Note from BBT: So the so-called “Bahian Apartheid” strikes again. I’ve always loved the state of Bahia. It was the first place in Brazil that I got to know on my first trip back in the year 2000. Like singer Paulo Diniz once said, “I want to go back to Bahia” as it’s been more than a decade now since I’ve been there. The place has a certain mystical feel that I, like many African-Americans, immediately connect with. If you live in northern, midwestern or western states of the United States and you got people “down south”, that’s the feeling you get when you get to know folks in Bahia. But that’s the mystical, the family, the Diaspora side. Numerous other aspects of Bahia will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
When you get to see the state and its capital city, Salvador, in some ways it’ll strike you as a type of South Africa in Brazil. The city and state has an enormous African cultural influence and, looking at its population, it is probably the blackest state in the whole country. But when you look at the political, economic and media structure and so many areas of power in the state, you can’t help but think of the apartheid system. Besides politics, the Carnaval season was and continues to be one area where this apartheid is so visible.
Back in late 90s/early 2000s, the Raça Brasil magazine did a piece on the so-called “Apartheid Baiano” and here it is two decades later and that article still applies. And black Bahian leaders haven’t been silent about it. Whether it’s economic apartheid that divides white and black skin among the tens of thousands of Carnaval participants, access to areas of more visibility for the artists, again, according to skin color or the sponsorships that artists attain from various companies, the division, while it functions without the “whites only”/”blacks only” signs of Jim Crow America, it functions just as effectively.
Last year, in an online conversation, actress Taís Araújo flat out asked popular singer Ivete Sangalo why it was that another singer, Margareth Menezes, the “Queen of Bahian Pop”, wasn’t as popular as she was. Taís and Margareth are both black while Ivete Sangalo is white, or, at least close to white. Also last year, Margareth made headlines when she spoke on a certain white privilege that dominates Brazil’s music industry. I’m always willing to listen to reasons for why such disparities exist. If there is another logical explanation outside of the issue of race, I’d LOVE to hear it. Because the evidence that I see for this year’s Bahian Carnaval, which will be performed only online due to the pandemic, doesn’t lead me to any other conclusion.
With no sponsorships, Bahia’s black artists and Afro blocks will make no live Carnaval performances; top white artists attain various sponsors and will perform
By Guilherme Soares Dias and Bianca Andrade
“How do I tell my heart…” that this year Ara Ketu will not be part of Carnaval? For the first time in years, the group, one of the most traditional in the history of Axé Music, will not be present in the momesque revelry, which in 2021 will happen in a different way due to the coronavirus pandemic, due to lack of sponsorship.
In fact, lack of sponsorship and money itself will cause several of Salvador’s blocos afros (Afro blocks) and black artists to be silenced during the 2021 Carnival period. While singers Ivete Sangalo and Claudia Leitte will perform live with more than 15 brands sponsoring them, the historic first bloco afro Ilê Aiyê will not have drums playing during a live broadcast. Daniela Mercury confirmed the “queen’s live” for Friday (12), while Olodum sent a statement saying there will be no live broadcast, but rather a web series of memories and images of other great carnivals they have performed in more than 40 years of parades.
The group joins other great black artists from Bahia who were ‘vetoed’ from Carnaval this year, such as Margareth Menezes, Ilê Aiyê, and the band Olodum, which last Wednesday (10) announced the cancellation of the live they would perform at the weekend for the same reason.
In an interview with bahia.ba, Dan Miranda, current vocalist of the group, regretted the absence in the party, even if in a viral way. The artist, who in March completed one year away from the stages, said he doesn’t understand the reason that makes Ara and so many other local artists not receive the attention of sponsors.
“It’s been a year since we did our last show, and the live we did was with our own resources, but the resources we had from last year’s Carnaval are gone. It’s kind of complicated, unfortunately we haven’t been able to get sponsors, we really tried to do something, but it just didn’t work out. While we have some artists that, regardless of anything, do a live show with 16 sponsors. I don’t know the reason for this,” he says.
In contrast to the lack of sponsorship for artists from afro carnival blocks, on the weekend that Carnival would take place, about 16 lives happen with sponsorship from big brands, such as Claudia Leitte and Ivete Sangalo‘s that will be sponsored by Audi, Engov and Koleston, and support from 6 other brands. And Bell Marques’, that includes with the sponsorship of SKOL, TargiforC, Tintas Iquine, Riachuelo, Pitú, ITS Brasil, Rappi, Banco PAN, Shopping da Bahia, and Paramana.
“Several other artists who are in the limelight today get sponsorships, and people are running after them to offer live performances. On the other hand, bands like Ara Ketu, Olodum, and Margareth Menezes don’t receive this kind of attention, and if they were to do it, they would do it with their own resources.
The only time the group was left out of Salvador’s Carnaval was in 1992, when the band held the festa outside the country due to lack of space to perform in the capital.
For Dan, there was a lack of attention to the events and entertainment sector in general during the pandemic. The artist tells that in 2020 he even got together a group of friends to help music colleagues who were going through difficulties, due to the lack of help that professionals in this sector had throughout the months.
“There are millions of direct and indirect professionals who went without pay during this period. It is a very difficult thing to face, I have seen some colleagues going through difficulties, we had a joint effort to help raise some minimum wages to help 20 families, but there comes a time that it is difficult for everyone.
A note from the world famous bloco Olodum shared similar news. Just this week, news outlets were celebrating the fact that its been 25 years since the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, shut down Brazil when he recorded his famed “They Don’t Care About Us” in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. Olodum was prominently featured in the Jackson video. But this piece of history doesn’t gloss over the current hard times of this important cultural organization.
“We tried. But this year Olodum’s Carnaval will be different, it will be virtual, without a live show. In a challenging moment for the entire entertainment chain, almost 12 months without concerts, rehearsals and corporate events, which generate work and income for our employees and also for the organization, besides, unfortunately, not having the traditional Carnival, we are dependent on external support/sponsorship to perform the virtual Carnival with all the necessary infrastructure for a live show. The main intention of the live show would be to bring joy, excitement and high spirits to our audience, in addition to financially helping our team of musicians, technicians and producers who have been without income since the beginning of the pandemic.”
If not even Olodum and Ilê Aiyê, which have more financial structure and are better known, will have live performances, imagine the other blocos afros. Guia Negro questioned other blocos such as Muzenza, Cortejo Afro and Malê de Balê and none of them will be able to hold shows broadcast over the internet during Carnaval.
Besides the blocos, singers like Margareth Menezes, Marcia Short, Larissa Luz, Nêssa, Mariene de Catro, Nara Couto, Luedji Luna, and Majur, who in previous years had great visibility during Carnival, will also not have live shows.
The digital influencer Ismael Carvalho (@ismaelcarvalhoss) brought questioning in a post on Instagram. “Live shows have been, for many artists, the only way to profit during the chaos we are going through. In what way are the black artists, their families, bands and all the team around them living?” he questions. Ismael recalls that “even white artists continue to be the ones who profit the most, even in the first Carnival that we are experiencing during this pandemic, even after a year in which we claim to have advanced in agendas like this one. It’s sad to watch the neglect by the public, the media, and artist friends who claim to be allies,” he points out.