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Article

Aaron Myers

During the 1960s and 1970s, influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the United States and nationalist movements in Africa, Afro-Brazilians experienced a surge in black pride. This heightened black consciousness was also prompted by denouncements of racism and praises to “Mother Africa” heard in Jamaican Reggae, increasingly popular in Brazil during the 1970s. As a result, black Brazilians, especially those in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Salvador, reaffirmed their connection with Africa and became more vocal about problems facing their community, particularly racial discrimination. This process was accelerated by the abertura (opening)—the gradual return to democratic rule that began in 1979 and loosened restrictions on free speech. In Salvador, this newfound black pride reinvigorated the old and waning afoxés and gave birth to a new type of black Carnival organization, the bloco Afro.

Afoxés emerged in the late ...

Article

Balé Folclórico da Bahia was founded by Walson Botelho and Ninho Reis in 1987 in the city of Salvador, in the northern state of Bahia. Material for the dance compositions draws from the cultural fabric of the state, which was first colonized in 1530 by the Portuguese. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, enslaved Africans were brought over to the colony to work on sugar plantations. The distinct socio-historical events that coalesced in this region are represented in the population, over 60 percent of which can claim African, indigenous, and Portuguese ancestry. This mixture is not restricted to biology but includes cultural traits, evident in the Brazilian religion Candomblé, which consists of Roman Catholicism brought by the Europeans, traditional beliefs of the indigenous peoples, and elements from the Yoruba of southern Nigeria.

Combining these elements the troupe creates and interprets Yoruba based rites of the Candomblé religion ...

Article

Biguine  

Richard Watts

The two principal types of biguine—biguine classique, ballroom dance music in the French Caribbean islands, and biguine vidé, heard mostly at Carnival there—reflect their African heritage in the emphasis on the call and response between the soloist and chorus, the prominence of rhythm over melody, and the vital importance of percussion. Biguine classique of the 1940s is more directly related to American big band and New Orleans music, from the nature of the rhythm (carried by guitar and drums) to the use of wind instruments for the melody. Jazz also influenced later biguine classique, most notably in trumpet, clarinet, and saxophone improvisation heard in many compositions.

In the mid-1950s biguine integrated components from more local musical forms. Elements of Cuban guaguancó or rumba became part of the biguine vernacular through the introduction of the tumbadora drum rhythmic figure and the addition of the piano The borrowing ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Capoeira combines various elements, including dance, combat, music, and song. It is performed to live music, with two capoeiristas taking turns at the center of a roda, or circle, formed by the players, musicians, and spectators. At the head of the roda is an ensemble of percussion instruments called the bateria. The bateria usually includes three berimbaus (bow-shaped instruments), an atabaque (a long, cylindrical drum), one or two pandeiros (tambourine-like instruments), an agogô (a double-headed bell), and a reco-reco (a small instrument with a corrugated surface). The bateria's rhythm and pace dictate the style and speed of the play in the circle, and the songs sung by the musicians often comment upon, criticize, or encourage the physical play.

Article

The festivals known as Carnival are public celebrations of European origin that have been profoundly transformed by diverse New World African cultures throughout the Americas. Although Carnival is celebrated in many Latin American and Caribbean cities, this description will focus on four different Carnivals: two in Brazil, one in Rio de Janeiro and the other in Salvador, Bahia; one in the Caribbean, in Port of Spain, Trinidad; and one in the United States, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Article

Compas  

Jace Clayton

In Haiti in the 1940s, the pioneering sound of popular music was that of merengue and “voodoo-jazz.” There is a lengthy history of heated debate between Dominicans and Haitians regarding which group originated the merengue—the primary difference between the two country's merengue forms is that the Haitian version favors a slower tempo and the guitar rather than accordion. Voodoo-jazz, which was born during the period of U.S. occupation (1915–1934), flavored the Afro-Haitian rhythms of Vodou ritual music with American swing Jazz. Bandleader and saxophonist Jean-Baptiste Nemours unveiled a new dance in 1955 that would revolutionize Haitian music. Based on merengue, Nemours's adaptations slowed the dance's tempo and simplified its melodies. Nemour's guitarist termed the music compas direct (also spelled kompa-dirék), meaning “straight-ahead beat.” Bass drums and hi-hat snares, cowbells, and emphatic guitars gave compas a distinct feel from merengue.

As Nemours rose in popularity his house ...

Article

Cumbia  

Nina Friedemann

The term cumbia is of Bantu origin and likely derives from nkumbi, which in the Kikongo language indicates a type of drum used to accompany a ritual performed at the tomb of a great hunter. Other possible origins include the Mandingo place-name cumba and the Kumba near Calabar in Nigeria. Cumba was also a kingdom in what is now the Republic of the Congo. Among the Congolese, the word means “clamorous shouting, rejoicing.”

The origins of cumbia reach back to colonial times and to slave dances that took place at a bonfire and was accompanied by drums and later around a tree held to be sacred As time went on slave workers began to participate in Spanish religious festivals and their dancing around groups of drummers replaced the sacred dimensions of these rites with secular overtones In the cumbia the woman dances in short steps never lifting ...

Article

Because it is non-verbal, dance has often been perceived by Western observers as a relatively insignificant cultural medium, capable of communicating only abstract thought or emotion. In the African diaspora, however, bodily movement can be a form of prayer, or of protest. Sometimes it is both. In some cases, the brutal repression of verbal expressions of religious or political beliefs has necessitated this other, more discreet means of communication. Meaningful motion is an important and continuous aspect of diasporic culture, which assumes no necessary division between the mind and the body.

The worship of African deities in the Caribbean and Latin America continues to be performed through dance, and the choreographies of these religious ceremonies bear an uncanny resemblance to those of West African ceremonies. Vodou in Haiti, Santería in Cuba, and Candomblé in Brazil are all African diasporic religions in which dance is used to invoke ...

Article

Christopher Dunn

Dissatisfied by the options available to Afro-Brazilians during Carnival, a group of young black petroleum workers from the working-class neighborhood of Curuzu-Liberdade organized Ilê Aiyê (Yoruba for “House of Life”) for the 1975 Carnival. The group's founder and president, Antônio Carlos dos Santos Vovô, cited three principal sources of inspiration: local Afro-Brazilian culture rooted in the Candomblé religion; the North American Black Power and soul movements and their Brazilian spinoffs; and the liberation of former Portuguese colonies in Africa such as Angola and Mozambique.

As a parallel response to some of the elite Carnival groups who informally excluded people of color, Ilê Aiyê established a blacks-only membership policy, which it still maintains. Although Ilê Aiyê was criticized in the local press for “introducing racial politics” into the Bahian Carnival, it soon received moral support from established pop stars such as Gilberto Gil who recorded a pop ...

Article

Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz wrote that the word bamba means “a lucky move,” and “success obtained without working,” tracing its origins to a similar word— mbamba—from the Congo, meaning “play”. Bamba has also been traced to the Gabonese word bumbua, which means “to do something with improvisation, without preparing to do it.” African elements were introduced into the dance by enslaved Africans who worked the haciendas (large estates) in Mexico. African influence was particularly high in the urban areas, such as Mexico City, Puebla, and the port city of Veracruz, where Afro-Mexicans taught music and dancing, and where the dance reportedly originated.

“La Bamba” is also the name of a popular song, performed in a traditional Mexican musical genre called huapango—a complex mix of Spanish melodic influences that integrates Amerindian and African cross-rhythms. As for its etymological origins, huapango may have derived from a ...

Article

Mambo  

James Sellman

According to musicologist John Storm Roberts, mambo was “a truly American-Latin hybrid.” While reflecting Cuban rhythmic innovations and a performance style shaped by the nightclubs of New York City's vibrant Latino community, it incorporated the ensemble format of swing-era Jazz bands. Mambo's origins lie in Cuba's African-derived religious traditions, and the term itself most likely derives from the peoples of the present-day Republic of the Congo or Angola. It is not known who first adapted this Afro-Cuban religious music as vernacular dance music, although scholars credit four Cuban musicians with particularly important roles in developing and popularizing mambo: tres player and bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez, bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado, bassist Israel “Cachao” López, and his brother the cellist Orestes López.

In Cuba, mambo was played by such small ensembles as flutist Antonio Arcaño s band Arcaño y sus Maravillas Arcaño and the ...

Article

The first samba school to be created was Deixa Falar, which was established in Rio de Janeiro's Estácio de Sá neighborhood in 1926. But Mangueira is one of the oldest Samba Schools that still remains active. Samba composer Cartola and several friends established Mangueira on April 28 ...

Article

Ben Penglase

Manuel dos Reis Machado was born in Bahia. He initially called the martial art that he taught “luta regional” (or regional fighting), and this style has since come to be known as capoeira regional. Mestre Bimba was one of the Capoeiramestres or masters who was influential in ...

Article

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha is said to have learned Capoeira as a young boy from an African-born Brazilian named Benedito. He opened his capoeira academy in 1941 in Salvador, Bahia, and worked to preserve the traditional form of capoeira, which he termed capoeira Angola Pastinha was a ...

Article

James Sellman

For more than four decades, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas has sought to preserve and strengthen traditional Afro-Cuban song and dance. Founded in 1952 as Guanguanco Matancero, the group adopted its current name—which in English means “The Little Dolls of Matanzas”—a year later, after recording a hit song by that name. The group's music is highly percussive, with layers of complex rhythms played on congas, maracas, wooden box drums, and cylindrical wooden claves. Over the percussion, vocalists perform call-and-response choruses that alternate with the lead singer's improvisations. Beyond drawing attention to Cuba's rich legacy of folk music and dance, the troupe was also an important influence on the rise of Salsa Music in the 1960s. With the growing popularity of world music during the 1980s and 1990s, the troupe has gained a much larger, international following.

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is a family based musical troupe and many of its members ...

Article

Olodum  

Aaron Myers

Olodum was founded in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, on April 25, 1979. That year marked the beginning of the abertura (opening), the gradual return to democracy after fifteen years of military rule in Brazil. Many rights were curtailed during this period and, as a result, Carnival became an increasingly important occasion for voicing political concerns and asserting cultural pride. The 1970s in Salvador, Bahia, witnessed the emergence of blocos Indios (Indian Carnival associations) and blocos Afros (African Carnival associations), whose presentations at the annual pre-Lent Carnival celebration revolved around indigenous and African themes. Olodum emerged out of this bloco Afro movement just as abertura was paving the way for increased social, political, and cultural activism. Olodum's name comes from Olodumaré, the name of the supreme Yoruba deity.

Drum, voice, and liberation ideology are the foundations of Olodum's music. Every February, Olodum brings together some 200 large surdo ...

Article

Jorge Arce

Bomba music is a generic term that refers to a variety of rhythms and kinds of dances, such as calinda, sica, grasima, lero, cuembe, holande, yuba, bambulae, and seis bombeao. By some accounts bomba music and dance arrived in Puerto Rico in the sixteenth century, brought by the Asantes, who had come from the African region of Ghana. While its precise origins are unclear, the bomba and its many variants continued to evolve, particularly among slaves on the Sugar plantations. These slaves would hold bomba dances on Sundays and holidays in places outside the plantations themselves. Many slave rebellions were planned during these gatherings.

The instruments used to accompany bomba music are two drums, cua two sticks and maracas a Native American instrument originally used by the Taíno Indians The drums essentially are barrels with heads of goatskin ...

Article

Rumba  

Aaron Myers

During the eighteenth century, large numbers of slaves of Yoruba, Calabar, and Kongo descent were brought to Cuba to work in the Sugar-producing region of Matanzas. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, these and other liberated blacks headed to Cuba's urban centers in search of employment and settled on the outskirts of the cities. The rumba was born out of festive social gatherings in the suburban environment of Matanzas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rumba synthesizes African-derived rhythms, songs, and dances, in particular those of Bantu origin. Rumba soon spread to Havana and other parts of Cuba and, after World War II, was exported to Europe and the United States, where it was modified into a type of ballroom dance. This article focuses on the original form of rumba, as performed in contemporary Afro-Cuban communities.

A number of percussive instruments accompany the ...

Article

Samba  

Aaron Myers

To Brazilians, samba is many different things: abandon and solace, celebration and exuberance, national identity and pride. Though samba is most closely associated with the pre-Lent festivities known as Carnival, there are several forms of samba that are played year-round in various contexts. Percussive instruments dominate samba and give it a highly syncopated, layered sound. Technically, a 2/4 meter with the heaviest accent on the second beat and a stanza-and-refrain structure characterize samba.

Samba is rooted in the music and dance traditions of Angola, the African kingdom (now country) that was home for many of the slaves brought to Brazil. The word samba is believed to have derived from the Kimbundu word semba, a circle dance that features a navel-touching dance step. Many historians trace the musical roots of samba to the lundu music tradition brought to Brazil by slaves from Angola This African dance and ...

Article

Aaron Myers

In 1928 several musicians from the Estácio neighborhood in Rio De Janeiro formed the first Samba school, Deixa Falar (Let Them Speak). One of the reasons they created this organization was to parade during Carnival, a celebration from which they had historically been denied participation. Other black musicians followed their lead and came together to found their own samba schools, including Mangueira in 1929 and Portela in 1935. Although Afro-Brazilians had informally paraded through their own neighborhoods during Carnival festivities since the early nineteenth century, the samba schools lent a degree of formality to the Afro-Brazilians' street revelry and allowed them to assert their presence during Carnival. When Getúlio Vargas came into political power in 1930, he put an end to the repression of Afro-Brazilians and their samba schools and gave official recognition to their parades.

The Vargas administration changed Carnival by requiring participating samba schools to have ...