Mulheres de Axé (Women of Axé) is a short documentary–with English subtitles–about the Bahian women of Candomblé and their roles in leading the community, keeping their culture alive, and being at the forefront of the struggle against religious intolerance and discrimination from evangelicals. The video features many of the same women featured in another documentary called Cidade das Mulheres (City of Women) which goes deeper into the exploration of the topic of race and gender and reveals Afro-Bahian women as leaders, cultural sustainers, and the heart and soul of Salvador.
In 1959 the film Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro), an updated tale of the Greek legend Orpheus and Eurydice, was released. The film was set in a Rio de Janeiro favela during Carnaval, and brought Afro-Brazilian life to the attention of film audiences due to its vibrant depiction of Rio’s favelas and the film’s sophisticated portrayal of Afro-Brazilian spirituality, sensuality, and poetic lyricism. For most audiences outside of Brazil, Black Orpheus was their first awareness of Black people living in South America.
The film, starring an all Black cast, went on to become an international success, winning both an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. Over the past fifty years, many Brazilian films such as City of God and Favela Rising have increased the visibility of Afro-Brazilians in film.
Iyabá, meaning “Queen Mother” in Yoruba, is a term given to all feminine orixás in Candomblé, such as Iansã (Oyá), Oxúm, and Yemanjá. During the first and second week of December these deities, along with their Catholic counterparts are celebrated.
Every December 4, thousands of Bahians attend mass and make carurus (a typical Bahian dish, of African origin, made with okra, dried shrimp, and spices) in honor of Saint Barbara and Iansã, considered to be among the most highly revered divinities in Bahia. She is the protector of firemen and the patron saint of the markets. In Candomblé, Iansã is a warrior woman who brings sudden changes and transformation. She fights with Xangô (orixá of thunder), and represented in nature as lightning, wind, and storms. Nowadays, the celebrations last 3 days and begin with the mass in the Church Nossa Senhor do Rosário dos Pretos, in Pelourinho, where the image of St. Barbara is displayed. From there, a procession is led throughout the streets of the center, passing in front of the firemen headquarters. At the end of the religious festival, the traditional caruru is given out and the celebration continues to the rhythms of samba and capoeira.
On December 8, Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia (Our Lady of Conception) is the patron saint of Bahia and celebrated at the beach. Both Oxúm (the orixá of love, prosperity, sweetness, and represented by the river and waterfalls) and Yemanjá (the orixá of motherhood, rebirth, creation, and represented in nature by the beach and the sea) are associated with the celebrations. On November 30, devotees pray for nine consecutive evenings at the Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceição and close their prayers with a mass and procession. At the vicinity of the Mercado Modelo (Model Market) the party continues with typical Bahian food and music.
On December 2, National Samba Day celebrates one of most significant musical rhythms for Brazilian culture and is commemorated with public shows of famous musicians in the historical center of Salvador. The National Day of Samba came about as the initiative of one councilman from Bahia, Luis Monteiro da Costa, to pay tribute to the Brazilian composer Ary Barroso. Barroso had already composed his first hit called Na Baixa do Sapateiro, an ode to the city of Salvador even though he had never set foot in Bahia at the time. December 2nd was the date he visited Salvador for the first time and the party was spread throughout Brazil and became a national samba celebration.
Brazilian Popular Music – also known by its acronym MBP, has several musical genres, like marcha, canção, baião, xaxado, embolada, frevo, etc…The most remarkable, although, and which became the mark for singing and dancing in Brazil is the Samba. Samba resulted from the first African samba de rodas in Bahia in the end of 16th century and the beginning of 17th and was later combined with lundu, polka, habanera, tango, and maxixe. Furthermore, throughout centuries, Afro-Brazilians in Bahia would have dancing parties that were also called samba. From 1538 to 1888, enslaved Africans came from different nations and tribes, in which cultures were different one from each other. Therefore, their various habits and customs had influence in Brazilian art and culture becoming part of the Brazilian Popular Music and Carnaval.
Bahia’s “old aunties” (such as Tia Ciata), who moved to Rio de Janeiro, planted the seed of the samba in the neighborhoods near the center of the city. Moreover, in the 20th century, by mixing profane and religious festivals with song and dance for both pleasure and for faith, the “aunties” started the development of samba players who grew in number and popularity through the 1920’s and beyond.