avoid it. It may also be true that Brazil has made it clear that it would like to annihilate the African look of many of its people for a more European appearance, but even the man most associated with the nation’s racial democracy myth, Gilberto Freyre, had to admit the depths of the non-European influences on the Brazilian people when he wrote: “Every Brazilian, even those who are snow-white with blond hair, carries in his soul, the shadow, or at least a tinge, of the Indian and/or the black.”
Music, being such a major part of Brazilian culture, carries this influence in its soul as well. When I first began to delve deep into Brazilian music, being new to the culture, I wasn’t even aware of all of the music and artists that incorporated elements of Candomblé and/or Umbanda religions. The artist whose music I liked the most in my first exposure to MPB, Brazilian Popular Music, was Clara Nunes and, not realizing it at first, Nunes’s music was permeated with Afro-Brazilian religious themes. If you didn’t realize it her lyrics and dances, you noticed it in her attire and accessories.
But it wasn’t just Nunes. These elements of Afro-Brazilian religions could be noted in other artists I was discovering, such as Dorival Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia, Carlinhos Brown, Margareth Menezes and Virginia Rodrigues. These were some of the first Brazilian musical acts I was exposed to, but they were just the tip of iceberg in terms of artists with Afro-Brazilian religious references in their music. How intriguing is it that this influence is so strong in so many things associated with Brazilian-ness, yet the violent attacks and acts of repression against Candomblé and Umbanda are currently at an all-time high?
A few months back, I took a look at how the popularity of certain orixá (orisha) is rising among a number of musical artists of the new generation. Today, let’s take a look a brief overall look at the influences of these religions in Brazilian music in general.
Afro-Brazilian religions continue to influence songwriters and musical groups
African traditions permeate Brazilian popular music
By Robson G. Rodrigues
The presence of Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazilian popular culture is massive. From direct to less evident influences, religious principles inherited from the ancestral continent deeply permeate Brazilian identity. The orixás, common to Afro-Brazilian religions umbanda and candomblé, are in the lyricism of Dorival Caymmi’s samba and the rock sounds of Metá Metá, as guiding a devout poetry.
Afro-Brazilian religions assimilated African traditions, brought by slaves, and the culture of natives and Europeans. They influenced the work of popular music pillars, such as Baden Powell, Vinicius de Moraes, Clara Nunes, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, Os Tincoãs, Ilê Ayê, Daniela Mercury and Carlinhos Brown. And less remembered names, such as José Prates, Tia Ciata, Josué de Castro and Elsie Houston.
One of the most important fruits of the cults of this matrix is samba. Despite being closely associated with Rio de Janeiro, it was in Bahia that the first sambas de roda emerged, bringing together black expressions of groups such as Bantu, from South Africa, and Yoruba, from West Africa. Characteristic instruments like the tambourine are directly associated with Candomblé rituals, in which they mark percussion.
“Drums have an invocative role. We talked with orixás by the drum. As the orixá dances, we play the drum. It is a language, a conversation, an exchange of energy. We try to respect, when we leave the terreiro (religious temple) to go on stage, in the arrangements we compose and to bow to the orixás. In addition to having dance, it has the energy of playing the drum,” says guitarist Amílcar Paré, a member of the Brasilian group Filhos de Dona Maria, a regular at the Ilê Axé T’ojú Labá terreiro, in Jardim ABC, who mentions musicians among the inspirations such as Nelson Rufino, Wilson Moreira, Fabiana Cozza, from the new generation of samba, Clementina de Jesus, João da Baiana, Candeia, Tincoãs and Clara Nunes.
“One of the most traditional instruments is ngong, made of iron, that appeared in worship services. It is always an iron instrument that starts the musical part. It is a kind of guide for the other instruments. This is visible in samba. It is clearly an African instrument that remains today,” explains music researcher at the University of São Paulo (USP) Alberto Ikeda.
Samba directly influenced the emergence of Bossa Nova by João Gilberto and Tom Jobim. It was in the hands of Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes, with the album Afro-Sambas (1966), that the genre dressed black identity. “Bossa nova talked about a small bourgeois life in Rio de Janeiro. Afro-samba changes the theme, goes more to a more social universe, of black culture. Vinicius and Baden inaugurated this aspect of bossa nova,” observes the specialist.
Gilberto Gil, one of the exponents of the famed Tropicália movement, was one of the composers who further explored themes related to candomblé in Brazilian Popular Music. In the anthropophagic movement, candomblé blended with pop culture. As in the concretized music poetry Batmacumba, which brings the pop figure of Batman; “Iê iê”, from the verses, refer to both the jovem guarda‘s Rock n’ Roll and the greeting to Oxun; the verse “batmacumba obá” mentions the orixá. “It is a very interesting proposal for mixing, bringing together almost everything that existed culturally at that time,” summarizes Ikeda.
Deixa a gira girar
Mateus Aleluia, from the famous trio Os Tincoãs, brought many influences from Afro religions to his music. “Candomblé, in my city, whether you frequent it or not, is in our society. We from the Tincoãs did what we naturally are. And we admit that. To break the bonds of what we are spontaneously,” says the musician born in Cachoeira, Bahia, in an interview with Correio (newspaper).
Among the great successes of the Bahian group from the seventies is “Deixa a gira girar” and “Cordeiro de Nanã”. “Directly, insistently or bypassed, we talk mainly about nature and entities. “Deixa a Gira girar” is the mix of everything. It is a candomblé song, at the same time it is a song that we drink in umbanda. It mixes the living of both Angola and Nigeria. ‘My father came from Aruanda (see note one) and our mother is Iansã’ (see note two). Our song (of the Tincoãs) talks about letting things happen. Nature has laws. (It is) we men who have morals and come in assigning things,” he reflects. The song has a more recent version by the big band from São Paulo Bixiga 70, with which Aleluia has already performed in Holland.
In the wing of contemporary groups, Metá Metá, with Kiko Dinucci and Juçara Marçal, is one of the highlights. The mixture of traditional rhythms with rock and jazz that the group makes in the melodies is accompanied by lyrics that make direct references to the orixás. Another that impresses with the mix of rhythms of Latin and African traditions is the instrumental music group Iconili, which in the last album, Quintais, made its Afro-Brazilian vein more evident. The band Terreiro de Jesus mixes candomblé with jazz in the songs that verbalize the cult.
“What happens in the terreiro is the sacred. What happens outside are artistic manifestations, which we use as an expression of ideals. It is very valid. It is not a disrespect to cultural manifestations. Not necessarily are the devotees samba dancers or afoxé, who are more traditional,” says Amílcar Paré, who together with the group Filhos de Dona Maria recorded songs like “Samba pra Ogun” and “Curimbeiro”.
For specialist Alberto Ikeda, despite being disseminated in MPB, Afro-Brazilian religions continue to be the target of intolerance. “In this historical process, there is a perverse side of a black valorization, or of a very apparent recognition of black culture. To value the product, without valuing the producer, black people,” he laments.
Source: Diário de Pernambuco
- Home of the spirits in the Umbanda religion
- An orixá, a warrior goddess