Are you as addicted as I am to those strong, rhythmic percussive beats of afro-brazilian music? The ones that make your hips and shoulders start swaying back and forth before you even realize it’s happening. Yes, those beats!
Then carnival in Salvador is definitely a place you want to be.
With the largest black population outside of Africa, negritude and black pride — and the music that represents it — are alive and well here in Salvador. Because of that, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are a number of traditional afro blocos performing throughout carnival (and throughout the year).
Each bloco varies in musical style and values. But what unites them all is their fight against racism, fight for equal rights, and their support of community and social projects.
Salvador Carnival’s Well-Known Afro Blocos
Cortejo Afro, is an eclectic mixture of old and new — combining afro-pop electronic music with traditional candomblé, samba, and samba-reggae rhythms. I am an un-abashed Cortejo Afro fangirl.
The bloco is very values-driven, frequently promoting afro-Brazilian values and ideas, with an emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness, on their Facebook page and show imagery. They are the only afro bloco that has openly gay singers — with the fabulous outfits to match.
As alluded to above, one of the defining visual characteristics of Cortejo Afro is its ensembles. The bloco was created by artist and stylist Alberto Pitta, who, prior to starting Cortejo Afro, was the stylist for Olodum for 15 years. Because of Alberto’s magic, the band has a stunning aesthetic, and show up for every show and rehearsal exquisitely outfitted. Likewise, their bloco fantasia is always stunning.
Cortejo Afro is on the Campo Grande circuit on Friday nights and Barra-Ondina on Mondays.
Filhos de Gandhy
Filhos de Gandhy is the oldest and best-known afoxé in Brazil. Inspired by the principles of peace and non-violence professed by Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi, the afoxé adopted the blue and white colors of Oxalá, the candomblé Orixá that shares the same values.
The bloco is easy to recognize through its long blue and white robes, white cloth turban, and blue and white beads. You can’t miss them with their distinctive ijexá rhythm and thousands of followers. Bahian musical legends such as Gerônimo and Carlinhos Brown often join the bloco’s trio.
The bloco is limited to men only. There is a second smaller group, Filhas de Gandhy (daughters of Gandhi), that plays the Pelourinho circuit.
In 2018, they played on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. You can expect the same for 2019.
Ilé Aiyé is the oldest afro bloco in Salvador, with an objective to preserve, value, and expand afro-Brazilian culture and its connection to Africa. They have a storied history here in Salvador. I will never forget my first time seeing them live. I stood transfixed with goose bumps, listening to the powerful rhythms, watching the beautiful, raw dancers, and loving the other show-goers enthusiastically singing along word-by-word.
In addition to their distinctive style of afro-Brazilian music, which my musician husband says is the most African of all of the afro blocos, a hallmark of the group is the beautifully-styled afro dancers that take the stage with Band Aiyé.
Heads-up if you are thinking of walking with them: They do not allow non-negros to buy fantasia for their bloco, arguing that it is the only way to maintain the essence of the group.
Malê Debalê has its roots in the Salvador neighborhood of Itapuã. It is now the one of the largest afro-ballets in the world, with up to 2,000 dancers in simultaneous rich, African-inspired choreography. The group was founded to give residents of the distant neighborhood of Itapuã a role in carnival. Since the bloco’s inception, their social works has emphasized fighting against racism and achieving equality for negros.
I love the story behind the group’s name, so I need to share it with you. Malê was chosen a homage to the slave revolt of 1835 inspired by muslim teachers (Revolta dos Males). Debalê because balé is the Portuguese word for ballet and a play on that creates a connotation with positivity and happiness. Fun fact: my husband’s oldest brother created the bloco’s name.
Muzenza started in 1981 as a tribute bloco to Bob Marley. Today, the group’s music incorporates a range of afro-brazilian rhythms and are known for their original compositions. They are best known for these original compositions that are later re-recorded by the big artists of Bahia, such as Daniela Mercury.
Muzenza typically plays on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday in Campo Grande.
Arguably Bahia’s best known cultural export, Olodum is the band behind the now-famous samba-reggae sound.
The name Olodum comes from Olodumare, a Yoruba word for the creator of the universe. To this day, Olodum maintains that connection to Africa and their songs are frequently about Africa, social justice, and human rights.
Friday night of carnival is their big night, when the entire Olodum cultural group, typically 200 percussionists, join the trio elétrico for an impressive showing. They leave from the Pelourinho and walk the entire 5 kilometer Campo Grande route.
Olodum also always plays Barra-Ondina and sometimes a second time on Campo Grande.
In addition to rehearsals and carnival performances, each of these afro blocos is also an independent non-profit that has a social arm that sponsors projects in its local neighborhood. Most of these projects are youth projects, providing general education as well as teaching music, dance, and black history and culture.
Let us Help You Plan Your Carnival
There is a lot to pack into the six days of Salvador’s carnival! But, with some expert planning you can do more than you think. We have experience doing this and would love to be a part of making your carnival experience magical. Click through to learn about our range of carnival concierge services.