African Music Encyclopedia



photo of Olodum

Olodum play samba reggae (pronounced sam-ba heg-gay), the group grew out of the blocos afros (Black carnival associations) tradition begun in 1974 in Bahia. The Bahian Carnival Associations with their afoxe (pronounced ah-fo-shay) drum sections are similiar to Rio's samba schools, with many surdos (big bass drums of varying sizes) and repineques (smaller, high pitched drums) comprising the bulk of the rhythm section. The Bloco Afro, Olodum, was founded in 1979; five years later it turned itself into a grupo cultural when a black woman (for the first time in Salvador's history) became it's President. This ushered in a new era of Africanism in Salvador that broke with the colonial idea of 'negritude', which, of course, stemmed from the slave era.

Olodum consists of hundreds of players of varying ages and levels of skill, with the older, more experienced musicians constantly teaching young children the dances and rhythms of their heritage. Their music pays testimony to the recognition of traditional African music in their use of the many different percussion instruments, the rhythms, dances, costumes, decorations (body and otherwise), as well as the use of liturgical choral songs. Olodum finance their progress by producing instruments and costumes, not to mention T-shirts and CD's, that they sell throughout the world.

In 1988 Paul Simon recorded Olodum for his Rhythm of the Saints album. The group did not receive any money for their work because their President saw it as a cultural exchange. In the long run that was probably a wise idea, because it certainly exposed Olodum to the world and as a result they now tour widely as back-up instrumentalists or open for big acts. When Simon later made a video for Obvious Child the musicians and performers did received a fee, and they were paid royalties as well.

During the Bahia Carnival Olodum, along with such other afoxe blocos as Ara Ketu, Timbalada, Geronimo, and Filhos de Ghandi, parade in amazing costumes through the streets of Salvador on wild mobile floats, their music shouting out though the streets via loudspeakers. It's a sight and experience not to be missed.

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