Note from BW of Brazil: “Another great moment of identification happened in a Carnival in the company of his father. Even shy, he had tears in his eyes as the Ilê Aiyê bloco passed by singing lyrics of affirmation of identidade negra (black identity) with pride and comfort.”
That was a line from a post a few days describing actor Lázaro Ramos’s reaction when he saw the bloco afro Ilê Aiyê parade in Carnaval. In a Salvador, Bahia, that is the country’s African cultural center, a city that is more than 80% black, a white minority rules the city and state as if it were a little piece of the South African Apartheid regime in Brazil. Although the city of Salvador boasts one of the largest black populations in all of Latin America, in the 1970s, the great blocos of Bahian Carnaval were composed mostly of white people. Racism was (and still is) blatant but Brazil continued to boldly promote itself as a “racial democracy” and defined organizations that intended to raise the self-esteem of the black population such as Ilê Aiyê as racist. In the following excerpt from a 1970s piece from one of Bahia’s top newspapers, we see how the press blatantly continued the myth that racism didn’t exist in Brazil while accusing the group of promoting it:
Bloco racista, nota destoante (Racist bloco, dissonant note)
“Marching with banners that read “Mundo Negro” (black world), “Black Power”, “Negro para Você” (black for you) the Bloco Ilê Aiyê, nicknamed the “Bloco of racism, provided an ugly spectacle at this Carnival. In addition to the improper exploration of the theme and American imitation, revealing a huge lack of imagination, since in our country there are a multitude of reasons to be explored, the members of Ilê Aiyê – all of color – came to even mock the whites and other people who watched them from the official platform. Due to the country’s own prohibition against racism, it is to be expected that members of Ilê will return in another way next year, and in another way will use the natural liberation of the characteristic instinct of Carnival.
Fortunately we do not have a racial problem. This is one of the great blessings of the Brazilian people. The harmony between the parcels of different ethnic groups is, of course, one of the reasons for the nonconformity of the agents of irritation who would like to add to the purposes of the class struggle the spectacle of the struggle of races. But, in Brazil, they cannot. And whenever they stick their tales out, they denounce the ideological origin to which they are connected. It’s very difficult to happen differently with these guys from Ilê Aiye.” (A Tarde, February 12, 1975)
And even today, after 44 years of Ilê Aiyê, the performers that continue to garner the most sponsorships and media attention in Black Bahia are the white artists. But Ilê Aiyê marches on promoting blackness and black beauty and stimulating pride in black Brazilians wherever they perform. In an ongoing tradition, they recently elected the 2018 Deusa do Ébano (Goddess of Ebony) queen of beleza negra (black beauty) and will once again be a major attraction in the Carnaval season.
Bloco Ilê Aiyê: 44 years of the “Re-Africanization” of Brazilian carnival
Group makes festivity a political act in facing racism
By Juliana Gonçalves
Born in 1974 and composed of black rhythm artists, singers and dancers, Ilê Aiyê is considered a cultural heritage of Bahia, being the first bloco afro (Afro block) in Brazil. Of Yoruba origin, Ilê Aiyê can be translated as “Casa de Negro” (house of blacks). And as a place of resistance, it has always been at the forefront of combating structural racism through art, culture and education.
Ilê Aiyê was born in Curuzu, the Liberdade neighborhood, the largest black population in the country, with approximately 600 thousand inhabitants. Its emergence is a kind of response to the historical segregation of blacks of the Bahian carnival.
In 1975, the bloco takes to the streets led by a group of young people. Among them was Antônio Carlos dos Santos, known as Vovô of Ilê.
While in the first parade less than a hundred people participated, today, only as associates Ilê Aiyê brings together about 3 thousand people and continues to provoke transformations in race relations in Salvador.
Ilê has been awarded several times as the best bloco afro of the Bahia carnival, with a discography of four albums, the last one released in 1998. Band’ Aiyê has more than 100 musicians today.
The musicality of the bloc follows a dialogue with rhythms derived from the African tradition, which help what the bloc propagates as “re-Africanization” of the Bahia Carnival.
Band’Aiyê, which already had Carlinhos Brown as master of percussion, has already made its mark in works by artists like Daniela Mercury, Martinho da Vila, and even the Icelandic singer Björk. The sound of the group seeks to demonstrate that Bahian music goes beyond Axé music.
Carlos Antonio, known as Kehindê Boa Morte, master of drums and percussion, says that the main characteristic of the bloco is samba-afro. “Mestre (master) Bafo, the first drum master of Ilê Aiyê, brought this Afro samba with a wooden drumstick that we play, our rhythm. We also use a lot of African matrixes, ilu, aguere, ijexá ..” he explains.
This year, the theme of the bloco is “Mandela. Azânia celebrates the centennial of its Madiba”. Azânia is another way of referring to South Africa, an African name without colonialist connotations.
The strength of former President Nelson Mandela was also the theme of the annual beauty contest held by Ilê during the 39th Noite da Beleza Negra (Night of Black Beauty) that took place on the 20th. This year, the winner was the 19 year old student, Jéssica Nascimento, who now assumes the post of Deusa do Ébano (Goddess of Ebony) of the bloco.
A resident of Cabula, a peripheral region of the capital of Bahia, daughter of Oxum, the deusa das águas doces (goddess of the fresh waters), Jéssica had a clenched fist over her head as part of her props. She explains that the fist alluded to the ubuntu African theory – “I am because we are” – very widespread by Mandela.
Jéssica says Ilê Aiyê has transformed Carnival into a political demonstration and underscores the importance of the bloco. “It is an entity that brings political and social discourse to people, of representativeness, of fighting against discrimination and prejudice against those who do not see the black woman as a symbol of beauty,” she concludes.
Ilê Aiyê, through its Band ‘Aiyê, celebrates Afro culture and traditions in São Paulo on February 2 and 3, Friday and Saturday, at 9:30 p.m., at Sesc Pompeia, in a “warm up” for Carnival 2018.
The presentations are part of the “Carnival and Resistance” project of the Instituto Kele and Inã Projects in Culture and Education. The first action of the project is a series of Ilê Aiyê shows by units of Sesc São Paulo: Jundiaí, on February 1; Pompei, on February 2 and 3; and Campo Limpo, on February 4.