Edgar Azevedo


afropunk pirate ship sails salvador carnaval

February 25, 2020
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The Brazilian city of Salvador is the municipality with the highest percentage of Black people outside Africa — so it makes sense that its Carnaval parades, which took place this past weekend, would also be the Blackest in the country. This year Salvador’s Carnaval gained a new attraction, when AFROPUNK paraded a soundsystem truck known as Navio Pirata, or the “Pirate Ship.” On Saturday (February 22nd) Navio Pirata set sail with Afrocidade band, which plays a music known locally as pagode bahiano (or samba reggaeton), and asks people to “meter dança” (“shake your ass”). Sunday (February 23rd) was BaianaSystem’s turn on the ship, and they opened circles in the middle of the crowd for a “love moshpit,” inviting thousands of people to jump and dance together. Both bands play unapologetically Black music, and who, until then, rarely had space to do so during the Carnaval days in the city. But things are changing, right?

Afrocidade has played on various Carnaval stages through the years, but had not managed to feature on one of the popular soundsystem trucks that parade along the city’s ocean coastline, a primary Carnaval route that connects the Salvador neighborhoods of Barra to Ondina. “Being able to be part of AFROPUNK parade who have the same representation for Brooklyn as we have for Camaçari (BA), a place with several quilombos [communities of people of African origin] was special. It showed that we are similar movements who have joined forces together,” said Afrocidade vocalist José Macedo.

Like the globally renowned BaianaSystem — and like the singers Larissa Luz, Xênia França, and Luedji Luna, whose all-femme super-group Aya Bass was in a soundsystem truck right behind the AFROPUNK parade — Afrocidade is part of the new Black music scene creating a great Black movement at Salvador’s Carnaval. “We invaded their beachside, just as they usually invade the Black neighborhoods with their music,” said Macedo mischievously. Anyone who experienced Afrocidade’s debut on a trio electrico (Carnaval-speak for the moving floats-cum-soundsystem trucks on which musicians perform), would have been surprised that it was their first time, what with the dancing procession (a dozen-strong choreographed “ballet”) that surrounded the Pirate Ship. Though instead of the traditional rhythms and moves,  Afrocidade ushered in an era of more urban and contemporary dance.

Another huge highlight on the first night of the Salvador Carnaval was an appearance by Mano Brown, one of the most representative names from the Brazilian rap scene, whose rhythms and protest lyrics have penetrated the country’s Black communities. Brown had never played during Carnaval — and rarely plays in Salvador — so there was great public expectation at the rumor of his show (especially during this time of year). Mano joined Afrocidade for strong songs like “Nego Drama,” which talks about the difficulties of a Black man born and raised in a low-income community. He also played “Vida Loka,” a kind of Black history victory hymn. Brown is an icon of Brazilian Blackness and his performance was something apotheotic, especially with the Carnaval workers among the crowd, who  feel represented by these songs, like their voices are actually echoing through the streets. “I fell myself totally identified with AFROPUNK,” Brown said afterwards. “And the names involved, the fact that the festival will take place in Bahia — it is more special. Here, Brazil is more Brazil.” (AFROPUNK Bahia will be inaugurated in November 2020.)

Bringing these rhythms to Carnaval was, in many ways, a revolutionary act, since this is a party known for its strong commitment to Axé Music, songs to dance to, without the historical or political context. But there were numerous non-traditional choices on the Pirate Ship. Rapper Cronista do Morro represented its womxn, as did Afrocidade singer Fernanda Maia; while singer Afro Jhow brought songs from the Afro-group Muzenza, one of the city’s oldest and most enduring carnaval bands, performing samba reggae and honoring Bob Marley and Jamaica in their songs. 

On the second day, the BaianaSystem was the host of the party with its parade “Navio Pirata”, which sailed through the Black sea that became the “Barra-Ondina” circuit. Russo Passapusso, the band’s lead singer who’d also participated on the first day, opened several circles in the crowd, while singing hits like “Lucro,” which talks about the money-making machine (and the “guinea grass,” referring to colonial-era currency), and about the people’s diasporic connection. BaianaSystem has a legion of fans who are used to seeing them show up just before the carnival, and went to the circuit with a band mask and won personalized Afropunk bandanas. There was also participation by the Bahia Vanda rapper BNegão, and by Iracema Killiane, singer of the Afro group Ilê Aiyê, who stirred the audience with the successes of the oldest parades in Brazil.

There was a reason why AFROPUNK set forth the Pirate Ship here. “We chose Carnaval because it is one of the most important and popular events in Brazil. I could feel it when I participated last year. What I felt in Bahia was a connection with our ancestors. This made me understand how the possibilities are endless. For those who have been forced to leave and those who are returning home. We are powerful together, we reconnect with our brothers and sisters, or who change what everyone needs. We are more powerful together, ” said AFROPUNK founder Matthew Morgan who followed the party really proud.

The two days of trio electrico were, therefore, a teaser of what AFROPUNK will be in Salvador in November, contemplating a Blackness, Black communities, women, LGBTQIA+, dance and especially this new effervescent music scene in Bahia, without forgetting the new categories.