sabato 17 novembre 2007


Afro-Brazilian ritual music

It was the 15th of August, 1992. I had been in Brazil for just one hour and found myself before an old man with a piercing look. Pierre Fatumbi Verger, 89 years old at the time, showed me the extraordinary
photographs which he had taken in Africa and Brazil during his many years of travels and discoveries.
He had become a babalaô, "keeper of secrets", of the cult of Ifá, god of divination in the old Kingdom of Dahomey.
A few days later I took part in a candomblé ritual for the first time. A young boy sitting beside me was suddenly shook by convulsions, started yelling, and began dancing strangely while the singing and drumming built to a fever pitch.
This unforgettable scene was the starting point of my research into this mystical world where, through music, spirituality and sensuality are intermingled. This CD, with its authentic recordings, sheds light on the musical side of one lesser-known candomblé tradition.

Candomblé is the term commonly used in the State of Bahia, in northeast Brazil, to refer to religious groups with ritual practices which
come from West Africa. These groups have a belief system based on deities called santos (in Portuguese), orixás (in Yoruba), voduns (in Fon) or inquices (from the Bantu word nkisi), and rituals involving possession trances, "which the group members see as the incorporation of the deity within the initiate who is ritually prepared to
receive him" (Costa Lima, 1976).
Candomblé is the result of the contacts between several dominant African cultures
which came into contact in Brazil as of the 16th century as a result of the slave trade and can be seen as a cultural synthesis of the mythologies of West Africa. In Bahia, all congregations worship all the main Yoruba and Fon deities. In Africa on the other hand, one religious centre or even a whole village is generally devoted to the cult of one single deity. Also, many elements from the Bantu cultures of Angola and Congo are to be found in the Brazilian candomblé. This gave rise to the term "nation", which is intended to distinguish between the predominant ethnic and cultural origins within a religious community. We thus speak of various "nations" of candomblé:
• The Ketu and Ijexá (pronounced: ijesha) "nations", associated with the Yoruba language, also known by the generic term Nagô (in Africa, name for the Yoruba used by their Ewe neighbours);
• The Jêje "nation" (name for the Ewe used by their Yoruba neighbours), associated with the Fon language;
• The Angola and Congo "nations", associated with the Kimbundo and Kikongo languages.
Today there are very few congregations whose rituals strictly follow the practices of
one "nation". After three centuries of slavery, most of them had incorporated liturgical, linguistic and musical elements of other "nations" and some Amerindian beliefs, giving rise to the candomblé de caboclo.
Catholicism, imposed by the Portuguese on the slaves brought from Africa, paradoxically sustained the transmission of the ancestral African heritage, despite some superficial syncretism. Roger Bastide offers the following explanation:
"Before the modest Catholic altar erected against the wall of the senzala [place where slaves lived], in the flickering light of candles, the blacks could perform their religious tribal dances with impunity. The whites believed them to be dancing
to the glory of the Blessed Virgin or the saints, but the Virgin and the saints were no more than masks. The steps of those ritual ballets, whose significance quite escaped the masters, were tracing out on the floor of beaten earth the myths of
the orixás or the voduns. The music of the drums abolished distance, bridged oceans, momentarily bringing Africa to life and creating a communion of men in one and the same collective consciousness, in an exaltation that was at once frenetic
and controlled" (Bastide, 1978).
Some congregations now claim to be "purely African", a result of the recent reafricanisation or "re-nagôisation" movements, which developed in Salvador (capital of the State of Bahia) in the 1970's. Although it was prohibited and repressed until 1976, candomblé then quickly moved from an underground existence to a degree of official recognition. Despite the recent "competition" from countless protestant-inspired churches which have sought to diabolise the African origin cults in order to gain converts, the Federação Baiana do Culto Afro-Brasileiro (Bahian Afro-Brazilian Religious Federation), founded in 1946, now includes some 3800 terreiros (places of worship).
Thanks to its roots in Afro-Brazilian culture and its extraordinary vitality, candomblé has always managed to survive the various attacks which it suffered. As Roger Bastide writes: "Slavery split African global societies along a
fluctuating line which, broadly speaking, separated the world of symbols, collective representations, and values from the world of social structures and their morphological bases. As his lineages, clans, village communities, or kingdoms
were destroyed, the African clung more and more tenaciously to what remained to him of his native country, to the one treasure he had been able to bring with him – his myths and his gods. They lived on in his mind as mnemonic images subject
to the vagaries of memory, but they were also inscribed in his body in the form of motor responses, dance steps or ritual movements, instantly aroused by the dull throbbing of drums" (Bastide, 1978).
The music of candomblé, which inludes a vast repertoire of songs accompanied by rhythms played on three drums and a metallic bell, structures all of the ritual ceremonies. It therefore cannot be dissociated from its context and liturgical functions. The adepts also consider the music essential for establishing
contact between humans and their deities, or in other words triggering and driving the possession trance. The music is thus at the heart of a system involving the symbolic, spiritual and religious perceptions of the whole community.
The ritual trance of candomblé organizes convulsive gestures and inarticulate
cries in a consistent movement, integrated within a highly structured mythical space.
The songs, rhythms and dances come together in the same symbolic space of a "sacred
theatre" where each element is transcended by its interaction with the others, in an outstanding alchemy of the senses.


The slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese starting from the beginning of the 17th century came from Congo and Angola. They worked on sugar cane and tobacco plantations all along the coast. Their linguistic and musical contribution to Brazilian culture is enormous (samba is one important example). In Bahia
however, the cultural aspects which arrived later from Benin and Nigeria and which gave rise to the Jêje-Nagô tradition are predominant and the most prestigious. This tradition was used as a model by many researchers and it had, and it still has, a dominant influence on the other "nations". The candomblé de Angola however, has been very little studied.
Despite the clear influence of the Jêje-Nagô model, the Angola tradition has many specific features and unexplored musical treasures.
Valdina Pinto, anthropologist and member of an Angola terreiro, defines her "nation" in the following way: "What we call today the candomblé of the Angola "nation" is a set of recreated and reorganised beliefs, rites and practices with its predominant cultural traits coming from the African regions which were part of the kingdom of Congo in the 15th and 16th centuries. This kingdom was composed of many other kingdoms, states and provinces of peoples from the Bantu linguistic group. The "Angola language", in other words the language of the Angola "nation" candomblé, is a set of terms mostly from the Kikongo and Kimbundu languages, but probably
also from their various dialects and fragments of other Bantu languages. This language and its vocabulary and expressions are used in the prayers and ritual songs" (Pinto, 1992).
The candomblé de Angola is thus distinguished by its language, songs and rhythms, which seem to have been particularly impermeable to Jêje-Nagô influences. Its link with the music of the candomblé de caboclo is more significant however, as can be seen from the cabula rhythm, which is close to the samba de caboclo, as well as the use of heptatonic scales in its songs.
The singing, mostly monodic, is divided between a soloist and chorus in one of two ways: antiphonal singing (the chorus repeats the line of the soloist) or responsorial singing (the chorus finishes the soloist's line).
The drums, played with the hands, are usually called ngoma or atabaques, and they are between 60 and 120 centimetres high. The barrels of the drums are made outside the community by artisans who supply the candomblé terreiros and the capoeira schools (stylised wrestling, probably of Bantu origin). The upper opening of the drum is covered with the skin of a kid sacrificed in honour of the gods. After a ritual baptism, the drums are ready to fulfil their liturgical function.
The basic rhythmic pattern is given by the metallic bell. This bell may be single (gã) or double (agogô). It is held in the hand and struck with a short metal rod.
The songs of the Angola "nation" are accompanied by three rhythms (toques) called
cabula, congo and barravento. Shown below are the bell parts which are the basis for
each of them (each rectangle represents one minimal unit, the black dots indicate the striking of the bell and the grey rectangles give the beat, which is determined by the dance steps):

Cycle of 16 minimal units with binary division.
This rhythm is sometimes called cabila or manjola.


Cycle of 16 minimal units with binary division.
This rhythm, which follows the characteristic clave scheme, is sometimes called
congo de ouro.


Cycle of 12 minimal units, with ternary division.
The asymmetry (5+7 or 7+5) which underlies this pattern bears witness to its
African origin.
These three rhythmic patterns are the basis for the parts played by the drums. The small drum (lê) and the medium drum (rumpi) each do an ostinato on the same rhythmic cycle as that of the bell. The large drum (rum) has greater rhythmic freedom, although it is subject to numerous ritual constraints which govern its use. According to tradition, only the most experienced drummer (alabê) can play it. His role is to direct the choreographic development of the initiates who are in a trance through the use of appropriate predetermined rhythmic sequences. The freedom and "improvisation" of the drummer is thus more in the choice of a given sequence at a particular moment rather than spontaneous creation of totally new sequences.
In these three rhythms, all of the instrumental
parts bring out an ambivalence which comes
from the tension between the metre and the
rhythm (contrametricity), a phenomenon which is characteristic of African and Afro-
American music.


The Tumba Junçara terreiro is the oldest place
of worship of the Angola tradition in the city
of Salvador. An initiate since her childhood,
Iraildes Maria da Cunha has been its spiritual
leader for eight years. Because of her prestige
and her excellent knowledge of the musical
repertoire, she is often called on to lead ritual
ceremonies at terreiros which are spiritually
affiliated with hers. This is the case for
Tumbenganga Junçara, founded by the pai de
santo ("father of saint" or spiritual leader of
the community) Renato dos Santos, where
this ceremony was recorded.
Every year there is a cycle of "feasts" in
honour of the various gods. Each of these
"feasts" is theoretically devoted to one particular
god, who is referred to as the dono da
festa ("patron of the feast"), although other
gods may also appear during the ceremony.
The ceremony takes place in the barracão, the
main room of the terreiro. It usually begins
between 9 and 10 in the evening, but the
necessary preparations begin the night before
and continue throughout the day. The barracão
is decorated for the occasion with the colours
of the dono da festa. The drums are also adorned
with cloth called ojá. The faithful and
visitors are divided on either side of the room,
with men and women in separate areas. The
drummers take their places in the area reserved
for the instruments. The ceremony can
now begin.


This "feast", the second of a cycle of three
ceremonies devoted to Gogombira, god of the
hunt, took place on the night of 27 to 28
March 1999. This live recording bears witness
to the songs and rhythms of the Angola
"nation", recorded in their ritual and festive

Call to the deities

This first part of the ceremony, usually called
xirê, pays homage to each of the deities in the
pantheon one by one and encourages them,
with a pre-set series of songs, to appear within
the ritual space of the barracão, the room in
which the ceremony takes place. Iraildes leads
the singing. The initiates enter the barracão in
single file and dance together in a circle led by
the "father of saint", the spiritual leader of the
community, using dance steps and gestures
which are specific to each of the deities invoked.
It is at the end of this phase of the ceremony
that the trances should occur.

1. Four songs for Insumbo

(congo and barravento rhythms)
Insumbo is the god of contagious diseases and
specifically smallpox. It is said that he only
appears covered from head to toe in straw as
his body is covered with sores. Greatly respected
and sometimes feared, he can punish by transmitting the illness or cure people of it. He
is linked to the earth and the cult of the dead.
2'34": Firecrackers and rockets accompany the
main phases of the ceremony (beginning of
xirê, entry into trance, arrival of the deities).
They have several functions: to ward off evil
spirits, to indicate to the neighbours that a
ceremony is being held, and to celebrate the
arrival of the gods. They are also set off at
dawn on the day preceding the "feast" during
the ritual sacrifices (matança).

2. Three songs for Tempo

(cabula and barravento rhythms)
The god Tempo has a special tie to Insumbo;
some say that they are brothers. The tree with
which Tempo is identified is called gameleira
branca (ficus religiosa). It corresponds to Loko
or Iroko in the Jêje-Nagô tradition. Herskovits
mentions that this tree-worship cult in Africa
is associated with the cult of ancestors. In
Bahia, each terreiro has such a tree in its courtyard,
and offerings are placed at the foot of
this tree. The ceremonies in his honour are
held outside the barracão.

3. Five songs for Bamburucena
(congo rhythm)

Bamburucena is the goddess of winds and
storms. She is the wife of Zazi, god of lightning.
Their equivalents in the Ketu tradition
are, respectively, Iansã and Xangô. Linked
with the cult of the dead, she is said to be the
only one who can face their spirits.

4. Six songs for Dandalunda

(cabula, barravento and congo rhythms)
Dandalunda is the goddess of beauty, streams
and rivers. She corresponds to Oxum, in the
Ketu and Ijexá "nations".
4'27": This last song, accompanied by the
congo rhythm, demonstrates the heterophonic
nature of the chorus. The monody is
"denatured" by the accumulation of voices
singing an imperfect unison, giving the melodic
line a richer sound texture.

5. Two songs for Kayala
(cabula rhythm)

In the Jêje-Nagô tradition, Yemanjá is the
goddess of the seas. The whole population of
the city of Salvador pays homage to her each
year on February 2, during a marvellous
community festival in which the boundaries
between the sacred and the secular disappear
in the general fervour and jubilation. In the
Angola "nation", Yemanjá is called Kayala,
the goddess referred to in the words of these
two songs.

6. Two songs for Gazumbá
(barravento rhythm)

Nanã is the oldest goddess of the Ketu pantheon.
She takes part, along with Oxalá, in
the creation of the world. Her equivalent in
the Angola pantheon is Gazumbá.
It is important to note that very often the
"angoleiros" (members of the Angola "nation"
congregations) use the Ketu names to refer to their own deities. This phenomenon, which
demonstrates the popularity and supremacy
of the orixás (Yoruba deities) among the
Bahian population, could be a threat to the
preservation of the Angola heritage.

7. Entry into trance

The xirê comes to an end. An elderly ogã
(honorific title reserved for men, and especially
musicians) then begins a song, called
cantiga de fundamento or chamada de santo,
which is intended to bring on a trance. The
entries into trance are accompanied by cheers
(1'33": "Kabiecilê!", homage to Zazi) and
exhortations from the members of the community.
This is a crucial moment in the
This first song (congo rhythm) is accompanied
by an instrument with a ritual function which
is also very important, the adjá. It is a bell
with internal clappers composed of two or
three cones of silver- or gold-plated sheet
metal joined by a handle of the same metal.
An iron clapper hangs in each cone. This bell
is sacred; in principle, only the head of the
community has the right to use it. Regarding
this instrument, Gisèle Cossard mentions: "It
gives a nervous clinking rhythm to all public or
private ceremonies. Its sound is usually sufficient
to put the initiates into trances. After it is used,
the adjá is carefully placed in front of the offerings.
Receiving an adjá from the hands of a
‘mother of saint’ and being allowed to ring it
during a ceremony is a rare honour which is
highly appreciated by the older initiates"
(Cossard, 1967). This instrument's power to
induce trances is no doubt due to its use
during initiation. During the period of reclusion,
the adjá is almost always present when
the novices go into a trance. It then becomes
a very effective auditory stimulus. In this
example, an older initiate rings the bell and
thus contributes to inducing trances. Renato,
the "father of saint", is now possessed by
Gogombira, god of the hunt.
3'02": The cry (ilá) indicates that a person has
been possessed by a deity. Each deity has a
specific cry. This one is from a woman possessed
by Zazi, the god of lightning.
3'06": This second song (cabula rhythm) is
used to lead the initiates in trances into a
secret room where they will be dressed in
their respective ritual costumes.
During the dressing of the deities, there is
some waiting time in the main room.
According to their mood and affinities,
Iraildes and the elderly ogã begin singing for
one or another of the various deities. If an initiate
goes into a trance, the deity will be made
to dance but without putting on a ritual

8. Two songs sung by the ogã
(cabula rhythm)

These two songs generally accompany the
entry of the deities into the barracão.

9. Two ritual songs
(barravento rhythm)

Songs paying homage to the deities, the first
started by Iraildes, the second by the ogã.

10. Two songs for Gogombira
(barravento rhythm)

Gogombira, the "patron of the feast", is also
the deity to whom Renato, the spiritual leader
of the community, is devoted.
Amalá, ritual offering of food for Zazi,
god of lightning
Amalá is a dish of Yoruba origin. In Bahia, it
is made from okra (quiabos) and manioc
flour. It is offered to the god Xangô, whose
equivalent in the Angola pantheon is Zazi.

11. Song for the arrival of Zazi
(barravento rhythm)

The initiate possessed by Zazi enters the barracão
with, on his head, a large wooden dish
containing the amalá. His entrance is cheered
by the entire community. The song (chamada
de santo), started by Iraildes, has great ritual
power. It is dedicated to Zazi.

12. Three songs for the sharing of the amalá

(congo rhythm)

These songs are preceded by a very loud cry
from Zazi. The cheering intensifies as the
food is distributed to the members of the
congregation. A collective fervour takes hold
and is fully expressed is the last song
(6'05": "Ô Zazi-ê, Ô Zazi-a, Ô Zazi-ê mayangolê

Dances of the deities
The deities come and dance among the
congregation in a collective exaltation blending
spirituality and sensuality. The drummers'
role is now all important. As
Gisèle Cossard states, "communication is
established directly from the drum which
vibrates to the deity who dances, from rhythm
to movement. Both come together. Cries of joy
are heard, firecrackers explode, an intense
fervour invades the community" (Cossard,

13. Two songs for the arrival of the deities

The deities (Gogombira, Dandalunda, Kayala
and Zazi) arrive in the barracão wearing the
costumes and ritual objects (ferramentas)
which characterise them. These two songs
give thanks to the deities for their presence
among the faithful.

14. Three songs for Nkosi
(congo rhythm)

In the Angola tradition, Nkosi (sometimes
spelled Inkossi) is the god of war and the
patron of blacksmiths. His equivalent in the
Ketu "nation" is Ogum. Although in this
case no one is possessed by Nkosi, these
three songs must be sung in homage to
Renato's spiritual leader, who was the "son"
of this deity.

15. Seven songs for Gogombira

Renato now dances in the middle of the barracão
to the cheers of those present. His gestures
mimic the postures of a hunter armed
with his bow. The second song, accompanied
by the barravento rhythm (1'54": "Caça na
Aruanda, Coroa, Oxossi é caçador, é Coroa"), is
almost exclusively in Portuguese. This is a
similarity with the songs for the caboclos, with
whom Oxossi (god of the hunt and "king" of
the Ketu "nation") and Gogombira have a
close relationship.
3'00": Three xirê songs, cabula rhythm.
5'42": barravento rhythm.
7'52": "Okê!", greeting for Gogombira, accompanied
by applause.

16. Four songs for Dandalunda
(ijexá rhythm)

It is Dandalunda's turn to dance, with grace
and sensuality, alone in the middle of the barracão.
These four songs from the Ketu repertoire
are now used by all of the candomblé
The ijexá rhythm used here is also the basis
for the music of carnival groups called
afoxés. It was popularised by the "Filhos de
Gandhi", a group founded in 1949 which
had a parade with more than 13,000 participants
in the streets of the city in February
1999. One of the founders of this group,
Negão Dony, also a well-known alabê, would
sing these songs during the parades. This
example is just one of many which illustrates
the influence of candomblé music on popular
music in Bahia.

17. Two songs for Kayala
(cabula rhythm)

Kayala dances, using her arms to mimic the
ocean waves.
2'20": "Odoiá!", greeting for Kayala.

18. Three songs for Zazi
(congo, barravento and cabula rhythms)

An elderly woman initiate sings three songs
dedicated to Zazi as he dances energetically in
the middle of the barracão.
1'22": Barravento rhythm; numerous cheers in
honour of the god of lightning.
3'04": Cabula rhythm. The deity "responds" to
the call of the song by a characteristic cry
3'54": Greetings for Zazi ("Kawo Kabiecilê!").
End of the ceremony
The deities present have finished dancing.
Iraildes now sings for Lemba, ancestral father
of all of the deities of the Angola pantheon,
because the end of any ceremony is always in
his honour (encerramento da festa).

19. Seven songs for Lemba

2'25": third song for Lemba (slow barravento). All
present sing with fervour. A woman is suddenly
possessed by Lemba. He walks very slowly, bent
under the weight of his years and wisdom.
5'35": two songs (slow congo), still for Lemba.

20. Two songs for the departure of the deities

During the first song, Lemba, covered with a
white veil held by the older initiates, leads the
cortege of deities who, one by one, prepare to
leave the barracão.
The deities now leave the room to the cheers
of all present (3'03") and the tempo accelerates
(3'28"). The final rhythm (4'06") allows
the drummers to demonstrate their enthusiasm
and virtuosity one last time.
It is now one o'clock in the morning. All present
now take part in the meal prepared with
great care by the initiates before the ceremony.

transl. by Frank Kane

Taken from