The following are five popular blocos in Salvador. Each represents a particular district or community within the city. The people of those communities feel a part of their respective blocos and follow them in a great mass during Carnaval. Each of these blocos is identified by symbols, colors, clothing, and unique instrumentation.
The first bloco afro was founded in 1974 in the Salvador district of Curuzu/Liberdade by Antonio Carlos “Vovô” (“Grandfather”). It was Vovô who developed many of the concepts that defined future blocos afros, inlcuding the concept that each bloco have its own sound. Vovô ceated Ilê Aiyê’s first unique rhythm, influenced by the music of Candomblé.
Ilê Aiyê words and music still speak of Africa, negritude, and the orixás (Yoruba gods). Their colors are yellow, white, red, and black. Their designs feature simple, African-style drawings of people, animals, patterns, and symbols.
The dance style is West African, and the dancers wear beautiful outfits of loose, colorful cotton, corn-rolled hair, and shells. Surdos and hand drums (including Remo jembes and timbals) dominate the instrumentation, with the ever-present snare drum and leads on repiques. Ilê sometimes use agogô to integrate African bell patterns.
Like Ilê Aiyê, Malê Debalê has remained a traditional bloco afro, producing spiritual music of percussion and voice, and steering clear of pop music. They were founded in the community of Itapuã in 1979. Their music is powerful and political, with themes closer to the earthly issues facing black in Bahia than Ilê Aiyê’s chants to the orixás. Because they represent a seaside community, one of the trademarks of this bloco is the use of water themes in their performances and music. Malê Debalê’s colors are red, green, yellow, and black.
Olodum’s music evolved from percussion/voice-only samba reggae increasingly towards axé in the 1990s. Today, their concerts feature guitar, bass, keyboards, and brass, along with the timbales, repique, tarol, and five tightly-tuned surdos. The band colors are black, yellow, red, and green, painted onto their trademark surdos.
This bloco was founded in 1982, and they are big followers of the Rastas in Jamaica. Their band colors are the green, black, and yellow of the Jamaican flag. The music today features a very wide range of styles, including samba reggae, axé, rock, hip-hop, and funk. Their name comes from a dance used in Candomblé to call the god, Oxalá, orixá of mystery, wind, and bells.
Songwriter/singer/producer Carlinhos Brown formed Timbalada out of the Candeal ward in 1992. The distinctive instrument of Timbalada is its namesake, the timbal. This was a new (perhaps Brown) invention that imitated the jembe, but with more volume. Lightweight and cheap, it has become a favorite all over Brazil. Its most important feature is its loudness. It may be the loudest hand drum existence, an important requirement when competing with piercing stick drums such as repiques. Surdos also play a big role in Timbalada, along with timbales, shakers, and a new small repique called a bacurinha.
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Theresa Noni Charles, Cultural Travel Enthusiast. Educator. Explorer.