Note from BW of Brazil: Carnaval season in Brazil is supposed to be a time of fun, music, party and good time. But in a country with such unequal racial politics as those that exists in Brazil, Carnaval can never be simply about good times. Salvador, Bahia is known for being the center of African culture in Brazil and boasts a 76% Afro-Brazilian population. But like the political system in which the minority rules the black majority, Carnaval is simply an extension and more visible example of the rule. A sort of Bahian apartheid.
In the 1970s, blocos afros came about because black people were barred from participating in elite Carnaval groups. Four decades later, media, advertising and big money have again pushed black Carnaval groups to the brink of invisibility besides nearly freezing them out of the vast quantities of money being doled out by billion dollar companies. Last year, Grammy nominated artist Carlinhos Brown came up with a “controversial” idea to address this issue and bring more media spotlight to these groups. In reality, his idea shouldn’t be labeled controversial. It has always been true, when excluded from something, create your own. Learn more about the debate below.
Apartheid in Carnival? Understand the controversy of Afródromo in Salvador
In a scene increasingly dominated by Axé trios and celebrities, initiative to spotlight blocos afros sparked controversy in Bahia
Miguel Arcanjo Prado, editor of Culture of R7
“From Sé to Campo Grande, we are Filhos (Sons) of Gandhy, Dodô and Osmar. Therefore, call, call, call, call us.” When he composed Chama Gente (Call Us), Moraes Moreira seemed prophetic of what would become of the Salvador Carnival. A mob of tourists heard the call and stormed the city. And the business world too. Only that, with the new actors of the party, their traditional revelers went to the corner. Even Moreira himself, who left the party this year because of disagreements with his organization.
But how does one maintain the coexistence of traditional Bahian revelry with the big business that the largest street carnival in the world has become? If it is difficult for a figure known as Moraes Moreira, is even worse for more than 140 Carnival entities of African roots of Salvador. In spite originating everything, today they struggle to maintain their presence in the revelry. As Alberto Pitta, president of the Liga dos Blocos Afros (League of Blocos Afros) says, “the cake that we created grew, but we got the smallest slice,” he says.
The mayor of Salvador, ACM Neto (DEM), in an exclusive interview to R7 [at the end of the interview] recognizes that the cake is really huge and says that the Carnival of Salvador this year “will move R$1.3 billion and generate nearly 210 thousand temporary jobs.” All the resources were captured from the private sector: “R$45 million in sponsorship quota,” which, according to the mayor, “R$10 million will be profit to be invested in the city.”
Besides celebrating the numbers, ACM Neto also recognizes the importance of the bodies of African origin and remembers that this Carnival celebrates 40 years of resurgence of blocos afros and afoxés at the party.
“Carnival in Salvador only has this beauty and energy because of the sound that echoes, first, the cradle neighborhoods of the blocos afros.”
If beauty, sound and energy remain, there are still resources and spotlights for these people. The main focus of the festival remains the blocos of trios with the stars of Axé (music) that attract crowds. This year, according to the mayor, the city will receive 600,000 tourists until Ash Wednesday; People seeking the party as a symbol of fun. For ACM Neto, there should be no war between blocos afros and Axé.
“I believe Axé music emerged as another cultural manifestation, created to stand alongside the blocos afros. We should not think of dispute between the two events because both had their place in the history of Carnival.”
“Apartheid” in the Carnival?
Honorees time, blocos afros will have more prominent in 2014. Those who paraded forgotten in the Batatinha circuit, in the historic center, now parade in prime time in Campo Grande – which, along with Barra, form the two great circuits of the party, with extensive media coverage and camarotes (VIP cabins).
All because City Hall has embraced and adapted the idea of Afródromo, initially thought up by Carlinhos Brown and some of the Afro leadership. The Afródromo initially consisted of a new circuit to be mounted in the Cidade Baixa (Lower City) region of the city, which would be occupied only by associations of African origin. However, members of the community accused the initiative of trying to provoke an “apartheid” in the Bahian Carnival, dividing the party of blacks from that of whites.
Jorge João Rodrigues, of the Bloco Afro Olodum, considered that the new circuit as Afródromo “would create a ghetto” and Gilsoney de Oliveira, president of Unafres (União de Afoxés, Afros, Reggaes e Samba or Union of Afoxés, Afros, Reggaes and samba of the state of Bahia) said that the initiative created “a Carnivalesque apartheid”. Faced with this impasse, the city of Salvador sought to please the Greeks and Trojans and took the idea of Afródromo as a special time parade in the official circuit.
The president of the Liga dos Blocos Afro, Alberto Pitta, was one of the defenders on the side of Carlinhos Brown’s Afródromo in the new circuit. He explains to R7 that the initiative “does not want to provoke separatism”, but rather to make room for blocos afros to appear without having to fight for space with celebrities.
“The idea of Afródromo caused a reaction from the conservative and racist society of Bahia. Apartheid is already Carnival itself, which places the blocos afros on a circuit [Batatinha] that has no visibility. We wanted the new circuit near the harbor, to attract tourists arriving on cruises, mostly foreigners who have interest in Afro culture.
Pitta remembers that, unlike the millionaire trios and camarotes that attract robust funding of private enterprise, blocos afros get by with withered funds and parade “with barefoot people, dressed in fabrics of poor quality, just poverty.”
Despite having attained the new circuit, Pitta hopes that Afródromo incorporated by the city can help the blocos rise again.
“Carnival of Salvador was sold and no one wants to give up his part, because the profits are great. But nobody remembers that all this exists only because of the blocos. They grossed R$45 million with our idea of Afródromo, you just can’t forget that we are the principal actors of the party. Let’s see how it goes.”
Ironically, in the 2014 Carnival, the Cortejo Afro led by Pitta has as a theme A Relação de Confiança no Outro (The Relationship of Trust in the Other).
“Pirate Parrots with VIP wristband”
Paulo Miguez, professor of the Institute of Humanities, Arts and Sciences of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), said blocos of African origin “should be supported based on cultural policy, lest they risk disappearing.” The expert points out the need to give attention to Afro Carnival, that suffers from “invisibility” since “the media is more interested in their ‘star system’, the celebrities, the sub-celebrities and the pirate parrots who kill and die for a VIP wristband.”
For the scholar of Bahia revelry, the initial idea of Afródromo as a new circuit was “a strange spatial segregation to the spirit that inspired the emergence of blocos afros 40 years ago: the refusal of the ghetto and political assertion of their right to participation in Carnival.” The UFBa professor prefers the current Afródromo: incorporated into the existing circuit.
“The blocos afros not only transformed the Carnivalesque party as they produced a far-reaching impact on culture and daily life of Salvador.”
Black and white do not enter
Unlike most of the blocos that were opened to tourists, Ilê Aiyê, the pioneer and most worshiped bloco afro of Bahia, maintains a prohibition on white participation in their parade. The organization, composed only of African descendants, affirms doing this as a way to “preserve their ethnic and cultural identity.”
The fact is that blocos too opened to tourists, such as the Afoxé Filhos de Gandhy currently watch the applicants’ attitudes of disrespect to the tradition on the part of the “new revelers.”
Analyzing the subject, the researcher Paulo Miguez remembers the song “Tradição” (Tradition), by Gilberto Gil, which refers to a time “that blacks didn’t enter the Bahiano [Clube Bahiano de Tênis or Baiano Tennis Club, of Bahian aristocracy] not even through the kitchen door.” A situation which, he says, “still lingers inside and outside of Carnival.”
The UFBa professor remembers that in the 1980s, some elite Carnival blocos of Bahia demanded photo and proof of residence from the revelers, as a way of barring blacks and poor.
“The discrimination came to suggest an upper-middle class bloco of upper to self-nominate itself as ‘the most beautiful square meter of the avenue.’ This in a city where ‘beauty’ has color and that, we know, is not the color black.”
Even with such aggressiveness in the history of Carnival, Miguez does not believe that responding with segregation is the way.
“I don’t agree that the prohibition on participation of white revelers in parades of a bloco afro, a practice that only happens in Ilê Aiyê, is the right policy to confront the racism that still has a presence in the party and in the city.”
Read the interview in full: “Blocos afros deserve recognition,” says Mayor ACM Neto
The mayor of Salvador, ACM Neto (DEM), spoke exclusively with R7 on the polemics of the Carnival of Salvador, including the idea of Afródromo embraced by the city, and the dispute of blocos afros for greater attention of the government and media. Read the interview:
Miguel Arcanjo Prado of R7 – How do you evaluate the existence of Afródromo this year, is it good for the party?
Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, mayor of Salvador – Afródromo is the true manifestation of what we want for the Salvador Carnival: respect for their tradition. There is no doubt that much of the energy that the street carnival has comes precisely from the blocos afros, throughout the history of this party, they were getting hours with less visibility. In Carnival in the past we had a pill of what will be placed in the street this year. Now, blocos afros will parade in prime time, from 6:30pm in the Campo Grande circuit, therefore being watched by most of the revelers who will be on the streets, including greater media coverage. They started to receive the attention they deserved. No wonder we chose them as the big party honorees this year, exactly the 40th anniversary parade in the Carnival of Salvador. The energy, the history and beauty of blocos afros are fundamental to the biggest street party in the world.
Do you think the emergence of Axé music as the main force of the Carnival of Salvador in the media left blocos afros handicapped? How do you solve this?
I think the Axé music emerged as another cultural manifestation, created to stand alongside the blocos afros. We should not think of a dispute between the two manifestations because both had their place in the history of Carnival. The blocos of Axé and afro deserve the same prominence for their contribution to our culture and musical history. They often transformed the social reality in the places where they were created and also because of this, deserve our recognition.
There was resistance to creating Afródromo initially, with blocos saying that it would make an “apartheid” in the Bahian Carnival. How do you evaluate this fear and respond to this question?
We’re actually putting the bloco afro parades in primetime. That was a decision to focus exactly to privilege these cultural manifestations. There will be three days of parades, with all the necessary structure in order for these blocos to have the deserved visibility in the Campo Grande circuit itself and outside of it, through the media coverage structure. The parades of blocos afros, closely linked to the concept of Carnival, are experiencing a new moment that favors its tradition and its beauty.
Why did Salvador Carnival decide to honor the blocos afros this year?
Because we understand that the Salvador Carnival starts in their neighborhoods, where our blocos afros were created. It is the joy that begins in (the neighborhoods of) Liberdade and Itapuã, for example, with Ilê and Malê that infects the entire city. Carnival in Salvador only has this beauty and this energy because of the sound that echoes, first, the cradle neighborhoods of blocos afros. Moreover, we have to honor the 40 years of the Carnival parades of these blocos, a story that needs to be remembered and revered every year, but this will have a special taste.
There are still blocos afros that don’t let whites parade. How do you see this attitude of cultural resistance?
I believe that each bloco has to seek its own formatting. Carnival needs to be, above all, a celebration of respect to identities, to equalities. What the mayor does and must always do is to offer the necessary conditions for the parades to occur with organization and with fundamental public services for any large party.
What is the expected number of national and international tourists in this Carnival?
About 600 thousand tourists will be in the city during Carnival, a number that is now celebrated by our hotel chain.
What is the value of the investment that the city made in the Carnival of Salvador?
We didn’t inject public resources at the party because we believe that the city needs heavy investments in other areas: health and education, for example, and infrastructure, because we spent many years without receiving significant investments in this area, which left our city in a total state of disrepair. It would not be fair to withdraw money from key sectors of our city to apply it in Carnival. Thanks to a courageous management on the event, we managed to organize a party completely funded by sponsorship.
How much will the Salvador Carnival move this year?
The Salvador Carnival will move nearly R$1.3 billion by generating business and tourism, and create about 210 thousand temporary jobs. And for the first time, the festival will pay. This means that the City will not have to shell out a penny for the organization of the party. Ie remaining money in order that we can invest in other priority areas such as health and education, for example. Through the effort of the Secretaria de Desenvolvimento, Turismo e Cultura (Sedes or Department of Development, Culture and Tourism), led by Secretary Guilherme Bellintani, we managed to raise R$45 million in sponsorship quota, being R$10 million in profit. Before that, the city injected about R$19 million. Besides not needing to put a hand in the pocket to pay for Carnival, we still have R$10 million to invest in the city, not counting sponsorship which resulted in improvements for the providing of education services, which allowed us to bring broadband Internet to about a hundred schools. And we will strengthen our calendar of events: closing the sponsorship, we conditioned the agreement to other events that already receive funding from such firms to be made possible. This is a new form of management of major events that will serve as a model for other cities.
Why is Salvador Carnival the “Best of Brazil”?
It’s not because I’m soteropolitano (native of Salvador), but I’m sure that we are the happiest people of this country. And it is precisely because of our people that we can achieve the best and biggest street party in the world.