(With the Last Generation of the Founding Fathers of Brazil’s Mightily Moving Music)
The Middle Passage was an argosy of human souls, and the primary endpoint of this argosy, in terms of rawest numbers, was the Baía de Todos os Santos, the ironically named Bay of All Saints, in Bahia, Brazil. More people were landed in bondage here than were so landed anywhere else throughout the entire history of mankind upon planet earth.
These people — brought to work the region’s sugarcane plantations — built upon what they’d brought within them from Africa and created — under the harshest conditions imaginable — what is arguably the at-once most spiritually and physically uplifting music ever heard.
An oft repeated story told in this region goes like this: “A slave once said to his master, ‘You have conquered us, but our culture will conquer yours.'”
And it has. These people’s music, and more importantly, the humanity behind this music, is what defines Brazil today in the eyes of the world.
But while the primordial music of the United States — the blues and early jazz — is known everywhere and played worldwide, the primordial music of vast and iconic Brazil is almost completely unknown outside of the villages where it is still played: the villages dotted around the Great Bay, witness — like the Mississippi River — to so much destruction and death, creation and life, indomitable human spirit…
Now is the time of this music’s Last Generation, the last of the Founding Fathers who grew up without electricity, without radios and record players, who learned their music from their forefathers in a direct line stretching back to the first Africans in Brazil. These people are at their youngest in their seventies and when they are gone so will have passed a historical epoch which will never, ever return.
A Numinous Night on the Bay of All Saints is not so much as show as a window into a disappearing life. It features two amazing artists, one known only to cognoscenti, the other known to every Brazilian who was old enough to listen to the radio, buy records and watch television in 1980. This latter is Raimundo Sodré, who rose from obscurity to immediate stardom, his music blasting from radios ranging from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the jungles of the Amazon. Only to have his career smashed and be forced into exile under threat of death during Brazil’s dictatorship.
The former is João do Boi — John of the Ox — hero to true insiders including Sodré himself. João was raised in a quilombo, a village founded by runaway slaves. He represents the purest, most African strain of Brazilian music, the Source.
Together João and Raimundo, through the telling of their own stories and the exposition of their music, played and danced to by themselves and the people of João’s village…set out and illuminate one of the most important stories of Brazil itself.
A story that rises even beyond this place and these people to everywhere human beings struggle profoundly for their lives, for their sense of dignity, for their self-worth, and for their identity.
Viva! means Live! (as in “Life is to live!”) And that’s what this production is all about.
Below: Raimundo Sodré in 1980
Below: João do Boi and family and friends in his village of São Braz, Bahia, Brazil