February 24, 2009
Live from Bahía

Remember when a few days ago I was telling you about all that research we were going to be conducting in Brazil? Well, I didn't tell you the whole truth. My colleague Xiaochang Li and I accepted an invitation from IG, one of our two Brazilian partners, to come to Carnaval in Salvador da Bahía. It has been an invigorating experience.

Bahía is located in the Northeast of Brazil, and besides being known for its natural beauty it is also one of the most artistically prolific states in the country, and that's saying a lot. Salvador gave birth to Joao Gilberto, Dorival Caymi and Vinicious de Moraes, fathers of Bossa Nova, but also to the more disruptive tropicalismo movement; this is the hometown of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, María Bethania, Gal Costa and many more. This brief paragraph doesn't begin to describe the richness of this town's musical heritage, for now, I can say that I'm in awe.

Brazilian music has a wonderful ability to evolve while staying true to its roots. The Bahiano carnival fully exemplifies this quality. We were lucky enough to be invited to enjoy carnival from Daniela Mercury's camarote. A camarote is a temporary building that houses parties within the larger party. Djs play all through the night and every 30 minutes or so a float comes up to the camarote's balcony delivering a concert by some of Bahía's most popular musicians. Camarote's are a luxury and most of the population participate in carnival on the street level or by joining one of the floats.

Daniela Mercury, our host of sorts, is one of Bahía's current stars. She is adamant about her camarote giving all profits back the the community. This time around she chose her theme to be the Bahiano syncretism. To illustrate this concept she wrote, along with Margareth Menezes, Oyá por Nos, a song that fuses african rhythms with parts of the Ave María. The song was released for carnival, and only four days in, it's already being sung as if it was a old time classic.

Here you can see Daniela Mercury rehearsing Oyá por Nos:

But the syncretism behind the event did not stop there, we could actually start talking about "brand syncretism". The whole party masterfully integrates brands with celebration, what I find interesting is that to do so they draw on elements from Candomblé, for instance this necklace is reminiscent of a catholic scapular and of the Iemanjí deity while still promoting Always. These necklaces were worn by all the party, men and women alike. The ribbons that you see on the side are inscribed with Senhor do Bonfim (Our Lord of a Good End), both for Jesus and for good luck. These ribbons are used abundantly in the alterations of several branded products that are distributed throughout the carnival.

The complexity of the production behind carnival is impressive, in some places this is referred to as the largest party in the world, and while many participants own cameras and cell phones, this is not a particularly mediated experience. Audiences apparently prefer to experience the immediacy of the live spectacle than concerning themselves with recording the experience.

Finally, I'd like to point out that this is a intergenerational party. In any given space you have anyone from teenagers to the elderly dancing with equal intensity to the same music. My sense is that this is due in part to the fact that much of the Brazilian youth embraces the diversity of its musical heritage, but also that the older folks accept and enjoy the fact that culture is always evolving.

More to come in the next few days!