Increased liberalization of economic policy in Brazil is creating
new threats and opportunities for domestic firms. Within Brazil’s top firms, these changes
have prompted shifts in strategies signaling their willingness to participate in the
global economy. This report surveyed the top ten firms in Brazil according to market
capitalization as of June 1998.
By Brazzil Magazine
I could hardly believe my own eyes, when I read the phone message the desk clerk at
Hotel do Farol in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, handed me. Conceição
Boaventura, producer of Ilê Aiyê, had called and requested that I call her back. She
spoke no English, but I understood that she was asking me if I would like to interview
Antônio Carlos dos Santos, Vovô, the director of Ilê Aiyê, a musical group, one of
whose CDs I had bought a couple of years earlier and enjoyed very much.
I had even attended one of their rehearsals in the old house of detention in Barbalho,
a neighborhood of Salvador. I asked her if that’s where she wanted me to meet Senhor
Vovô, but she explained that they had moved back to Liberdade, and that she would have a
car pick me up. I had but two days to research the group and come up with appropriate
questions of the man I had seen in Barbalho on a couple of occasionsa tall, dark man
whose shy demeanor was apparent.
Though a musical group, Ilê Aiyê, whose name is a Yoruba phrase that means House of
Life, has a more important focus, namely of the appreciation of the black way of life.
Furthermore, it stresses self-esteem of its members through education and training in
music and Afro-Brazilian traditions.
Ilê Aiyê was founded on November 1st 1974 by Vovô and his friend, the
late Apolônio de Jesus. They chose the neighborhood of Liberdade, Freedom, for the
headquarters of their movement. Liberdade was settled by former slaves after the abolition
of slavery in 1888 to celebrate their newly found liberty.
However, as is the case with many groups with no political influence, its people are
largely overlooked and neglected by local and national politicians as well as sponsors.
When Vovô founded Ilê Aiyê, he took on his shoulders a lifetime of commitment to
improve the conditions of his neighborhood of some 400,000 people as well as those of all
Brazilians of African descent.
Music is the main argument of Ilê Aiyê. At Carnaval in 1975, it became the first Afro
bloco, Afro group, to march in a Carnaval parade. The Associação Cultural Bloco
Carnavalesco Ilê Aiyê, Cultural Association Carnaval Group Ilê Aiyê has as its aim to
preserve the Afro culture in Brazil. During the past 24 years, the organization has been
responsible for awakening within the black population of Bahia, the awareness of its
African roots. And at the center of it all is Mãe Hilda, mother of Vovô, and mãe de
santo, priestess, of Candomblé. She is the spiritual leader and foremost authority of
Inspired by the Black Power movement of the United States and the struggle for
independence in many African nations, the backbone of the movement is to be found in
Candomblé, the religious expression brought from Africa under the most horrendous of
circumstancesthat of the slave ships with their inhumane cargo.
In spite of opposition from slave owners and other hardships endured, the survivors
managed to preserve tradition, religion, music, and language, which today is part of the
Portuguese spoken by some 160 million Brazilians. Every Brazilian, however far removed
from African descent, now uses expressions brought by people hundreds of years ago, who
had nothing left but the contents of their minds.
The Afro-Brazilian organization begun by Ilê Aiyê spawned many other similar groups
in the 70s and 80s. They helped spreading the word and rhythm of Afro-Brazil around their
own country as well as throughout the world. Even the most mainstream of musicians in
Brazilian Popular Music, MPB, have been touched by those rhythms. People like Caetano
Veloso, Lecy Brandão, Gilberto Gil, and Martinho da Vila, have included the influence in
their own work.
Over the years, Ilê Aiyê has developed a number of projects praising the Afro
culture. One of these is the Festa da Beleza Negra, the Feast of the Black Beauty. It is a
competition in which a girl is chosen to represent the Goddess of Ébano. Furthermore,
there are the Black Mother’s Day and the Music Festival. Many group rehearsals have also
been included in the calendar of events of Salvador.
On Saturday of Carnaval, the excitement starts with the exclusive parade in the
district of Liberdade. But first, Mãe Hilda with her followers from the sect, perform a
ceremony to ensure that Carnaval will be a peaceful one. Before the procession departs
from Curuzu, they perform the ceremony consisting of offering scented water, manioc flour
to the orixás and setting free a number of white doves.
This performance is completed with a display of fireworks. As a rule, some 30,000
people show up to be on hand for this, one of the most exciting spectacles of Carnaval.
The ritual is so powerful and mystic that no disturbance ever takes place, even in the
absence of protecting cords or security personnel. This makes it possible for visitors
from all over the world to fully enjoy the event.
Then it is time for the procession to depart. In the front line is Mãe Hilda with
members of Candomblé. At this moment, the public has its first chance to see what Ilê
has worked so hard on for so long, the costumes, main attractions, singers, dance group,
the Goddess of Ébano, the Queen of Ilê, the band, and its percussion players. The group
leaves from Curuzu and goes through the main avenue of the district, Avenida Lima e Silva,
and stops at the square of the slide way tram, Praça do Plano Inclinado. There, the group
separates, only to meet again for the parade on the avenue, which is the main circuit of
It is dawn when the procession arrives at Campo Grande, a large square in the center of
Salvador, home to many cultural institutions, the Teatro Castro Alves, and UFBA,
Universidade Federal da Bahia, the federal university. Here, spectator’s boxes are set up
in front of the presentation area. It is a common sight to see famous singers in the
stands, when they are not performing elsewhere themselves.
Caetano Veloso says in one of his songs:
Quero ver você
passar por aqui
I want to see you
pass by here.
In another, that he recorded with his son, Moreno, when he was four, he sings:
é bonito de se ver
you are to see.
It is quite a sight to see the procession and hear the sound of 120 percussion players
accompany the singers. Every year Ilê chooses an enredo, a theme for Carnaval.
They glorify and tell stories of African civilizations and the struggle and suffering of
Afro-Brazilians in their entire existence. The theme songs are made public during the Ilê
Aiyê Music Festival, which takes place during the months of December and January. It is
considered the biggest event of black music in Brazil.
The festival is divided into two parts: The first one includes the themes, which will
be performed. The second part consists of poetry, exalting the day-to-day life of black
men and women, addressing the issue of their self-esteem. The songs elected in the
festival are recorded and played to the public during the rehearsals by the six singers of
the group. They are: Reizinho, Graça, Guiguio, Adélson, Altair, and Cristiano.
The influence of Ilê Aiyê through the leadership of Vovô and Mãe Hilda on the
community of Liberdade, is tremendous. They have been tireless in their efforts to develop
programs to preserve the traditions and culture of African descendents in Bahia. Mãe
Hilda, an authority regarding Afro religion in Bahia, is the mentor of Ilê and presides
over the Board of Women.
Vovô has for many years been a community leader, even prior to the foundation of Ilê
Aiyê. He and the late Apolônio de Jesus organized a series of events such as the party
of São João and entertaining trips. They also created the Vitorinha, a soccer team for
black children who did not have opportunities to play in other clubs.
Vovô attended primary and high school in the Parque School, founded by the famous
teacher from Bahia, Anísio Teixeira. Following high school, he took up courses in
clinical pathology and electromechanical engineering. In the years of Ilê Aiyê’s
existence, he has produced three albums for the musical group. He was the coordinator of
Carnaval in the district of Liberdade from 1989 until 1992, and in 1996 he was the general
coordinator of Carnaval in Salvador.
He was also on the commission organized to bring Nelson Mandela to Brazil as well as a
member of the official committee of cultural exchange between Bahia and Benin. As part of
his responsibility for the Project of Pedagogic Extension of Ilê, he is also a member of
the Inter-ministerial Group for the Valorization of the Black Population (Grupo
Interministerial para a Valorização da População Negra) in Brasília, and a member of
the Coordination of the Inter-municipal Forum of Culture.
The two young men, Vovô and Apolônio, first experienced political awareness when they
were working for the Petrochemical Industries of Camaçari. They realized that the
opportunities were absent when it came to people of color. This realization prompted them
to get organized, and from them stem the many groups and movements for the defense of the
rights of blacks in Bahia, even though they represent the majority of the population.
The situation in the world of Carnaval was no different. Discrimination was as rampant
here as in the workplace. The Carnaval groups excluded blacks from anything but the most
menial of tasks, such as holding the cords in order to prevent non-members from joining
the procession. Blacks could only take place in Bahia’s Carnaval as "popcorn"
following the Trios Elétricos (sound trucks) or as members of other entities such as
Schools of Samba or as part of the group Filhos de Gandhi, Children of Gandhi, created by
the dock workers in the Port of Salvador.
Led by Vovô and Apolônio, a group of black young people from Curuzu protested against
the exclusion and discrimination suffered by blacks in the traditional Carnaval groups.
Thus, on November 1st, 1974, the first Afro bloco was born with the rule
that whites were not allowed. And during Carnaval of 1975, the group Ilê paraded down the
avenue with its 100 members. The second year saw an increase to 450, and the third counted
some 750 participants. It has been growing steadily ever since.
Throughout the year the Cultural Association Carnaval Group Ilê Aiyê develops several
social works within the community of Curuzu. The most significant of those is education.
Ilê supports two schools in Curuzu: Mãe Hilda’s School and Banderê School. Furthermore,
it maintains partnership with four public schools, benefiting a total of 4,000 students.
Vovô’s organization has received the support of several institutions, such as the
Odebrecht Foundation, UNICEF, CESE, and ABRINQ Foundation. The Project of Pedagogic
Extension of Ilê Aiyê has edited six volumes of the series Notebooks of Education about
the history of African civilizations and Afro-Brazilian history. The project represents a
synthesis of the path and the journey traveled by Ilê Aiyê in its 24 years of existence.
The same underlying principle always applies: the affirmation of a black citizenry with
self-esteem and reaffirmation of the ancestral heritage, which cultivated the African
roots in Brazil and in Bahia.
Principles and Values as decreed by Ilê Aiyê
The respect for the elderly as basis for Good Behavior, will ensure the preservation
of the Afro-Brazilian religious traditions. The defense of the black race will be
guaranteed by the act of solidarity towards many social struggles.
The valorization of the black population will promote the dissemination, in a positive
way, of their culture and history. The maintenance of the musical heritage represents the
strength of the entity as a Carnaval group.
In its work, Ilê Aiyê tries to emphasize strength as organization, to awaken the
self-esteem of black people and to promote professional courses and social-educational
activities with children and adults. Furthermore, to preserve Afro traditions and the
integration within the black community and to stimulate the resistance and defense of the
Annual Calendar of Events of Ilê Aiyê
Rehearsals. The calendar of events promoted by Ilê starts in June
with the rehearsals, which take place in different locations: the districts of Curuzu and
Pelourinho, on Thursdays and Saturdays. The main attractions are the band and singers of
Ilê, and other singers and composers of the new Afro-Bahia music. The rehearsals take
place until the day before Carnaval.
Black Mother in September
On the 28th of September, Ilê pays homage to all the black mothers with the
event called Week of the Black Mother. It is a cultural event managed by Mãe Hilda and
organized by the Board of Women from Ilê. The program of the event consists of talks and
discussions about themes linked to the condition of the black women in society. There is
also a series of exhibitions.
The month of November sees the celebration of important dates for Ilê: foundation of
the group on the 1st, The Black Awareness Day created to pay homage to Zumbi
dos Palmares, a slave who escaped with a large group of followers and hid out from the
authorities in an enclave called a Quilombo. Celebrated is also the Independence of Angola
and Rebellion of Chibata, an uprising of black marines, which took place in Rio de
The Wa Jeun, which means "Let’s eat," is a night event in celebration of the
Afro-Brazilian cuisine of Bahia. During the Wa Jeun, the guests can enjoy a well-prepared
menu based on the various dishes of the Afro cuisine. The program is also enriched by the
performance of the Ilê band and the presence of the queens and dancers of Ilê Aiyê,
wearing traditional costumes.
Music Festival of Ilê
The festival of black music is the biggest event of its kind in the country. It is open
to the participation of musicians and composers from every part of Brazil. It is in this
festival that music and the theme for the following Carnaval are chosen.
On a memorable night, taking place in a large club in the city, Ilê Aiyê elects its
queen, the Goddess of Ébano who will reign until next year’s Carnaval. During that party,
the biggest before Carnaval, Ilê presents all its attractions: dance groups, bands,
singers as well as celebrities from the national music scene.
Father and Son
Se me perguntar
If you ask me
Interview with Vovô,
director of Ilê Aiyê
Brazzil: Tell me about how it all began
Vovô: In truth, it’s difficult to explain in such a way that people understand.
Ilê Aiyê is not a musical group, it’s not the band that is our base. Our structure is
the musicality, and all the information we want to pass on goes beyond the music.
Therefore, we’re not a band. We are a group that has a band. That’s a little different,
People complain that we’re not in the media because we don’t record songs by many
different composers. We maintain a friendship with Gil and Caetano, but we only record
songs by composers in the community, who are here on a day-to-day basis. That complicates,
a little, the image and ideas of people, you see, who complain about the immediacy of the
music, our music.
Here we have a criterion for music/poetry, which makes up the theme of each new year.
"Pérola Negra," Black Pearl and "Angola." And we have the
music/poetry, this music, we work on and which speaks of our day-to-day existence. This
works hard toward raising the self-esteem of the participants. It is music, that always
speaks of the valorization of the black man. Therefore, the music doesn’t speak badly of
the white man, nor does it praise. It speaks neither bad nor good.
It is always about the problems of the black community, but in a positive way, even
those things which were already used in a negative manner. We produce and return to the
community that which doesn’t play on the radio, and people come here on the weekends,
right here in our area. This is the function of Ilê Aiyê.
Brazzil: I know that Ilê Aiyê only accept members of African descent. In
the United States, where we have so much racism, an act like that would be taken as
hostility. Is it any different here?
Vovô: It has always been a group that only accepts blacks or people of African
descent. Here, too, that is seen as a reverse apartheid. They say that we’re combating
racism with racism. Those complaints, you know, were much more intense in the beginning,
but with the passage of time, we gained strength. Today, we have already grown and are
capable of impeding those who may try to bar this, you know.
It would be much better if the other Afro blocos also had the same philosophy.
But the only bloco, which has succeeded in resisting, is Ilê Aiyê, perhaps
because of the fact that it was born in a special place like Liberdade (Liberty) in
Curuzu, a neighborhood estimated to have some 400,000 inhabitantsa black
Thus, this fact provides great strength as well as the fact that there are many
Candomblé terreiros (places of worship for the Candomblé religion), many cultural
manifestations here in this neighborhoodalways had and always will. Therefore, the
cause has much more strength here.
Brazzil: How many members are there in Ilê Aiyê?
Vovô: In the 25 years of existence, the average number of participants has been
Brazzil: What are the ages of the members?
Vovô: We have, today, a project called a pedagogical extension, which provides a
much stronger performance in the area of education in Liberdade. We are in the third
series of formal education from 6-14 years. We have a school of music called Banda Erê.
The age range is the same, and the kids begin their musical education at that age. We have
several kids here, who have already traveled with the band.
In the fundamental band we work only with percussion, and the base of the band is here
in Liberdade. Now we also have kids from other neighborhoods, who have interest in the
band, but the range of age is the same. In the band considered adult, the range is 14-20.
Brazzil: Are there both men and women in Ilê Aiyê?
Vovô: Yes, both.
Brazzil: Tell me about the influence Ilê Aiyê has had on the
Vovô: In the beginning, we’d get together and discuss the theme for Carnaval for
the following year. One of the discussions would be about our influence, which has now
lasted 25 years, on the city of Salvador. Almost everything that happens here has had a
certain influence from 1974 until now on the Carnaval. Carnaval, here, was always on top
of Trio Elétricos on Praça Castro Alves, and the style was Frevo de Pernambuco, like the
Pernambucano (from the state of Pernambuco) Carnaval. With the appearance of Ilê
Aiyê, the first afro bloco, this began to change, and it happened in the rehearsal
locations that the dances appeared – different dances that the media began to absorb. Our bloco
really succeeded in changing the rhythm of Carnaval. Today, everybody enjoys Carnaval with
the afro rhythms, you know, which now finally, are defined as axé music, the
colorful element of Carnaval. Changed, also, is the dress of the Trio Elétrico blocos.
Many times before, during rehearsals of the blocos, the police would come and beat
people up because it was viewed as acts of marginal people. In the periphery, there is no
leisure. Therefore, the rehearsal of a bloco like this one here, unites thousands
of black people, young and old from other neighborhoods, who all come here. Today, a bloco
rehearsal is something chic, something well organized, very rewarding. So is directing
dancers on stage and parades of afro blocos at Carnaval.
They always used the Trio Elétrico blocos, which produced parades that
simulated African cultural themes, but it was really just the band that was involved in
the spectacle. But today, here in Bahia, there is very little, which is not influenced by
Ilê Aiyê. The only difference is that we continue producing African-influenced programs,
and those who are in charge of production, keep exploiting. We produce the dance and
music, but it’s the white producers who administer the programs, isn’t that right? The
record companies, the publishers have money for you to make music, and they’ll give you
R$1,000 to write a good song. And everybody gets rich, and the black people, who continue
producing, are all poor, aren’t they?
But there has been a strong change in the music. In the old days, the frevo
(improvised Carnaval music) was much more violent. The violence at Carnaval has diminished
a lot. It has calmed down a lot since the arrival of the axé music of the Afro blocos.
Brazzil: Do many different composers write the music for Ilê Aiyê?
Vovô: Here we don’t have that same thing they have in Rio, an unlimited number of
composers, but there are some composers who are faithful to us. There are others who shift
between Ilê Aiyê and Olodum, because they also spread the successes around of those blocos,
which are in most evidence, and when the bloco records, there is the opportunity
for a singer of axé music to record one of their songs.
Thus, there exists here in Bahia a lot of good potential, which hasn’t yet been
explored. Two years ago, I signed a contract with a fellow in the U.S., who lives in New
York and who wanted to record Ilê Aiyê, and I came as far as putting together the
material for a CD similar to the one that Edil Pacheco recorded. I’m still trying to
produce Afros e Afoxés da Bahia.
Ilê Aiyê has a music festival here, well, today we have changed the name to Festival
of Black Music. We need to give it a legitimate direction to a national level, but it is
surely the best festival for black music in Brazil. It’s the festival with most
competitors and the best composers of the Afro blocos, who participate. Today,
there even appear people who only make axé music and who are trying to get in.
This one year, for example, the composer who won in the festival, was a white guy
married to a congresswoman. It’s kind of funny. She only "hangs with" Olodum,
and he can’t be part of our group because he is white. However, he only comes here and
only makes music for Ilê Aiyê, and because he is so loyal to us, there is no restriction
against him any more. He is in the festival this year.
Brazzil: How are the blocos judged?
Vovô: Here, it is different from the samba schools. Only one song counts. When you
sing a lot of music, many songs will be performed in the three days of Carnaval, but then
there’s generally the problem that the new songs slow things down. The representatives of
each bloco usually ask to sing some classic songs that everybody knows, and those
songs always have to be in the repertoire of Carnaval.
The more serious problem that we confront is this. Here in Bahia, there is much racism,
maybe the most in all of Brazil. Everybody thinks that Ilê Aiyê is beautiful and
marvelous, but at the time of support, it is very difficult. The Baiano and Brazilian
impresario, before being a capitalist, is a racist. He doesn’t think of the result. He
thinks that a bloco like this with more than 30,000 people, who come to watch, will
not give him any return on his investment, that it is not interesting to invest, and that
the black man does not consume.
Thus, he prefers investing in the blocos in which his children and his friends
participate. He doesn’t want to know that the black population consume, and consequently,
we face much difficulty putting the bloco on the street. The associates of Ilê
Aiyê have less acquisitive power. People only pay at Carnaval. We always have to come to
agreements here. It is a bloco that works with the whole family, the child wants to
enjoy, the adolescent, the adult, and the old person.
Sometimes it is just one person paying for all the costumes. They cost $200, if you pay
cash or by credit card. If you pay by installment, it’s $250, and we always have to
negotiate that the guy pays both. These are people who pay half and have to pay the
installment with no interest to be able to let the family participate.
Schincariol Beer is giving support of $10,000 worth of beer. The sponsorship they give
the Trio Elétrico blocos is different, $80-100,000 in money. In reality, people
know that competing with a more sophisticated bloco, the cost goes up every day you
have to enter the market to compete, because otherwise you’ll disappear next to the Trio
Elétrico of a large bloco. That could happen even though our percussion is more
We still face much difficulty. Our own government and the prefecture give much less
during the year, and there is not even a leisure program in Liberdade. So, people have to
play ball in the fields, in the streets, on the asphalt, and the only pleasure you have is
the rehearsals of the bloco. People of the community sell water and food, which are
another source of income, but today the prefecture charges for the use of the street. And
they have to put up chemical toilets, all of which is an expense for which there is no
return and adds up the debt at Carnaval.
Therefore, the only solution is if the black man had more political consciousness and
began boycotting for example the supermarkets here in Liberdade. They sell a lot in the bairro
(neighborhood), but when you go to talk to them, they say that the office is in São
Paulo. If people here had political consciousness, they would stop buying for one or two
days a week. That would make the supermarket stop and think, but they do not have that,
and I’m not so powerful a leader that I can get people to boycott businesses.
Brazzil: I heard that there is a festival of African heritage that
happens in November. Could you tell me a little about that?
Vovô: There was a meeting with the arrangers of the festival. They got together
with some Afro blocos and decided to unite on a project. I took it to Miami to the
director of the festival. He represents among others the Rockefeller Foundation. The
project is about culture, education and Carnaval. That’s why they called on Ilê Aiyê.
Bahiatursa told us they didn’t have much money to spend, so we raised what we could.
Again, one of the problems is money, and here, the local groups lose out. One group
from Brasília charged over $1.000,000 for participating. Ilê Aiyê charged R$170,000.
Our proposal was denied, they said we were overcharging. They diminished the value of Ilê
Aiyê, because we have less sophisticated equipment than for example Timbalada. When
arranging this festival, the prefecture hires groups from all over Brazil and pays a great
deal of money, but they don’t want to pay for Baiano groups.
People come from all over the world for the African Heritage Festival to see black
groups, and they find that it was all arranged by whites. Someone from PT, Partido dos
Trabalhadores, The Labor Party, got in a lot of trouble at the last festival because of
that. We would like to arrange a festival that is a celebration of blackness, but the Afro
blocos don’t have the courage. There is still a feeling of shame about being black.
They even try to deny that Bahia is a state of black majority.
I went to New Orleans in April for the jazz festival celebrating black music, and
that’s the kind of thing I’d like to see here in Salvador. Mr. Davis, the producer,
brought over 200,000 people to the festival. We cannot get sponsorship, even though a
return on the investment is a certainty. The city does not invite Afro blocos to
arrange cultural events. Small elite groups produce programs with small revenue.
They invite artists from all over the country, but ignore the local black groups. We
were not even invited to Percpan, which is a percussion festival, and Ilê Aiyê is the
only group based strictly on percussion. As you can see, it is a constant uphill battle
for funds and recognition, but in the end it is worth it with the education the children
in Liberdade receive.
Brazzil: And speaking of the education, to keep up with the times, I imagine
computer literacy is part of that education.
Vovô: That is a very necessary part of it. And the Fundação Palmares has a
course in computers, which they will conduct for us, but it will have to be very basic,
since we don’t have computers, only the one here, in the office. But I keep going every
day to make sure our children here will survive and grow.
I thanked Senhor Vovô for his time with the interview. Before leaving, we saw a
"classroom" in the small building housing the office. There, a room full of
children was learning to sewa skill which can later lead to a job. They make
T-shirts as well as costumes for Carnaval. They politely greeted me and posed for a couple
of photographs. Vovô then took me to his mother’s house and showed me where the classes
are presently being conducted. While Vovô tirelessly works to provide for the physical
and intellectual welfare of the children of Liberdade, his mother, Mãe Hilda, is the
strong spiritual force behind Ilê Aiyê.
Kirsten Weinoldt was born in Denmark and came to the U.S. in 1969. She
fell in love with Brazil after seeing Black Orpheus many years ago and has lived
immersed in Brazilian culture ever since. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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