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Afro Brazilian Dance

Dandha Da Hora will be teaching Afro Brazilian dance classes at Kosmos Camp.

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Today Brazil has the largest population of African origin outside of Africa, estimated at 90 million people.

Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began trading slaves from the West African and Central African regions of Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Angola, Congo and Mozambique. An estimated four million people, thirty seven percent of all the captured Africans forced into slavery, were settled in Brazil to work in the sugar plantations and mining industry. Slavery was the foundation of the Brazilian economy until 1888 when slavery was legally abolished.

As with all great migrations, the Africans that arrived in Brazil not only brought over their strength and beauty but also their music and cultural traditions. Their cultural traditions would inevitably blend with the Portuguese and Amerindian customs, to produce a unique cultural manifestation of its own.

The most famous of Afro Brazilian dance traditions is Carnaval. In the 1600’s the Portuguese imported the practice of staging masquerade balls to Brazil. It did not take long for this annual celebration that takes place 40 days before Easter, became infused with African and Amerindian practices.  Over the years Carnaval has evolved into a festive atmosphere featuring costumes, floats and drum squads known as blocos. For four days Carnaval unites thousands gyrating dancers to a samba beat. Samba is not only the official music and dance of Carnaval, but is also a linguistic remnant of the Africans in Brazil. The word samba means to dance and invoke the African spirits. Since the 1600’s Brazilian Carnaval has captured the imagination of the entire world. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SAMBA DANCE

The cultural influence of Afro-Brazilians has consistently expanded from Carnaval into mainstream pop culture. In 1959 the film Black Orpheus, an updated tale of the Greek legend Orpheus and Eurydice, was released. The film was set in a Rio de Janeiro favela during Carnaval. The film brought Afro-Brazilians 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. To contextualize the impact of the film, one should consider the representation of African-Americans in Hollywood films circa 1959, to fully realize the contrast in tone and narrative.

In the late 1960’s an unusual confluence of art, music and politics merged into the art movement known as Tropicalia. The Tropicalia Movement thrived on the philosophy of ‘cultural cannibalism’, which was based on blending influences from all genres to create something new. In effect young artists began combining poetry, rock and roll, and Afro Brazilian dance performance to critique the political oppression of the Brazilian dictatorship. Two of the most outspoken musical forces behind Tropicalia, were Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Due to their consistent critique of the government and their growing popularity, the two artists were considered to be a threat to the government. Consequently both artists were incarcerated and later exiled to London.

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The Moviemento Negro as it was known as, was the equivalent of the Black Pride Movement in the U.S. At the forefront of the movement was Ile Aiye, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Afro-Brazilian culture and social empowerment in Brazil. Ile Aiye literally burst onto the public radar in 1974, when their all Black carnival band became the first group to desegregate the Rio Carnaval Parade. Today Ile Aiye is one of the most recognized Afro Brazilian cultural organizations and carnival bands in the Americas.  Kosmos Camp instructor Dandha Da Hora was a member of this prestigious organization.

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