Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Brazil Vol. 1: Olodum, Checking Privilege & Gilmario Marques

Weekly Update 2020-08: If you don't want to see me nerding out on Brazil for the next three weeks, best avoid me altogether. The first instalment of my trip to Brazil below!

Music: Olodum
One of Tdot Batu's major inspirations and the reason we travelled to Brazil is the famous band Olodum. One of the original bloco-afros from Salvador's Carnaval in Bahia, Brazil. The band was directed for many years by lead percussionist Neguinho do Samba, who created a mix of the traditional Brazilian samba beat with merengue, salsa, and reggae rhythms for the Carnaval of 1986. This became known as samba reggae, and the genre was born. Neguinho also introduced the concept of playing the repique with two sticks instead of one, which was the style at the time. Thanks to Pato for clarifying some of the facts above!

It has travelled all around the world, the power of its beats changing hearts and minds everywhere. Including mine. And including that of Michael Jackson, who collaborated with the band and filmed his music video on the cobblestone streets of Pelourinho for 1996's They Don't Care About Us.

He may be cancelled, but at least he helped put Olodum on the map.

Olodum also has an activism component, working to combat social discrimination, boost the self-esteem and pride of Afro-Brazilians, and defend and fight to secure civil and human rights for marginalized people in Brazil.

It was absolutely amazing to see them perform (albeit somewhat crazy in the huge crowd), especially after several days of working with their band leaders to learn their beats. More on that below!

I finally finished the herculean effort of packing for my trip, then dragged my suitcase to BrainStation and taught my last class before heading off to the airport to Brazil that same evening.

I arrived in Barra (BAH-ha) for the first leg of our trip. It's a lovely little beach area where one of the Carnaval circuits runs, not too far from Pelourinho where we'd be staying later.

This was where I first learned of the power of the trio eletrico (or electric trio), literally a huge three-decker bus, pounding music through gigantic speakers and carrying famous singers and musicians performing on top. Each one was surrounded by tons and tons of patrygoers in various states of dress and drunkenness. It reminded me of the messy evenings at camping music festivals, glitter mixing with sweat, beer, and dirt...but times ten.

On Sunday we began the workshops in earnest, vising Jair Rezende in Candeal for a full day of learning at his studio.

After too short a time in the lovely area of Barra, we packed into a van and moved to our Pelourinho home for the next week. I picked up my custom-made drum and we headed to one of the Carnaval squares to practice with Tambores e Cores (Mestre Pacote do Pelo and his son Junior Souza).

The afternoon was spent practicing with Adriana Portela in the cobblestone streets and into the night after the sun went down on our three-plus-hour practice. Many people came around to watch us, including Anton who appeared out of the mist with his luggage. Apparently he had found us by our sound :)

Reunited with Adriana again!!

That night we bought tickets to see Cortejo Afro, a drumming and performance show that was simply awesome. It was also a preview to see Mestre Gordo, who we'd be workshopping with a few days later in Piraja.

People were already dressing up for Carnaval.

On Tuesday morning we had the pleasure of working with Gilmario Marques, one of the professors of Olodum and Mestre for his own band Movimento Percussivo. He took us parading in the streets of Pelourinho to the main stage, drawing all sorts of attention which was really cool. More on him in the inspiration section below.

That afternoon we had our first practice with Tambores Do Mundo - a program bringing drummers from countries all over the world to come and parade together under the watchful eye of Ile Aiye's very own Mario Pam, Patinho Axe and Alex Rosa. Basically a star-studded cast of drummers.

The view was fantastic, in this high fortress specified for capoeira and drumming.

My second sighting of Ile Aiye's famous Perfil Azeviche (Dark Profile).

Lots more workshops coming, along with a stroll down the Carnaval circuit with Olodum (equal parts scary and exciting).

Random Thought: First Take on Brazil
It didn't take long to notice the wealth gap in this country. The way people handle their personal belongings with extra care and stow their money in travel belts under their clothes is a hint at the underlying feeling in the air.

I was told originally not to take my phone out of my lodgings with me at all, and yet I did risk it several times when I probably shouldn't have. A mixture of luck and common sense kept me from losing anything. My friends weren't so lucky, some of them having phones stolen, but I think we all came out ahead compared to the stories of other tourists in bigger cities like Rio De Janeiro or Sao Paolo. Salvador seemed pretty chilled out (though only comparatively to other Brazilian cities) and Pelourinho especially felt safe on the well-lit streets. Though even in relaxed moments I never really felt vacation-safe until we moved to Praia Do Forte later in the trip.

I kept my hands directly on bags containing my valuables at all times, always watching who was standing around me in tight crowds (trying to surround myself with my friends and cover them too), and used a money belt inside my pants with a flowy top that concealed the bulge. Success.

I was mentally reminding myself to check my privilege at all times, noting the characteristics of traveling to a developing country. Pato explained the reality to me that white people especially are seen as a walking ATM to those affected most by poverty. Most people I ran into did not speak English, but I did try to pick up some conversational Portuguese (enough to order food or ask the price of something in a market). Overall people seemed pretty warm and friendly, though the language gap with English is a bit tough! I really like the sound of the language of Portuguese spoken by Brazilians, it sounds very warm and the letters kind of lick your brain a little.

Inspiration: Gilmario Marques
We had a very special morning on Tuesday with Gilmario Marques: member of Olodum and professor in the Escola Olodum. He taught us some of his band Movimento Percussivo's breaks and beats, and was overall just a really nice and chill guy. Through translation of his Portuguese, he told us that we shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes while learning because they're part of the learning process (you listening, Pato?) and that we should learn to play first before we move or dance at the same time.

After a practice under a tent in the pouring rain overlooking a beautiful view of pastel-coloured houses, We took to the streets of Pelourinho to do a short parade. I appreciated that Gilmario felt we were ready to try practicing in the streets, which are definitely a feat of their own.

It was so cool to practice with Gilmario on Tuesday (above) and then see him perform with Olodum only four days later (below). Simply unreal.

So sad I didn't get this pic with him on Friday night, but here's Barbara instead :)

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