The Brazilian Voice Unchained: Tradition and Innovation in Brazilian Candomblé as Seen Through Ritual Drumming and Popular Music

Percussion instruments are the predominant driving force behind both Brazilian popular music and the ritual music of Candomblé, a world religion birthed in Brazil. It can be argued that through the musical political movement, Tropicália in the 1960’s, drums connected the sacred and the profane in such a way as to help shape the collective identity of a people in a particular place–Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Christopher Dunn, a scholar of popular music who researched the Tropicália movement, and its primary founders Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, supports the theory that cultural, religious practices and political perspectives can combine to create complex new musical forms.

[…] the relationship between Tropicália and Brazilian music informed by cultural practices of the African Diaspora and its attendant discourses of racial pride and social critique. After the advent of recording technologies, the musical complexes of the Black Atlantic circulated widely in the twentieth century, generating a transnational diasporic imagination based on comparable, albeit distinct, histories of slavery, colonialism, and racial oppression. (Dunn 74)

The unique rhythms of both Candomblé and Brazilian popular music are profoundly differentiated from other notable musical forms of the African Diaspora. The landscape of Salvador da Bahia, and its history of slavery have shaped its cultural weave, as well as its ritual and popular music. Even though Candomblé and a popular music form like samba-reggae utilize African and Caribbean rhythms, they are distinctly Brazilian. For the seasoned musician and music listener, Brazilian music is rarely mistaken for Cuban or Jamaican forms. This paper demonstrates how drums play a central role as a memorial link from Salvador da Bahia to the African motherland, to collective identity in Salvador and especially to social transformation in the ritual roles of women in Candomblé.

In Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, a young woman steps onto a stage. She is wearing a slave muzzle. She begins to dance. She is a member of the all-female, Brazilian musical group Didá Banda Feminina. Another woman steps out onto the stage, and she is also wearing a face-mask.

The face-mask is an image that many would like to forget – it is the image of slavery, its oppression, its silencing. The legendary Brazilian slave, Anastácia, wore this leather face mask because of her rebelliousness and inability to tolerate “the imposition of a prejudiced society” (Weinoldt 1998). She had to be silenced.

Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. Still, its legacy dwells underground, in the unconscious collective psyche, reappearing and disappearing in image, music and ritual expressions. The image of Anastácia, which became an icon of women’s strength, calm and serenity in the midst of immense pain, emerged during a 1994 march on the International Day of the Woman.

In her life, Anastácia was very beautiful and consequently the object of envy, prejudice, and sexual abuse. She was a peace loving person who alleviated the suffering of others. She was muzzled for speaking openly of her desires, but even after that, she continued to perform miracles. Her muzzle was then removed. But she was ill and did not have much time for her good deeds. After developing gangrene, she died. (Weinoldt 1998)

Anastácia’s image and mythology are held with the highest devotion by some and ambivalence by others. Many activists in Brazil see Anastácia as a step backward in the fight for the expression of the Afro-Brazilian voice.

The face-mask emphasizes victimization. Anastácia is the image of the disempowered woman, women who are silenced, tortured […] Where do you get if you call upon people to identify with a suffering slave? We must go beyond slavery. (Burdick 162)

For many Afro-Brazilian women, the iconography of Anastácia holds the pain and suffering that slaves endured with dignity and serenity. These women identify with her because they feel she understands their pain, their own timidity and uncertainty of using their voices. She is not a historical figure, and no evidence of her existence has been found. However, she has remained one of the most popular and beloved saints throughout Brazil.

Didá Banda Feminina is one of a growing number of Afro-Brazilian female musical groups to enter the world music stage in the past seven years. Upon arrival on the music scene, the group was publicly ridiculed by a newspaper, Jornal do Brasil, for wearing the face-mask of Anastácia (Burdick 151). The silencing of slavery and of women’s voices is being challenged by this group of young women, yet the way they are doing it, in how they are expressing their perspective is denounced by many in the public, including activists for Afro-Brazilian women’s rights. Why is it important to return to and remember slavery? What is it about forgetting that imprisons, confines, enslaves, silences?

The voice and freedom of expression, whether in music, or ritual, are the vehicles of identity, of self-creation. In Slavery and Identity: Ethnicity, Gender, and Race in Salvador, Brazil 1808-1888, Mieko Nishida postulates that the making of a self, is a constantly changing and innovating enterprise, even when the circumstances are oppressive.

The way Africans and their descendants behaved in Salvador clearly indicates that they were a highly resilient population who never lost their creativity either in the experience of the Middle Passage or in the centrifugal experience of slavery in the New World. (Nishida 9)

This creativity not only shines through popular forms of music, such as samba-reggae and pagode, but is also revealed in the drumming, dance and rituals of Candomblé, a group of diverse religions derived from Africa, brought to the New World by slaves who survived the Middle Passage. Even before arrival, the captives were given name cards with their new Christian/Portuguese identities. This insidious act was the first step in making the slaves forget who they were and where they came from.

In Angola, on the day before embarkation, slaves were usually assembled in a church, or perhaps in the main square of the port to be baptized. As a prelude to the following ceremony, a Catholic priest walked among the slaves, assigned a Christian name to each, and handed the individual a paper with a name written on it. (Nishida 30)

After reaching their destined home, Brazil, and being forced to convert to Catholicism, they continued to worship their African deities in new, innovative ways. New cultural groups have since continuously transformed the African music and rituals brought by their African descendants into altered forms that are now prevalent in the international arena.

One mãe de santo  describes Candomblé as “‘a religion of the hand’, of right practice instead of right doctrine” (Johnson 2002: 12). Paul Christopher Johnson, historian of religions, provides an in-depth account of the innermost workings of Candomblé, its secrets and its revelations, in his book, Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé. He outlines the transformation of the religion through a historical perspective, focusing on the dynamics of change in Candomblé traditions. According to Johnson, these dynamics exist due to the “active milling, polishing and promotion of the reputation of secrets” (Johnson 3), leading to multiple interpretations and inviting pluralism. He elaborates that Candomblé is a tradition that transmits knowledge orally and ritually, through “bodies-as-secrets” (Johnson 6). The ritual is the “place” where embodied knowledge is passed down, generation after generation. Without a deep connection to its past, to memories of its African homeland, Candomblé would not possess the tremendous innovative ability to transform its myths and rituals.

The drum is the central heartbeat that regulates the ritual universe in Candomblé: each orixá  is called down in a specific order via their own drum rhythm pattern and song. The dancers, who are also signaled by the drummers, only dance the movements for the orixá that is being celebrated at the moment; otherwise chaos and pandemonium would ensue. Anthropologist Victor Turner, who spent years studying the Ndembu of Northwestern Zambia, heard ritual drumming at almost all hours of the day and night during his fieldwork: “the term for ritual performance is ng’oma, which literally means ‘drum,’ and where three drums, as in Umbanda , are considered indispensable components of all ritual” (Turner, V. Anthropology, 51).

In Turner’s essay, “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning,” he discusses the “meta-languages” of cultural performances as “genres of cultural performance” that “are not simple mirrors but magical mirrors of social reality: they exaggerate, invert, re-form, magnify, minimize, dis-color, re-color, even deliberately falsify, chronicled events. They resemble Rilke’s ‘hall of mirrors’” (Turner Anthropology, 42). In this statement, Turner supports the importance of fluidity, innovation and play in ritual that is largely the foundational creative aspect seen in Brazil and other African Diaspora cultures around the world.

Ethnomusicologist Clarence Bernard Henry specifically studied drumming with Candomblé master drummers in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil while researching his dissertation, Religious and Musical Expressions of Candomblé in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and Los Angeles, California. Probably his most intriguing exploration was how the role of women in these traditions was changing. He noted that there were a few women being trained in ritual drumming, although they were not yet allowed to perform on drums during ritual. However, many of these women drummers were performers in popular music groups playing throughout Bahia.

In the past, women have been forbidden to perform as drummers in Candomblé ritual because their very nature made them unfit to carry the role. “Women are cool, reproductive, and contained–both in body and in the terreiro –while men carry the heat of bodies overindulgently open in the male domain of the street” (Johnson 44). Women in the religion represent the earth that is penetrated by “heavenly men” (Johnson 44).  However, according to Henry, some women in Bahian terreiros are beginning to be trained in ritual drumming. This fact further reveals that even the most hard-fast rules in Candomblé may be broken and revisioned.

In spite of the fact that women have been prescribed a specific “feminine” role in ritual, they hold a great deal of power within the religion. Most heads of terreiros in Bahia and other parts of Brazil are in fact women. In Candomblé, there are many powerful feminine orixás who are considered equals or superiors to the male orixás. The ocean goddess and mother of all orixás, Iemanjá, is one of the most celebrated deities in Candomblé throughout Brazil. She continues to be a popular cult figure among Bahian women, who petition her for love and fertility. Fishermen from Pernambuco in northeast Brazil “ask her permission before entering the sea” (Martins 41). In the stories, myths and legends surrounding Iemanjá, she rises out of the water to seduce or in many cases to aid, as seen in the story, “A Husband From the Sea”:

Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman who had a daughter. The young girl wasn’t particularly beautiful and had no knack for housework. Instead she enjoyed masculine pursuits, such as fishing, swimming in the ocean, running on the sand and mending fishing nets. Her stepmother abused her constantly because she would not do any housework. Finally, the stepmother abused the young girl so badly that she ran off to the beach and passed out at the water’s edge.

The young girl dreamed she felt the “Queen of the Waters” tickling her feet. Iemanjá asked her what she wanted and the girl replied that she needed a husband, so she could get away from her stepmother and so forth. When she awoke, she saw the goddess disappear, gliding over the water. Shortly after her dream experience, her wish to find a husband came true. (Martins 214)

The young girl in the story is punished for enjoying masculine pursuits and portrays a woman’s struggle to own and exercise her power. The story is typically Brazilian and at the same time carries a seed of the universal, in that it speaks to the outdated attitude that women need male support in order to escape the confines of societal roles.

During the festival of Iemanjá on December 31st (corresponding to celebrations of New Years), devotees come to the shorelines, placing candles and flowers on the beach and in small boats that float on the water. The drums are as strong of a presence at the outdoor festivals, as they are in the terreiros. Iemanjá is the mother of all creation, of humans, of marine animals and the orixás. Iemanjá has protective, nurturing and destructive qualities, and is imagined to be the mother of death as well as the mother of life. During the transatlantic crossing, Iemanjá’s body, the ocean, carried her surviving African devotees to the New World. The significance of each orixá, and each myth, depends on the shift in landscape and environment, transforming the ritual manifestations, drumming and dance. In addition, the images, music and myths that arise from human interaction with their surroundings, reflect the psychological shift of a cultural group.

The unconscious is often described as a deep, dark ocean. Water holds the keys to the nightworld, the unseen, the hidden. “The sea has always represented magic and mystery” (Andrews 171). In fact, the ocean in some myths was the keeper of night:

In a legend from Brazil, it [night] belonged to the sea. The sea serpent’s daughter left the sea to live with her mortal lover on the sun-drenched earth. But she missed the darkness dearly, so her father sealed night into a bag and sent it to his daughter with servants. Intrigued by the night noises coming from the bag, the servants opened it and spilled the night into the sky. (Andrews 136 )

In Nigeria, the goddess of water is connected primarily to one place and is the giver of the gift of water to nourish and renew life:

Yemoya, the goddess of water and the mother of all rivers to the Yoruba of Nigeria, made barren women fertile. In return for offerings of yam, maize, animals, and fishes, she gave them water in a jar from the country’s primary river, the River Ogun. (Andrews 163)

What happens when an entire race of people are forcibly transported away from their home, their place? Keith Basso’s book, Wisdom Sits in Places, is written about the sense of place in Western Apache language and culture. Stories about specific land sites, called “name places,” passed down from generation to generation were the main source of cultural knowledge, wisdom and history. If the people were displaced, the knowledge could be lost forever. Places, especially ones that hold a body of water, retain memories and are containers of a culture.

Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep on thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother [. . .] You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise. (Basso 127)

After the transatlantic crossing, the transplanted Africans began to “drink” from new places and created new myths, memories, art and cultures that would assimilate the ancient ways of their motherplace, Africa. Many of the survivors of the crossing believed that the ocean goddess protected them and even guided the boats floating in her waters; the souls of those who did not live to see the new world were gathered into her watery womb and readied for rebirth into a new life.

Iemanjá has a dark side that is closely associated with modern life: the shadow side of her archetype represents the seduction of a wealthy lifestyle driven by vanity. In more than one source it is reported that many devotees of Iemanjá spend more money than they can afford in order to appear beautiful and wealthy. Jewels, mirrors, perfume and exquisite dresses are Iemanjá’s favorite ritual items, which have become staples of her worshippers’ everyday accouterments. The blame for the economic disorder has been placed on European extravagance and American pop culture, which have infiltrated the psyches of both the native South Americans and transplanted African cultures over the past two hundred years.

Another example of the treacherous ocean goddess resides in Nigeria, where the goddess of the ocean is named Mami Wata–West African pidgin English for “Mother of Water” (Ray 38). The images of Mami Wata are similar to Iemanjá–she is shown as a beautiful, cafe-au-lait skinned woman or mermaid with long hair and luxurious dress. However, Mami Wata almost always holds a python that is wrapped around her body. In all her beauty and generosity lurks danger: when Mami Wata appears to her chosen “children” in dreams or visions and is refused or ignored, she will cause failure in business dealings (especially overseas and the fishing industry), illness and even death (Ray 38). She is one of the most powerful deities of the African pantheon and must not be trifled with.

Through the image of Iemanjá, water is the strength of the feminine, regardless of gender, which can be found in the deepest recesses of the psyche. An orixá that is feminine, such as is the case with Iemanja, may also incarnate in the body of a male during ritual possession. Although, in general, Brazilian women who embody the physical characteristics of Iemanjá–large, uneven breasts, long black hair and ample buttocks–often incorporate her as their patron orixá. Her personality is described as loving, devoted, courageous, jealous and protective.

“For the devotees [of Iemanjá], nature and natural elements of the universe provide strength and wisdom for all human beings” (Martins 37).

The strength of water gives life, protects life, nurtures life and has the power to drown, take life away. But water, like Iemanjá, cannot be domesticated which imparts a sense of empowerment to her devotees. The way of Iemanjá is the way of water. She incorporates an entirely different perspective from Descartian spaciness and weightlessness. She is large, full of body. She is powerful and she has a voice.

James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, “re-visioned” Jungian psychology and brought image and soul to the forefront of psychic reality, transformation and healing.  Many of his works can be applied to the study of Candomblé, including Re-Visioning Psychology and The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World.

In Hillman’s view, staying with the image and allowing it to have a life of its own de-emphasizes the egocentricity of the personal psyche and opens up the archetype to its multidimensionality. This aspect of archetypal psychology is referred to as “befriending the image.” “Befriending” the poetic images that are connected to drumming, myth and ritual allows for many perspectives to come forward and speak, keeping to the polytheistic nature of Candomblé itself. In a related concept, called “personifying,” Hillman prefers to gestalt an entire myth within his praxis. In other words, do not just identify with an orixá, such as Iemanjá; personify using other secondary characters in the myth, story or legend, including the young girl from Pernambuco and even water itself. For Hillman, archetypes are inherently polytheistic and multivalent, two qualities existing in abundance in the Candomblé traditions.

Hillman’s psychology is primarily a living, breathing and innovating psychology of soul. To paraphrase him, if psyche is image, than it can also be said that image is soul.

Only when myth is led back into the soul, only when myth has psychological significance does it become a living reality, necessary for life, rather than a literary, philosophical or religious artifice. (Hillman, quoted in Doty, Mythography 194)

The soul, in both its personal and collective aspects, has a creative life of its own even as it is intimately attached to an individual body, or a body of people; the basic premise of his psychological theory is that soul is always embodied. Hillman places soul at the center of psychology, and says that through it images of the Self are born. Soul is the impetus of the imagination, the “poetic basis of mind” (Hillman Re-Visioning, xi):

…by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy–that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical. (Hillman Re-Visioning, x)

Drumming, as performed in ritual, is an archetypal activity that connects the devotee to the realm of the numenous. In the Candomblé worldview, the drum itself is a metaphor of the embodied soul, and thought of as an ancestor, or perhaps even a god. Rudolf Otto describes an experience of the unknown and the ineffable, as a true religious experience of the divine, or in Hillman’s terminology, a brush with an archetype:

Taken in the religious sense, that which is ‘mysterious’ is–the ‘wholly other’, that which is quite beyond the sphere of the usual, the intelligible, and the familiar […] filling the mind with blank wonder and astonishment. (Otto 26)

It is impossible to explain in rational terms the experience of “mysterium tremendum” because “conceptually mysterium denotes merely that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary or unfamiliar” (Otto13). In the Candomblé religions, the numenous and the hidden play an important role in the efficacy of ritual. The effect of the drum, and the rhythms that emanate forth, brings the dancers into the trance state where they can commune with the orixás and bring healing to the community.

Trance possession is often misinterpreted as either escapism or entrapment.  However, its mythic essence is of in-betweeness, liminality, sharing and cooperation. The strong archetypal energy that is accessed during possession allows two souls, or psyches, to live within one body. The spirit of the body-owner and the orixá who has entered through the crown of the head at first must adapt to each other spatially, often causing headaches and body aches in the devotee. The orixá does not have ownership over the body, rather, it temporarily occupies a new space in cooperation with its worshipper.

Musicologist Jon Michael Spencer noted one music therapist that considered the rhythm making practices of Africans in the Diasporas, “escapism-in-rhythm” (Spencer 78).  This point of view promotes Candomblé as only a religion of resistance, instead of a religion of resilience, opening, integration, innovation and catharsis. Through the vehicle of sacred ritual drumming and trance possession, the devotees of Candomblé transcend suffering and everyday life as a way to connect with their African homeland and ancestors, not as an escape.

The drum is the quintessential instrument to use for trance inducement, since it is constructed as a liminal entity that borders the thresholds of many worlds– it is part of the vegetal world, through its body made of wood; it is part of the animal world, through its head (the area which is struck by hands or sticks) made from an animal’s hide; it is a member of the mineral world through the attachment of metallic bells. The drums contain, direct and guide all entities within the ritual time-space of the terreiro; the orixás, participants, and the trance dancers can safely explore other dimensions of reality and drop their mundane, ordinary personas. While in trance, the practitioners both embody and personify the archetypes of the orixás, through rhythms and dance movements.

In this interim of “liminality,” the possibility exists of standing aside not only from one’s own social position but from all social positions and of formulating a potentially unlimited series of alternative social arrangements. (Turner, V. Dramas, 13-14)

Edward S. Casey bridges the fields of archetypal psychology and philosophy in order to show how imagination and memory work together as co-creators of image within the grounding of place or “placescapes:” “The places of landscape––“placescapes”––provide a circumambience, a setting, for archetypes as well as for structures of presentation” (Casey, Spirit xx). Casey’s sensibility of “place” is concrete and substantial, not literal. Places and landscapes exist in the physical world and at the same time exist psychologically within the human psyche. A more literal, Enlightenment view of the matter/earth world seems to confine and to imprison, as seen in this statement by archetypal psychologist Patricia Berry states:

There is within the idea of matter a paradox. Matter (and by extension mother earth) is both the most something and the most nothing, the most necessary (in order that something can happen) and at the same time the most lacking [ … ] Mother/matter is the ground of existence and yet doesn’t count-she is nothing. Archetypally, she is our earth and at the same time is always lacking. (Berry 2005)

The Candomblé tradition, which is highly embodied and not caught up in confining literalism, exalts its practitioners’ ability to connect to Africa, the ancestors and orixás on a non-literal and mystical level.

Candomblé is a transcendent tradition that allows for deep, philosophical reflection and Casey’s Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World lays out a phenomenological approach that is appropriate for this study. His is a viable methodology because it unpacks the mystery of why “being-in-place” holds so much power over humanity by means of analyzing how the place-world is the primary source of the psyche’s outpouring of images. In particular, Casey makes the point of how forced exile can be the most painful form of separation, which is highly relevant because of the transatlantic crossing African slaves made to come to Brazil. “As Freud, Bachelard, and Proust all suggest, to refind place…we may need to return, if not in actual fact then in memory or imagination, to the very earliest places we have known” (Casey, Getting x). In the case of Candomblé, its exiled practitioners got “back into place” by reconnecting to their ancestral homeland through ritual. Even with a strong connection to Africa, Brazil has fully developed into its own “placescape,” with its own history, its own music and its own diverse ritual and religious practices.

Today, as practitioners of Candomblé migrate to different areas around the world, coming into contact with new landscapes and other cultures, the rituals and myths continue to transform. These metamorphoses are reflected in the drum rhythms and mythological narratives as mythopoetic responses to a change in “place.”  Mythopoesis is both the creative, artistic process as well as the psychological process through which myths are made.  Mythopoetic expression weaves backwards and forwards, from past, to present, to future, creating new myths that sustain and carry forward a collective body of people. Mythopoesis springs out of the interplay between three inseparable components: innovation, a moving forward into the new, memory, a moving backward into the old, and place, the containing womb of all new myths and rituals.

An archetypal psychological approach opens up the images of Candomblé in order to “see through” them into such contemporary arenas as popular music and digital music sharing. For example, in a November 2004 issue of Wired magazine interview with Gilberto Gil, Brazil’s Minister of Culture, music sharing technologies and open source computer programming were the topics of discussion. A practicing believer of Candomblé, Gil is internationally famous as one of the founders of tropicalismo (alongside Caetano Veloso); a popular form of Brazilian music that was part of a political movement against the stereotypical images of the black “primitive” and the notion that media and art forms imported from the United States were superior. “Gil’s repudiation of the stereotypical black musician who is supposed to play samba amounts to a brazen critique of dominant cultural paradigms” (Dunn 79). In late December of 1968, Gil and Veloso were jailed by the military police for two months due to their “anarchic and carnivalesque public ‘happenings’” (Dunn 78) and were exiled to London. They had to be silenced.

Tropicalismo combined musical forms and instruments from other African Diasporas, such as Jamaica and the United States, with traditional Brazilian percussion instruments such as the berimbau . In 1976, Gil, Veloso, Gal Costa and Maria Bethania went on tour to perform songs from their album Doce barbaros, Sweet barbarians: “a concept album that featured several songs about Candomblé deities, the orixás” (Dunn 81).

Gil thinks that opening the borders of multicultural music through technology is not only advantageous, but inevitable: “A world opened up by communications cannot remain closed up in a feudal vision of property […] No country, not the US, not Europe, can stand in the way of it. It’s a global trend. It’s part of the very process of civilization. It’s the semantic abundance of the modern world, of the postmodern world – and there’s no use resisting it.” Gil’s vision interestingly mirrors the cultural openness that started with the formation of Candomblé, perhaps as a religion of resistance against slavery and oppression.

In the field of film music, one example stands out as the quintessential movie that brought Brazilian music to the world stage, “Black Orpheus.” Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and his underworld journey to bring back his beloved Eurydice, the story takes place in Rio de Janeiro during carnival. Although the film won numerous awards and acclaim, there exists many myths about the making of the film and its exploitation of local Brazilian actors and musicians: “critiques of Black Orpheus have involved some real-world issues of exploitation related to performance and music” (Perrone 52).

Apparently, thousands of Afro-Brazilians were hired to stage the famous, or rather infamous, Carnival scenes in the film. In spite of the millions of dollars generated by “Black Orpheus” worldwide, the actors went virtually unpaid.

The Brazilian musicians/composers who worked on the film music were also robbed of their musical rights by the film makers. In order to keep more money for themselves, the producers retained the licensing of the most successful songs. This is not an unusual occurrence–in Hollywood it happens all of the time. But, because of the racial situation in Brazil, the episode continues to live on in Brazilian music, exploitation history:

Because of the status of the parties involved, this situation became part of the “mythology” or “folklore” in the community of musicians in Brazil” (Perrone 53).

Orpheus is a myth about the enchantment of music. Orpheus enters the Underworld and charms Hades through his music to allow him to take his dead wife, Eurydice, back to the upper realm. In relation to the topic of slavery and silencing, Orpheus crosses the boundary between the living and the dead, just as when a trance dancer in Candomblé is possessed by the orixá. The spirit can finally speak through the voice of the medium. Symbolically, something dead or forgotten in the Underworld is brought back to life and given voice, through the power of music. Do Candomblé and its music transcend the pain of the legacy of slavery by allowing that silenced voice to be heard? Even after death, the head of Orpheus continues to sing about “lost love” (

An idealized myth, such as that portrayed by “Black Orpheus,” may in fact “decomplexify” (Perrone 60) a cultural group into stereotypes, or a stereotype. However, it seems that the problem still occurs in the same intensity if an image is shown in its most realistic, unromantic light. The film “City of God,” which gives a negative view of life in the favela falls in this category. Both films give a myopic perspective of the Brazilian culture and do not take into account its richness and diversity.

In conclusion, I wish to return to two questions brought up in the beginning of this paper: Why is it important to return to and remember slavery? What is it about forgetting that imprisons, confines, enslaves? As much as some Brazilian activists wish to “move beyond slavery” their efforts seem largely unsuccessful and in many ways promote the very problem they are fighting against. However, they are not ignoring or denying slavery, and face its specter head on. The legacy and silencing of slavery is subtle though, and it seems that the voice of the underprivileged Afro-Brazilian woman or man continues to be silenced on the national and international level. The way out of this labyrinth is not cut and dry, nor is it straight and direct. Brazil is not a racial paradise: the current research done by scholars of Brazilian culture, music and politics, many of whom I included in this paper, make this fact clear.

In the United States, the problem is worse. Slavery, and the silencing of the Afro-American is just one of many unpleasant topics that have been swept under the rug. One need only look at the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to see how a lack of monetary means and education can shape a cultural group, and the way they are viewed by the very people who are in a position to help. Watching the masses of people getting on planes and buses to leave Louisiana, opened the eyes of many Americans, as well as those of people abroad. In the rush of advancing technology and ruthless monetary gain, these people were forgotten. A cross-cultural paradigm shift will need to occur on both national and global levels to rectify the problem–moving beyond slavery or denying its historical fact is not going to heal this gaping, old wound. Again, the answer to the problem is just as complex as the dilemma. Perhaps, if we look to drumming, music, and ritual art forms, and at the same time allow for the existence of plurality in perspectives, many voices will begin to arise out of a deep silence.

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