Carnival has already started in Brazil. The internationally most famous carnival celebration is the parade of samba schools in Rio, but two equally strong carnival traditions thrive in Salvador (Bahia) and Recife/Olinda (Pernambuco) – democratic, street carnival in both cases. What the samba school is for carnival in Rio (and a few other places, like São Paulo), the ‘bloco’ is for street carnival. Blocos are (more or less) organized groups with their own music band and participants who dance along. In Bahia, the most famous bloco is probably Ilê Aiyê, created in 1974 as an affirmation of black pride and a celebration of the Afro cultural heritage in Bahia and in Brazil more generally. When it first came into existence, it was viewed as ‘racist’ given its emphasis on the value of African-Brazilian culture, and to this day only blacks are allowed to parade with the group. Ilê Aiyê remains one of the symbols of the strength of the Afro-Brazilian culture – here is a song by Caetano Veloso celebrating their existence.
In their first carnival, in 1975, Ilê Aiyê paraded with a song that remains emblematic for the black pride movement in Brazil: ‘Que bloco é esse - Ilê Aiyê’. And so to join the carnival spirit this week I’ll be posting numerous versions of this song. It’s really a great song, and here is a bit of the lyrics translated (as usual, very hard to come up with a decent translation):
Whity, if you knew
The worth of the black
You’d bathe in tar
To become black as well
So here are numerous versions of ‘Que bloco é esse - Ilê Aiyê’: the first is a recent live performance by Ilê Aiyê themselves; the second is by Gilberto Gil, from his 1977 album Refavela; the third is a 1984 version by Ilê Aiyê featuring Gilberto Gil again; the fourth is by rock-rap band O Rappa, which gives the song a quasi-rock twist; the fifth is brand-new, an adaptation by rap/hip-hop star Criolo.
Happy carnival, y’all!