Carnival season begins with accusations of "apartheid" against black bloco afro groups in Salvador

Afro Brazilian women

Although it may appear that it’s early to start talking about Carnaval as the event doesn’t actually start until late February, but in reality, the preparation occurs behind the scenes for many months in advance. But the controversy has already begun. Back in February, BW of Brazil discussed a type of “Brazilian apartheid” that’s on display every year during Carnaval in Salvador, Bahia, a city known as the “Black Rome” due its 80% black population and its reputation as the African cultural center of the country. 

Unfortunately during Carnaval in Salvador, Afro-Brazilian singers and groups are consistently excluded from the prime-time media exposure and the big money financial endorsements of the big banks and beer companies that are usually given to white artists. On top of all this, much of the Afro-Brazilian Axé music featured during Salvador’s Carnaval are songs written by black artists and songwriters and appropriated by the same white artists who get the endorsement deals and the vast media exposure leaving the black artists in the cold. 

Back in August, a controversial idea to give more exposure to Salvador’s black Carnaval groups was idealized by leaders of these groups and, as can be expected when the topic is black empowerment,  exposure and access, accusations of reverse apartheid were immediately spewed. Interestingly, it seems that this idea will cause a rift between some of the black blocos. No one knows how the idea will work out, but here’s an introduction to the background of the story. We will feature more about the situation surrounding Carnaval and Afro-Bahians in coming weeks and months. 

Carnaval starts with controvery of blocos afros in Salvador, Bahia

By Nelson Barros Neto

The blackest city in Brazil will debut next year a new Carnaval circuit exclusively for afro blocos (1). The new route in Salvador, Bahia is generating controversy and a label of the “apartheid effect”.

Called “afródromo”, the route has been approved by the city and will have 2.5 km, in the Cidade Baixa (Lower City section of Salvador). Bringing participants from the shore front and from the the city’s downtown, from where the more traditional bands parade through the crowds, the project has created a rift between about 200 entities of African matrix of Bahia’s Carnival.

On one side are six groups who requested the change and popular musician Carlinhos Brown. On the other, the “poor cousins”, less famous, with the support of Olodum, historically the most popular bloco of international fame.

João Jorge, president of Olodum

“This will confirm an elitist, white and predatory determination, with respect to the larger circuits [Barra and Campo Grande areas]. It was to have our presentation in front of the Iguatemi shopping mall (2),” says João Jorge, president of Olodum.

The Unafres (Union of Afoxés, Afros, Reggaes and Samba of the State), representative of 76 blocos, spoke of “Carnavalesque Apartheid.”

While larger blocos have sponsorships of beer companies and banks, smaller ones allege that they survive on donations. To Carlinhos Brown (3), the visibility of participants will increase, since the parades will occur during prime time, with more opportunities to appear on TV.

Singer/songwriter Carlinhos Brown

Eighty percent of the Axé (4) hits come from us. But we are always at the margins of the business (end). It’s time to deal with it ourselves,” he said. Brown also refutes accusations of segregation and says all the blocos are invited.

The coordinator of the Center for Afro-Oriental Studies, UFBA (Federal University of Bahia), views the initiative with caution. “In the case of quotas, there was a prediction that it would generate more racism. I think that that has not happened yet,” said Jeferson Bacelar.

But he ponders: “Why only one group, without the blocos of less media attention? There is already a ridiculous Carnival model that discriminates against the poor population and benefits few artists and politicians.”

Know more about blocos participating in Afródromo

Afro Brazilians
  1. Filhos de Gandhy: Founded in 1949 in the historic Pelourinho district. Older than the trio electric, the group appeared in films recorded in Bahia such as “O Pagador de Promessa” (1962) and “Dona Flor e seus Dois Maridos” (1976). According to tradition, the necklace of the group is worth a kiss.
  2. Ilê Aiyê: Founded in 1974 in Liberdade area of Salvador. The name means “house of the blacks” and it’s located in the neighborhood with largest African descendant population of Brazil according to the entity.
  3. Muzenza: Founded in 1981, in the Pelourinho. Some of the compositions of the bloco found great success in the voices of singers like Maria Bethania (“A Terra Tremeu”), Gal Costa (“Brilho Beleza”) and Daniela Mercury (“Swing da Cor”).
  4. Malê-Debalê: Founded in 1979 in the Abaeté region. Considered the biggest “balé afro” (Afro Dance) in the world, they have 2,000 dancers in their parades. The name is an homage to the Revolta dos Malês (Revolt of the Malê), an uprising of black Muslims that happened in 1835 in Salvador. Recognized as the greatest slave revolt in Brazil’s history, the term Malê refers to a Muslim slave.
  5. Cortejo Afro: Founded in 1998 in the Pelourinho. Born in the Ilê Axé Oyá terreiro, one of the most traditional houses of Afro-Brazilian religion in the city.
  6. Timbalada: Founded in 1991 in the Candeal region. Created by one of Brazil’s biggest hitmakers, Carlinhos Brown, the group revolutionized how the timbau, a type of atabaque or Brazilian congo, instrument) is played


What it is: A street circuit for blocos afros

Where: Avenida da França of the Mercado Modelo (5) up to the Feira de São Joaquim

When: Carnaval 2013

Mercado Modelo in Salvador, Bahia

  • It will have bleachers to seat 20,000 people
  • Araketu and Didá are a few of blocos afros invited
  • The groups promise to choose one of the days in the week of Carnaval to parade their groups in their old location routes

1. Blocos Afros are Carnival blocos or groups which celebrate cultural manifestations of African origin. The rhythms od the music usually have a basis a Brazilian musical style known as samba-reggae. The outfits are also African-inspired

2. Located in the upper crust neighborhood of Pituba in Salvador, Bahia

3. Grammy nominated artist and one of Brazil’s top hit makers having crafted hits for a number of Brazilian singers.

4. Popular music genre that fuses numerous national and international musical styles. See more here
5. Opening in 1912 and situated in the district of Comércio, Mercado Modelo is one of the oldest and traditional commercial areas in Salvador and constitutes an important tourist attraction. Facing the Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) it neighbor’s the famous Lacerda Elevator and the Historical  Pelourinho area. Source: Wikipedia

 Source: Folha de S.Paulo

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About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. "On top of all this, much of the Afro-Brazilian Axé music featured during Salvador's Carnaval are songs written by black artists and songwriters and appropriated by the same white artists who get the endorsement deals and the vast media exposure leaving the black artists in the cold. "That irks me. how can you give endorsements to white artists for COPYING art forms that were taught to them by African descended people of Brazil?also the "Reverse racism," card is an excuse that some white people like to use to stifle black progress, just as the poster said before. the same thing goes on in the US…they want to talk about how affirmative action is racist, but then they don't even mention the disparity in education and discrimination that goes on that undermines black people.

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