masterpiece album Axê, but that record deserves a better right-up than I can give it at the moment.
wouldn’t be the same if they were not out there doing their thing. They own a building in the old slave-trading district turned tourist trap, the Pelorinho, where anyone can watch them rehearse in the months leading up to carnival. Before receiving all kinds of state funding to build up the tourist infrastructure, the Pelorinho was basically a slum, and also the neighborhood these guys called home. As the place has changed, Olodum has done it’s share to try to make sure the people who actually live there aren’t forgotten.
obvious just for that reason. Brazil has long had a problem with one of the worst types of racial prejudice or preconceito – the kind that denies that there is any racial prejudice in society. It is still not uncommon to find Brazilians saying that the country does not have a ‘race problem’, but a class problem, as if the two were not bound up inextricably. But there is a reason why sociologists and political scientists have often put Brazil, South Africa, and the United States into a comparative triangulation: they are societies with deeply-rooted racism whose process of nation building was dependent on not just inequality, but in seeing black people as less than human.
In Brazil this brutal reality has been able to hide behind the myth of a racial utopia through miscegenation, where the mixing of Europeans, indigenous peoples, and Africans supposedly produced a color-blind society of benevolent
masters and grateful slaves. I am simplifying the argument for the sake of ridicule here, but trust me when I say that the concept deserves it: the notion of ‘racial utopia’ has served to stave
off racial parity and social equality because it stops the conversation before it even starts, making the concrete realities off-limits from discussion by denying their existence or at least their root causes, and masking the unequal power relations between that foundational triad of Portuguese-Indian-African.
so I don’t intend to belabor the point or be pedantic. But a
little background is necessary to appreciate why Olodum is important,
especially for when they first came into existence in the early 1980s during
the first movements toward redemocratization in Brazil. It is not hard to imagine that in a “racial
utopia,” movements centered around the articulation of a distinctly black
identity were considered a de facto militant threat by the conservative elites
that backed the military regime, and activists were subjected to surveillance
and harassment not unlike, say, the Black Panthers in the United States. To have a group like Olodum out there in the
public sphere doing community work, making records, and becoming a sensation
both in Brazil and internationally means a lot of things for a lot of
people. On the two records presented on
this CD – their first album and their third album (don’t ask me about the
chronological oddity, perhaps the second LP didn’t fit on the disc?) – their Pan-African
social consciousness is in heavy evidence. Songs referencing the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, the Nagô and Yoruba people of West Africa, an imprisoned Nelson Mandela and the ANC, and solidarity between the struggles of people of color in Brazil and Cuba are some of the subjects touched upon. The latter instrumental song (Vinhetta Cuba-Brasil) is one of the more interesting pieces here thanks to its horn arrangement. I’m going to come out and say that, honestly, I rarely find myself listening to the debut Olodum record from start to finish: I find ten tracks be a bit excessive and very repetitious. In a big way, the “Olodum experience” doesn’t translate all that well to the recorded medium, as you just can’t capture the power of a few hundred drummers in a recording studio and I don’t care how fancy your sound system is, it’s not the same as feeling it in your gut when standing a few yards away from all the sound and fury. The second album on this disc fares better in this regard, with fuller production and more varied arrangements and melodies to keep things interesting. It’s title, which
translates as “From the Sahara Desert to the Northeast
of Brazil,” finds Olodum drawing parallels between the arid sertão of their home state and region with the African desert, completely with references to the bandit-hero Lampião and the King of Baião, Luiz Gonzaga.