Carnival season begins with accusations of "apartheid" against black bloco afro groups in Salvador

Afro Brazilian women

Although it may appear that it’s early to start talking about Carnaval as the event doesn’t actually start until late February, but in reality, the preparation occurs behind the scenes for many months in advance. But the controversy has already begun. Back in February, BW of Brazil discussed a type of “Brazilian apartheid” that’s on display every year during Carnaval in Salvador, Bahia, a city known as the “Black Rome” due its 80% black population and its reputation as the African cultural center of the country. 

Unfortunately during Carnaval in Salvador, Afro-Brazilian singers and groups are consistently excluded from the prime-time media exposure and the big money financial endorsements of the big banks and beer companies that are usually given to white artists. On top of all this, much of the Afro-Brazilian Axé music featured during Salvador’s Carnaval are songs written by black artists and songwriters and appropriated by the same white artists who get the endorsement deals and the vast media exposure leaving the black artists in the cold. 

Back in August, a controversial idea to give more exposure to Salvador’s black Carnaval groups was idealized by leaders of these groups and, as can be expected when the topic is black empowerment,  exposure and access, accusations of reverse apartheid were immediately spewed. Interestingly, it seems that this idea will cause a rift between some of the black blocos. No one knows how the idea will work out, but here’s an introduction to the background of the story. We will feature more about the situation surrounding Carnaval and Afro-Bahians in coming weeks and months. 

Carnaval starts with controvery of blocos afros in Salvador, Bahia

By Nelson Barros Neto

The blackest city in Brazil will debut next year a new Carnaval circuit exclusively for afro blocos (1). The new route in Salvador, Bahia is generating controversy and a label of the “apartheid effect”.

Called “afródromo”, the route has been approved by the city and will have 2.5 km, in the Cidade Baixa (Lower City section of Salvador). Bringing participants from the shore front and from the the city’s downtown, from where the more traditional bands parade through the crowds, the project has created a rift between about 200 entities of African matrix of Bahia’s Carnival.

On one side are six groups who requested the change and popular musician Carlinhos Brown. On the other, the “poor cousins”, less famous, with the support of Olodum, historically the most popular bloco of international fame.

João Jorge, president of Olodum

“This will confirm an elitist, white and predatory determination, with respect to the larger circuits [Barra and Campo Grande areas]. It was to have our presentation in front of the Iguatemi shopping mall (2),” says João Jorge, president of Olodum.

The Unafres (Union of Afoxés, Afros, Reggaes and Samba of the State), representative of 76 blocos, spoke of “Carnavalesque Apartheid.”

While larger blocos have sponsorships of beer companies and banks, smaller ones allege that they survive on donations. To Carlinhos Brown (3), the visibility of participants will increase, since the parades will occur during prime time, with more opportunities to appear on TV.

Singer/songwriter Carlinhos Brown

Eighty percent of the Axé (4) hits come from us. But we are always at the margins of the business (end). It’s time to deal with it ourselves,” he said. Brown also refutes accusations of segregation and says all the blocos are invited.

The coordinator of the Center for Afro-Oriental Studies, UFBA (Federal University of Bahia), views the initiative with caution. “In the case of quotas, there was a prediction that it would generate more racism. I think that that has not happened yet,” said Jeferson Bacelar.

But he ponders: “Why only one group, without the blocos of less media attention? There is already a ridiculous Carnival model that discriminates against the poor population and benefits few artists and politicians.”

Know more about blocos participating in Afródromo

Afro Brazilians
  1. Filhos de Gandhy: Founded in 1949 in the historic Pelourinho district. Older than the trio electric, the group appeared in films recorded in Bahia such as “O Pagador de Promessa” (1962) and “Dona Flor e seus Dois Maridos” (1976). According to tradition, the necklace of the group is worth a kiss.
  2. Ilê Aiyê: Founded in 1974 in Liberdade area of Salvador. The name means “house of the blacks” and it’s located in the neighborhood with largest African descendant population of Brazil according to the entity.
  3. Muzenza: Founded in 1981, in the Pelourinho. Some of the compositions of the bloco found great success in the voices of singers like Maria Bethania (“A Terra Tremeu”), Gal Costa (“Brilho Beleza”) and Daniela Mercury (“Swing da Cor”).
  4. Malê-Debalê: Founded in 1979 in the Abaeté region. Considered the biggest “balé afro” (Afro Dance) in the world, they have 2,000 dancers in their parades. The name is an homage to the Revolta dos Malês (Revolt of the Malê), an uprising of black Muslims that happened in 1835 in Salvador. Recognized as the greatest slave revolt in Brazil’s history, the term Malê refers to a Muslim slave.
  5. Cortejo Afro: Founded in 1998 in the Pelourinho. Born in the Ilê Axé Oyá terreiro, one of the most traditional houses of Afro-Brazilian religion in the city.
  6. Timbalada: Founded in 1991 in the Candeal region. Created by one of Brazil’s biggest hitmakers, Carlinhos Brown, the group revolutionized how the timbau, a type of atabaque or Brazilian congo, instrument) is played


What it is: A street circuit for blocos afros

Where: Avenida da França of the Mercado Modelo (5) up to the Feira de São Joaquim

When: Carnaval 2013

Mercado Modelo in Salvador, Bahia

  • It will have bleachers to seat 20,000 people
  • Araketu and Didá are a few of blocos afros invited
  • The groups promise to choose one of the days in the week of Carnaval to parade their groups in their old location routes

1. Blocos Afros are Carnival blocos or groups which celebrate cultural manifestations of African origin. The rhythms od the music usually have a basis a Brazilian musical style known as samba-reggae. The outfits are also African-inspired

2. Located in the upper crust neighborhood of Pituba in Salvador, Bahia

3. Grammy nominated artist and one of Brazil’s top hit makers having crafted hits for a number of Brazilian singers.

4. Popular music genre that fuses numerous national and international musical styles. See more here
5. Opening in 1912 and situated in the district of Comércio, Mercado Modelo is one of the oldest and traditional commercial areas in Salvador and constitutes an important tourist attraction. Facing the Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) it neighbor’s the famous Lacerda Elevator and the Historical  Pelourinho area. Source: Wikipedia

 Source: Folha de S.Paulo

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Bloco groups of Salvador, Bahia: Brazilian styled racial segregation
Carnaval in Salvador, Bahia: Brazil’s own spin on apartheid
The dominance of the European aesthetic in Bahia’s media
Edjane dos Santos Nascimento is crowned Ebony Goddess of 2012

About Marques Travae 2897 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. well, tv coverage of salvador carnivla is ridiculas,they dont really cover the bloco afros well at all, its mostly white trio elcetricos with the three big white singers, ivette sangalo, daniela mercury and claudia letite the top…i hate claudia leite..what a joke basicly singing xuxa melodies over galope…too bad there has to be this controvercy between the bloco afros now…reverce racism is a strange phrase you hear more and more often in brazil now…white brazilians are quick to pull it out to stifle any forward progress by the black movements in brazilthe truth is, black culture is supressed all over brazil. its is one of brazil's richest recources but is really surpressed and sufocated at every turn

  2. "On top of all this, much of the Afro-Brazilian Axé music featured during Salvador's Carnaval are songs written by black artists and songwriters and appropriated by the same white artists who get the endorsement deals and the vast media exposure leaving the black artists in the cold. "That irks me. how can you give endorsements to white artists for COPYING art forms that were taught to them by African descended people of Brazil?also the "Reverse racism," card is an excuse that some white people like to use to stifle black progress, just as the poster said before. the same thing goes on in the US…they want to talk about how affirmative action is racist, but then they don't even mention the disparity in education and discrimination that goes on that undermines black people.

  3. carnival in salvador is fantastic if you dont watch it on tv and know where to lookthere are incredible carnival celibrations all over brazil. just a hop up north from salvador is recife pernambuco, and there is so much incredible afro brazilian culture up there it will blow the mind…as a matter of fact, salvador carnival adopted the frevo from recife for their trio electricos and then carlinhos brown put the galope under it, salvador eventualy will put its stamp on any culture it apropriates from somewhere else…like forro..ive heard some really funky forros on salvador radioand i would check out rio just to have its incredible referance to carnival..i think passistas with bateria of the top escola de sambas , like mangueira or salgeiro, are some of the most powerful expresions anywhere in the world and just bring the goose bumps and and the hair up on the back of my neck everytime i get close to the real deal its actualy incredibly mind blowing how each of these cities has such a powerful carnival expresion that is very differant in their own ways , yet just rich in afro brazilian culturei mean seriously, the individual power of expresion of the celibraions of each of these cities holds deep powerful treasures of afro diasporic culture…just waiting to be discovered by the lucky people who get the bite of curiosity to explore something that can give back in a huge wayand it is also mind blowing that this afro brazilian culture is surpressed the rest of the year and barely acknowledged

  4. and tv coverage is so anemic .if you watch rio carnival on tv, all you get is announcers talking the whole time…they dont really break down the afro brazilian roots…and show more the aulas of mostly white patrons who have paid their way into the aula and for their costumes and dont really dance samba well and dont really learn the schools song..its like a social register or something…they hardly show the real passistas anymore, only the actresses and models who are now the rainhas de bateriain salvador they mostly show the white artists,from the tio electricos,and even if they show a black artist, they dont really make an effort to show the real depth of the afro brazilian culture in salvadora person really has to do the reseach and discovery on their ownthere are cities i havent visited yet with incredible afro brazilian treasures , like sao luis de maranhao (sp?) or belem de para

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