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The new and the traditional join hands in Bahia, Brazil

Guilherme Soares Dias (Translated by Bruno Almeida)

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Salvador is the Brazilian capital with the highest percentage of black people among its population: 80%. This does not prevent the city from experiencing the reflexes of structural racism present in all layers of Brazilian society. In music, it is no different. The collective Afrobapho, a group made up of young black LGBTQIA+ people that uses arts as a social tool, has appointed Os Negões crew to Ballantine’s True Music Fund.

Afrobapho started in 2015 as a Facebook discussion group that debated race, gender and sexuality. At that time, its creator Alan Costa, along with Malayka and Teodoro, realized that the discussions that took place in the group were too important to stay only in social media.

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“As a black queer I question how social movements are not discussing intersectionality, about homophobia within the gay community, and how gender affects the dissident communities. That was the motto of Afrobapho,” Alan Costa

Nowadays, they classify themselves as a collective of black people from the outskirts of Salvador that discusses race, gender, and sexuality. Through audiovisual productions, parties, visual performances, music and dance, they address, through an anti-racist perspective, issues of aesthetics, dissident sexuality and gender, which confront the heteronormative standard of society. “We wanted to have discussions beyond the university and bring debates to people we knew. We chose art as this tool because it dialogues with all audiences. We talked about integrated arts and used creative issues to talk about our issues,” says the founder of the collective.

Another strategy was the use of audiovisual language. “Being dissident, black and LGBTQIA+ bodies would take us to the ghettos but we started to choose popular tourist spots in Salvador to record videos, which went viral,” he says. In 2016, Amnesty International invited the group to be a part of the team of human rights mobilizers and to shoot a video about young black people alive.

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“We are more than just dance. We preach culture with an eye towards the democratization of dissident bodies,” Alan assures.

From 2019 on, Ballantine’s which invited them to be part of the collective. For Afrobapho, being recognized by the general audiences and becoming a reference in what they do are major accomplishments.

Alan Costa remembers that the collective talks to independent artists and realizes how unfair the market is to them. “The industry needs to be rethought so that people can have a fair start. We need more diverse line ups, since festivals still privilege white, male, and cis people. This is still an issue. He believes that the treatment for these artists needs to improve and that the current advances are small in such an unbalanced scenario.

The founder of Afrobapho defends that brands have a great role in changing this market, which goes beyond hiring influencers, but also having black people in the front line of their highest positions, besides creating social projects for the professional development of this group of people.

The young people of Afrobapho say they drink from the fountains of the traditional afro carnival parade crews of Salvador, which were born, mostly, at the end of the 70’s and beginning of the 80’s. The Carnival parade crew Os Negões, for example, opened the doors to the collective and invited them to be on the trio elétrico. “We think not only about race, but also about gender and sexuality issues, besides developing social work and art projects,” he recalls.

When it came time to nominate a group for Ballantine’s True Music Fund, Afrobapho had no doubts in encouraging the work of a crew that had an inspiring story, with a connection to the collective, and reduced investments.

Os Negões

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Os Negões is a black carnival crew created in 1982 by a group of activists, artists, and athletes who used to go to festivals and cultural events in Salvador together. During carnival, they were always divided among the city’s Afro Carnival Parades, but in order not to be separated, they decided to create a crew of black men over six feet tall, that usually drew attention and were even more discriminated against for appearing dangerous. In 1995, they began to allow the admission of women and men under six feet tall. 

As a musical project that has already performed in several festivals around the world, in 2000, the group founded the Black Entities Forum, together with Ilê Aiyê, Muzenza and Malê Debalê crews. They have created social, educational, and cultural projects for professional training, allowing the inclusion of black people in programs that encourage the development of work and income in the community.

Luma Nascimento, vice-president of Os Negoes and visual artist, remembers that when the crew was created, there were several stigmas against tall black men. “Os Negões come to break this through music and aesthetics, discussing a theme that was not being debated,” she points out. The group connected with black people who were part of the Browns, another crew of activists that used to meet at Forte da Capoeira.

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“The Afro crew is a movement of memory, a place of continuity, of non-time. It is a movement of ritual,” Luma Nascimento

Os Negões are a carnival group/crew that studies percussion, with their own rhythms in which they play samba mambo, afroreggae, and candomblé beats from Ketu nation. “We talk about aesthetics with a political angle. Every year the afro crews bring themes of redemption”, she remembers. For Luma, one of the greatest achievements was to put more than a thousand young people in college. “We have a partnership with UNEB (University of the State of Bahia) and this was a very strong movement. This way, she says, “Os Negões is not only about playing drums”, as one of the songs says. The crew was born in the district of Engenho Velho da Federação and today is based in the historic center of Salvador, known as Pelourinho, which was the place where enslaved people were subjected to punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Luma recalls that the connection with Afrobapho comes from groups that promote arts as a form of manifesto. Being chosen for Ballantine’s True Music Fund will make it possible to bring a contemporary look to the music of Os Negões. “We produce cultural memory and now we will be able to access the streaming platforms,” says Luma. The intention is to use the grant to connect contemporary black artists with the music of Os Negões. “We want to build artistic residency and give continuity to what has already been created,” she considers. The final product will be songs with new outfits, with artists who have a relationship with the bloco.

Luma also recalls that over the last 40 years the crew’s main concern has been to resist, as they have suffered several boycotts. The documentary film “Axé Irmãos”, a motto uttered by the members of the crew, tells this story. She questions the fact that until today the Afro-Brazilian crews don’t have any direct investment from the government, and every year they need to beg for resources to continue existing.

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“We are struggling every year. The black base is very strong, but it doesn’t get money, it needs interest in the memory of freedom. We have memory of slavery, of colonialism. But I feel a lack of interest in the memory of freedom.”

For her, the brands need to make continuous investments of resources to ensure that the work of promoting diversity is long term. “The brands need to be a tool to guarantee this independence”, she states.

The music produced by Os Negões is based on drums and it was initially played by ogãs, men who play the drums in candomblé rituals, an Afro-Brazilian religion. For the vice-president of the crew, being recognized by an international brand is gratifying, and she dreams of being able to make artistic creations with the other Brazilian entities that are part of the fund, such as Afrobapho and Batekoo: “We want to extend memories, digitalizing songs full of afro-visualities”.

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