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Africa in Brazil: How Ilê Aiyê Brought Blackness to Salvador's Carnival

Salvador's carnival, once a white-only event, was reclaimed by black Brazilians looking to celebrate their African heritage.

Those unfamiliar with the Ilê Aiyê (pronounced e-lay ah-ay) group, might assume its members come from Nigeria or Benin. The headdresses the women wear could be found at a Nigerian wedding. The cloth of their costumes sport the bright colors typical of wax cloth. The music is driven by just drums. But few people in this group have ever visited Africa.


Ilê Aiyê was the first Afro-Bloco carnival group in Salvador and in the last 44 years, it has helped black people across Brazil to reclaim their African heritage in a positive way. Of the city's 3 million residents, more than 80 percent identify as black. Their heritage is a legacy of Brazil's transatlantic slave trade, which brought more than 2 million Africans to the coasts of Brazil.

Although Salvador, Brazil is a majority-black city, its mainstream carnival had evolved into an event for whites by the 1970s. Back then, as it is today, Salvador's carnival was dominated by blocos that followed moving sound systems—trio-electricos. White Brazilians danced to these trio-electricos while black Brazilians held a cord around them to prevent poor people from entering their space.

Image by Rosilda Cruz/ Secult BA

At the time, it was considered dangerous to create a carnival group that exalted blackness and only included blacks. The dictatorship always squashed any efforts by blacks to organize against racism. But this didn't stop a circle of black friends, who, while coming back from a day at the beach, decided to create a carnival group with just black people—Ilê Aiyê.

“We're helping black people build their self-esteem," said Vovô do Ilê, the leader and one of the founders of the Ilê Aiyê carnival group.

Vovô and 100 other friends created Ilê Aiyê in time for 1975's carnival. During that year, they dressed in red, yellow and white fabric and paraded throughout Salvador to the song of Que Bloco é Esse - What is this bloco? For the following year, the group chose a theme—the Tutsi people of Rwanda. Since then, Ilê Aiyê has honored more than 20 African and Caribbean countries during carnival. This year, the group will celebrate 100 years of Madiba: Nelson Mandela.

Ilê Aiyê was born in a house of the Candomblé Afro-Brazilian religion. The mother of Vovô, Mother Hilda, reigned as the Candomblé priestess of the Ilê Axé Jitolu candomblé house until her death in 2009. So the influence of the Afro-Brazilian religion on the cultural group is very strong. It can be heard in the rhythms of the drum section and the lyrics of the songs. Even the name Ilê Aiyê comes directly from Yoruba—the roots of Candomblé. Ilê Aiyê generally means the "Black World" by black Brazilians. To this day, the Ilê Aiyê has the most members of any Afro-Bloco who practice the Candomblé religion.

Image by Juliana Gabriela/ Turismo Bahia

In those early years, Ilê Aiyê fine-tuned its identity. That identity eventually came to define the genre of the Afro-Bloco: A Yoruba name exalting blackness. A large drum section providing the musical foundation; Songs whose lyrics promoted Brazil's African heritage; Fantasias made of a fabric highlighting the year's theme. In 1979 the Afro-Bloco fever spread to the north of Salvador. Black Brazilians in Itapuã created the Afro-Bloco Malê de Balê, which paid homage to the African Muslims who led the greatest revolt against slavery in Brazilian history. Blacks in the center of Salvador created Olodum, an Afro-Bloco that Michael Jackson made popular in his video "They Don't Care About Us." Today there are more than a dozen Afro-Blocos in Salvador and their music, dance and fashion are the foundation of Salvador's "black" carnival. Black communities in cities all over Brazil and the world have also created Afro-Blocos.


Image by Juliana Gabriela/ Turismo Bahia

White beauty has always been the standard in Brazil, so much that even today it's rare to see dark-skinned women fronting advertising campaigns or winning beauty pageants. From the beginning, Ilê Aiyê always promoted dark-skinned black women as beautiful, and divine. In 1979 Ilê Aiyê held it's first Beleza Negra beauty pageant to choose a Deusa de Ebano "Black Goddess" who would reign as the queen of the bloco.

"Ilê Aiyê is showing us our beauty and our importance," said Jessica Nascimento, 19, the winner of this year's Beleza Negra beauty pageant. "We don't even recognize this ourselves."

Image courtesy of Odú Comunicação.

This year the pageant celebrated its 39th edition with 16 women competing. In a program lasting four hours, contestants are judged on their representation of the year's theme and how well they dance. Nascimento will represent Ilê Aiyê during carnival and in concerts across Brazil and the world.

"We see black women being represented as a goddess," Nascimento said. "Black women aren't in these places where they are the protagonist. Ilê Aiyê brings a social and political conscious to the table in addition to the beauty."

The highlight of the beauty pageant is when each competitor dances the Black Goddess dance. In this dance, competitors show what they are feeling through the dance.

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Watch "How Ilê Aiyê Brought Blackness Back to Carnival" above.

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Ethiopia's New Cabinet is Made Up of 50 Percent Women

The move is the latest sweeping change made under "reformist" Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's leadership.

In an unprecedented move towards gender inclusion within the Ethiopian government, the country's lawmakers have announced a new cabinet made up by 50 percent women.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who has been described as a reformist, due to landmark changes that have occurred under his leadership—made the announcement on Tuesday. "Our women ministers will disprove the old adage that women can't lead," he said in Parliament. "This decision is the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa."

During the speech he also stated that "women are less corrupt than men," reports BBC Africa.

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Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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Belgium's First Black Mayor Is a Congolese Immigrant

Pierre Kompany, who came to Belgium from the DRC as a refugee in 1975, was elected mayor of a Brussels borough this week.

Pierre Kompany, a Congolese immigrant and father of professional football players Vincent and Francois Kompany, has been elected mayor of the Ganshoren borough in Brussels, BBC reports.

This is a history-making moment, as this victory makes Kompany Belgium's first black mayor.

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