Congados e Folia de Reis - Nova Almeida, Espírito Santo

Ribbons on hats, on banners, on flagpoles along the streets. With each step the brincantes take around the region of Nova Almeida - located in the Vitória region, the capital of Espírito Santo state – they teach us about that which keeps the singing in tune: faith.

So, every January the march and the voices tune in to repeat more than four hundred and sixty years of festivities that have named the place, and are also reasons for celebration: the Three Wise Men and the Church and Residency founded by Jesuit priests, now listed as part of Brazil’s heritage with the Institute for Historical and Artistic Heritage (Iphan).

The processions and songs are reminiscent of the Christian story about three kings who offered gifts to baby Jesus on the occasion of his birth: on the original version, they follow a rising star; in Nova Almeida, they go from door to door enchanting the nights of so many locals that pride themselves in the dates marked by songs their families have known for generations.

“Hey, pretty girl

Come to the window

She flirts with me,

I flirt with her.”

Song by the “São Benedito e São Sebastião Nova Almeida” Congo Band

Others join the simple men converted into Catholic Magi by the festivities: the imposing Kings of Congo, an overseas tradition for a Brazil whose beginnings are seeded in African soil. Local elders say enslaved Africans who arrived on those shores in the 1850s told the story of how they survived sinking in the ocean due to the kindness of a saint, also black, who kept them holding on to the ship’s mast.

Saint Benedict, they later learned, deserved a party. Drum rolls and embroidered banners, the main color is that of the patron saint: the city is dressed in pink. The evenings of celebration start with a reenactment of those men’s stifling: it is the hauling of the mast held by so many hands with the saving grip of faith.

Today, many Congo bands sing about the same story to the rhythm of instruments enchanted by daily life: the coats in the hands of adults and kids are scraped percussions instruments with heads and necks, simulating a human body. These are the sounds of resilience and ingenuity: it’s the Afro-Brazilian way of beautifying truth with elements from nature.

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