A Journey to Africa in Brazil

After a Great, but short love luck in 1981, when I met a beautiful Brazilian female dancer at the Internationale Tanzwerkstatt in Bonn - Germany, where I used to work at this time as a rhythm conductor for all kinds of dances, I met my old love again on internet in 2008.
We renewed our interest in each others and met again at Frankfurt airport, where she arrived short time after we phoned first after 27 years.
She stayed with me for some weeks and invited me by the time she was leaving again for Brazil to come over to her to Salvador da Bahia.
In August 2008 I took a plane to Bahia and what I found there you will find in this note.

To start at the very beginning, I loved Brazilian music since I was a kid… I started to play those rhythms relatively late, at the age of 18. And - this seems to be our European malus - I learned to play those rhythms straight to our music system. That means in quarter notes, eight notes, sixteenth and so on.
Funny enough!
No African musician and no Brazilian drummer educated in these traditional ways would think in those categories.
They learn music and rhythms by the sounds of it, not by the script!

But at the time I was looking for my ethno-drummer achievement, there were quite less original Brazilian rhythms around Germany.

What you were going to hear by that time was just a little Bossa Nova, originally played by Jobim and Joao Gliberto and horrible Samba Marches from James Last and his Party -Crackers…

You did not have the chance to hear that genuine Brazilian "Ballancado" or "Ballancao" Groove. That waving rhythm, adopted from Africa, sometimes a little late and then a little to fast again, so that this basic rhythm pulse always stayed stabile and steady at the outside, nevertheless the inner wave is circling and circling…

So it took me many, many years to find out the secret grooves of the Samba rhythms, because even my adored US musicians, who dominated the fusion scene of the 70ties, which I tried to imitate by that time, did not have this special feeling by playing Samba.

Finally at the beginning of the eighties, when I got the job at the Internationale Tanzwerkstatt in Bonn, I had the chance to see and work with original African and Brazilian musicians. There I got to know those rhythmic specifications. And I learned a lot of the spiritual effects ethno rhythms use to have. These rhythms are believed to create mental powers, to heal insanities and to speak to each others.

But years again had to come to pass until I could play in that way…
Even my "Intermezzo de Amour" with the Brazilian Lady could not speed up my slow learning talent…
And another fact: With whom can you play original Brazilian stuff in Germany?
Even in this new Millenium you can't find many people around your hometown to play original Samba with.
So I was just electrified to visit Salvador in 2008, to hear this music there and to participate to their tropical way of life.
Thinking of the many dimensions of rhythms in Northern Brazil changed already my flight into a mental experience. I daydreamed of grooves like "Maracatu", "Baiao", "Frevo", "Samba" with all its variations, "Partido Alto" - the inverted Samba and of "Batucadas" with artificial breaks and unisono patterns. And much faster as I could expect I got there.

I arrived at the airport, my girl friend picked me up and short time after we were in the middle of that cultural whirl pool Salvador da Bahia.
This city is divided in an upper and a lower part. The historic upper part of the city is mostly crowded with people during the time of the festivals. When I came there, a huge percussion band was playing with all those diverse drum instruments like there are: caixa (Sanre), repinique (small tomtom), tamborim (very small one headed drum), surdo (bassdrum), pandeiro (rattle drum), cuica (a small single headed drum with a rod inside connected to the underside of the drumhead. The special drumsound comes from pulling the rod with a wet cloth) and many bells, called ago-gos. Additional to all those drums they had a variety of shakers, called afoxe, caxixi, xaque-xaque and ganza.

Immediately the magic of this music filled up our hearts, made us dancing and clapping and prepared us for our easy way of living. Yeah, the first cut is the deepest, as you may say and the first impression is often the first step to an "affinidade" - a love affair with a country!

But- even the good times are bad - or as you may say: great light deserves much shade.
Most historic buildings of that city, now admired by the tourists, were built by the blood of thousands of slaves, who were captured in Africa until the end of the 19th century.
Salvador was the first main harbour on the way from Africa to Brazil. And to speak about climate, Salvador was the most important place to ship the slaves there to start their work at the sugarcane, coconut, coffee, cacao and cotton farms of their white business masters.

So Salvador was the biggest melting pot of coloured and white people in Brazil.
Yes, they took their culture with them.
The Hispanic and the Portuguese people, the black victims from Angola - the Batuque tribes for instance - therefore the name "Batucada" for Percussion music, the captured from the Congo, from Nigeria, Dahomey, Niameh, the Ivory Coast and nameless others from all parts of the common world.

To speak about rhythm - it's on the highest level one can imagine. To speak about music - it is very pure and comes right from the heart, but different to most of African music traditions, it is mixed up with European melodies and European musical know how.
Brazilian songs are intellectual as well and very sophisticated in harmonies and words.
To speak about paintings -they are completely unique; the mixture of so many cultures inside of pictures or sculptures or modern buildings…
All in all an unbelievable treasure chest!

But to speak about the economic situation of 85 percent of the Brazilians- it is chaotic, horrible and produces a whole lot of crime all over the country.
Salvador has grown during the last 25 years up to a many million people city. Most of the new inhabitants are workless, poor and have no perspective of their future.
So you shall not go out in the evening to special parts of the city, not even by car. My girlfriend was robbed two times in a year by waiting at a traffic light of a crossroad inside of her car. First time she lost her money, second time she lost her car!

Brazil is one of the countries with unbelievable disrespects of their human beings. There is a minority of men, who has everything you can imagine and has also all the power and the force to keep it the way it is and on the other hand you have the millions and millions of poor, of workless, of slave like people living in shacks, in caves or just on the streets.
Brazil is a very rich country with enough resources for everyone, but none of the rich is willing to share with the poor…

I think there must be a change coming. I hope in a peaceful way. But sometimes it looks more like a soon oncoming civil war.
Abraham Lincoln, I think, once said: "You can fool somebody sometimes, but you cannot fool everybody all the time!"
My impression was: The patience of the poor is going to vanish this time. And you can wait to see the box of Great Pandora opened by the frustration of millions of futureless Brazilians.

The other mystic adventures in Brazil are the religion adoptions. The God feared people were mixing Ethno and Christian traditions together to a melting mixture of incredible dimensions.
Well, there is music all around their religious deals, great music. Fascinating rhythms are performed at their Candomble and Macumba rites and so on.

The blacks took over their traditional gods from Africa like Ogun, Xango and Babaluayeh, for example and mixed their old sacred rites up with these Christian ceremonies, learned by or were forced on them by the Catholic preachers. So we find old African rites performed to the memory of the Christian saints like virgin Maria, Santa Claus, Lazarus, St.Peter and so on.

And some of their old gods are known today by their African names, others got Brazilian expressions like Oxala, Obaluayeh and the numberless Orixas…
And every little or Great spirit has its own special dedicated rhythm. Wow!

Normally I would just admire the music played at those events and everything else I would declare for "SimSalabim", but I personally witnessed magical happenings, that made me speechless and bare of explanations.

My girlfriend took me with her to a ceremony of a god commanding all waters inside of the rivers and lakes around that places, I do not have the chance now to remember his name.

As we arrived there, many believers were standing around with crowns of flowers in their hands. The waters were just completely calm and motionless. Then the moment came when all spectators were throwing their flowers into the water and immediately the river seemed to grow, the waters looked for some seconds like they were boiling, all flower crowns seemed to get pulled down to the bottom of the river.
Just a few seconds of motion…, after that everything seemed to look very calm like before.
My friend told me, all will be well again, because this god has taken all the sacrifices of the people and helps us along with his good vibrations…

I did not know what to say, I did not know how to say anything. I was a witness to a miracle. There were no alligators inside of that river, no hippopotamus was crawling along under water, no fishes would like eating flowers for lunch or dinner and no mammals were ever seen in this part of America! So what?

A bit insecure of the belongings of my scientific education, I went away from this place of those mystic water powers.

The day already changed from afternoon to evening and on our way home my girlfriend asked me, if I would believe in unknown flying objects and outer space invaders.
I looked at her if she maybe was sunburned in her mind and told her, that one water wonder would be enough for one day. But she insisted that on our way home we could come to pass an area were Ufos were often sighted.
"Okay", I agreed a bit ironic, "if you think so, let us try this nonsense too!"

I did not know what to expect. Normally I get bored very quickly by talking about those "mind fucks", but after today I was no more quite the same as I used to be before. So I looked forward to a maybe new spectacle and to an ET - wonder!?

We went to a restaurant for dinner and waited after that a few hours more until my friend dropped her head onto mine and said now it would be the time to meet our guests from outer space…
I asked her how many times she had eye contact to these "people" and she told me, that she uses to see them at least twice a month at different places around Salvador and also at other places in Brazil.
I could not believe what I heard. My face was a whole smile, a bit arrogant maybe, because I looked at me as a sophisticated European, who just believed what science was proofing during the past.
But she smiled back and told me to wait with my comments until I was going to know more about the next miracles.

So we drove offside the main road a few miles until we reached lonely places with huge fields of wheat or grain. A fine place to watch, if there is something you can watch by.
We were waiting for almost two hours and nothing happened. We listened to many Brazilian songs she had on her CD player and by the moment we decided to go home, there were lights flashing on the sky. Four, five fast lights all over the sky. Ten times faster than the fastest human airplanes, I had ever seen, raced from the left part of the sky to the right one. My girlfriend felt in a certain way of trance, jumped out of the car and was running straight to the direction of the lights, which now stood stabile on the sky like on a parking meter.
One of them, I do not lie, sent a big steady flash down to earth, that remembered me on the beam light of the TV movie "Raumschiff Enterprise". I nearly could not believe what was going on. I run out of the car to catch the woman again and told her to be patient and to get back with me inside of the car. We both were overwhelmed by the things going on around us.
After sometime, I don't know how long it was, the lights went away as fast as they appeared before.

Until today I don't know what it was. Did I witness traditional water gods? Did I see invaders from other planets racing with their space shuttles at enormous speed on our skies?

Or was it just some kind of madness jumping over from naïve people to sophisticated Europeans?
I don't know! Those were my adventures in Brazil.
Besides of them the music was terrific, the rhythms were a Great experience and the musicians were fantastic performers and most of them beautiful people with great hearts and souls.

Now it comes here to recommend some books for learning the Brazilian rhythm stuff.

First I recommend the book of Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseka:

Published by Manhattan Music

Secondly the book of a German Enthusiast, named Helge Rosenbaum:

Published by Leu-Verlag

And at last my book:

Pubilshed also by Leu-Verlag

This book is not especially dedicated to Brazilian rhythms, although there is a big chapter for playing Batucadas, Sambas, Maracatus and so on. The essence of this book is a show down of the most popular global rhythms and the traditional dances, which were developed during the last centuries at many different places of our world.

Best regards from
Joachim Fuchs-Charrier