Seeing Olodum in Bahia's Salvador
I was sweating like a banshee. I’d just arrived in Salvador, the architectural gemstone of Bahia, and the streets were boiling over with anticipation for 2012’s annual festivities that the world knows as Carnaval. Me, I was just a traveling neophyte. Little did I know that this would be the start of a year-long round-the-world trip, subsequently setting foot on every continent and falling in love with not only my future husband, but with world music in a new and authentic way.
Leaving my own guitar back home, I was ready to throw off the bowlines, be a free man in Paris, furiously scribble notes in a leather bound journal, ingest every cultural and historical nuance that came my way, and yes, hear some awesome drums. Good thing my first stop was Brazil.
Salvador de Bahia was the first colonial capital in Brazil, and it's UNESCO World Heritage center, the Pelouhrino (translated to "whipping post"), is teeming with historical monuments spanning back to the 17th century. It's the cultural and spiritual heart of Brazil. It was also the first slave market on the continent; 80% of Bahians are of African descent.
-The Afro-Brazilian community of Bahia in turn created a handful of iconic music and dance styles that have garnered international idolatry- the martial arts dance Capoeira, Samba and Samba Reggae, Axe and the informal Afro-Bloco street percussion groups- a refreshing contrast to the huge organized parades of the Samba Schools in the bigger cities like Rio and Sao Paolo. One of the most famous Afro-Bloco groups is Olodum.-
“OMG! Michael and Jens! I think that’s Olodum. Look!" My German counterparts were only beginning to experience the wrath that is Samantha in the vicinity of an impromptu jam session.
Down the narrow alleyway, frenetic drums were bouncing off the cobblestone. It was hard not to notice the iconic peace sign Tees and the tight bateria of kids officiating a serious jam in the middle of the street. It's no secret that I am huge Paul Simon fan and knew from blocks away the drum pattern that intros into "The Obvious Child," the first song off Rhythm of the Saints. The "whap whap whap WHAP!" triplets careened off the ornamented architecture like fire sparklers on the 4th of July.
Olodum was created in 1979 by a percussionist Neguinho do Samba as a creative outlet for young Afro-Brazilians to come together in music, dance and theater. It addresses racism, encourages self-esteem and promotes civil rights for all marginalized peoples. Michael Jackson even made a video with them in '86. Olodum is widely accredited with developing the Samba Reggae style that is so universal, especially during Carnival parades.
It’s no wonder that so many artists fully entrenched in pop culture have come to Bahia to seek inspiration. The fusion of African, South American and European styles is as mellifluous as it is tragic, and speaks as much to your conscious as it does to your heart.