Album

Maracatu Nação

Alfaia, Conguê, Caixa, Tarol, Ganzá, Atabaque, Agbê! Through the streets of Recife and Olinda, there go the instruments with thumping choreographies that would get anyone’s energy dancing. For those just listening in, it sounds like a musical style. But those who have come closer already know: it is magic.

The story of the first procession with black kings and queens making sounds on the streets of Pernambuco state dates back to the 18th century: Maracatus ! Now celebrated as part of Brazil’s intangible heritage, those involved in the festivities were once persecuted, and suffered under prejudice and violence during the first centuries of the parades. For the chant of their Orixás to dominate the streets, Afro-Brazilians had to go beyond persistence.

Parading through the streets, a Maracatu is formed by a court and a percussion section. A banner with the Nation’s name emerges at the front, and then come the king and queen and their subjects. Watchful eyes will see: there’s always a woman holding a doll dressed in flashy fabrics. She is the Dama do Paço, an essential character in Maracatu. It is this female figure who carries the Calunga her hands: a doll that watches over that sacred people’s Axé, a protective charm forbidden for anybody else to touch. The Yabás, dressed in the traditional attire worn by women from Bahia state, dance as if their terreiros were spilling out all over the city.

“Eparrêi!”

Salutation to the Orixá Iansã

It takes months to reach harmony in Baque Virado: a strong and fast-paced percussion, marked by large drums, a rhythm that has also leant its name to Maracatu Nação (Maracatu Nation). Early each year, the Nations get together for public rehearsals, rituals in preparation for the Carnival celebrations. Along with the Nations, Bois and Caboclinhos also make up the soundtrack that echoes through the streets of Pernambuco state. In 2015, one of the enchantments parading through Recife’s streets was Boi de Maracatu de Arcoverde. The group started out as something playful for the city’s children, enacting the history of Boi Bumbá to the rhythm of Baque Virado, and soon became one of the main attractions of Pernambuco’s Carnival celebrations.

If the daytime rehearsals are for warming up the drums and the spectators, the evenings are dedicated to the ancestors. Monday is the ‘day of souls’, and if it is Carnival, it is the evening of the Silent Drums: a night to remember all those years when black slaves couldn’t beat the drums to express their faith and history, when they would walk hidden with muffled drums.

Since 1968: first, the Maracatu Nations perform; at midnight, the lights go off and the spectators go silent. The Maracatu leaders bring lit torches to the church’s door, some voices praise Nossa Senhora do Rosário, and the drums beat for Xangô.

“Kawô!”

Salutation to Xangô

There were twenty-five Maracatu Nations on February 9th, 2015. Leão Coroado - founded in 1863 and now has one hundred and forty-five uninterrupted years of rhythm – left from the Águas Compridas neighborhood under the guidance of Mestre Afonso: with the drum section in red and white and the same macaúba instruments made by Luís da França, a son of Xangô and one of the most important Maracatu Masters in the history of these Nations. Raízes de Pai Adão also brought its Axé and drums to celebrate this year’s honoree: the babalorixá and juremeiro Pai Edu, founder of Palácio Iemanjá at Alto da Sé in Olinda, who passed away in 2011.

Silence and candles in memory of the oppression years. Colors and drums for Orixás and Masters: Maracatu has spread all over the world through the beat of the alfaias. It’s worth remembering the hands of those who brought the baques to the streets and attuned so many of the resistances of Pernambuco’s black population.

“There’s no better instrument than the body.”

Naná Vasconcelos

From 2002 through 2016, the rehearsals have been conducted by Master Naná Vasconcelos: eight-time winner of the Grammy award for the world’s best percussionist who directed the opening of Pernambuco’s Carnival during these fifteen years. A wise man in tune with the Sacred, some might say Naná felt that, after making Brazil heard throughout the world, he needed to lead the drums of his homeland during his last years of Carnival. In March 2016, Naná’s body, one of the most potent instruments in Recife, fell silent.

But if there is something that Maracatu history can teach, it is that a beat never dies. Even when time seems to turn into silence, an alfaia will connect the ground to the stars and, in thrills, a boy and his drum will listen to the tune of a berimbau as an invitation to keep the procession moving.

ritual

Noite para os Tambores Silenciosos de Olinda

15min45

ritual

Noite para os Tambores Silenciosos de Olinda

15:45

ritual

Noite para os Tambores Silenciosos de Recife

12min00

ritual

Noite para os Tambores Silenciosos de Recife

12:00

outtake

Boi Maracatu de Arcoverde

10min26

outtake

Boi Maracatu de Arcoverde

10:26

outtake

Naná & Os Maracatus

04min45

outtake

Naná & Os Maracatus

04:45

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