Last weekend marked the arrival of the world's biggest party - Brazilian Carnaval. Every year millions of Brazilians celebrate the holiday by taking to the streets, reveling in raucous rituals full of music and dance.
I marked the occasion as I usually do, with a Cultural Cannibals Carnaval party at the Jazz Kitchen. For the third year straight, we were fortunate to feature a performance by the IU Brazilian Ensemble, an incredible percussion group under the tutelage of master drummer Michael Spiro.
This year, the ensemble was 40 drummers strong and their sound was so powerful it literally shook the walls of the club.
As I listened to the group in awe, I began to reflect. My mind wandered to Africa, where the rhythms of Carnaval were born. It occurred to me that the music we were all rocking out to existed in spite of hundreds of years of slavery and oppression.
The rhythms of Carnaval - samba, axé, maracatu - make great party music. But they are steeped in a bitter and distressful history.
The famous samba schools of Rio de Janeiro
The Portuguese invaded Brazil in the early 1500s, immediately colonizing and enslaving the indigenous population. Quickly realizing that the natives couldn't sustain the tremendous work load, Portugal began importing African slaves into Brazil in the 1550s.
The slave trade grew rapidly, and Brazil soon became home to the largest population of African slaves in the world.
The colonists had great difficulty maintaining authority over this massive slave state. Insurrections were frequent and led to harsher methods of suppression and control.
Despite these measures, the Portuguese were incapable of extinguishing the flames of African culture in the New World.
The traditions of African drumming not only survived, they grew and exploded into unimaginable new forms, eventually blossoming into the world-famous samba schools of Rio de Janeiro and the afro-blocos of Salvador, Bahia - enormous orchestras of drums, beating out symphonies of rebellion, resistance and liberation.
Bahian Afro-Brazilian drum ensemble Timbalada
The existence of Carnaval is a testament to the tremendous power of culture and its ability to flourish and propagate, even under extreme forms of opposition.
Brazil's musical rebellious streak continues today, as popular artists like Seu Jorge and Marcelo D2 continue to use samba rhythms as a vehicle for social commentary and cultural resistance.
Rio's samba hip-hopper Marcelo D2
Special thanks to Camila Cavalcante for her inspiration and support.Each edition of Cultural Manifesto will be accompanied by a podcast from Kyle Long, spotlighting new music from around the globe.
1. Gui Amabis - Para Mulatu (self released, 2011)
2. Luísa Maita - Lero-Lero (Cumbancha/Oi Música, 2011)
3. Lucas Santtana - Super Violão Mashup (Mais Um Discos, 2011)
4. Criolo - Mariô (Sky Blue Music, 2011)
5. Lurdez da Luz - Andei (Tratore/Fonomatic, 2010)
6. Emicida - Cacariacô (Laboratório Fantasma, 2011)
7. BaianaSystem - Frevofoguete (self released, 2011)
8. Bixiga 70 - Desengano da Vista (Traquitana/AguaForte, 2011)