The rhythm of the saints

Tags: Bahia, Brazil, Olodum, resistance, Caetano Veloso, Salvador, Filhos de Ghandy, Pelhourino, modernity, Grupo Olodum, cultural activities, flows, liminal space, Africa, physical context, cultural resistance, Salvador, Bahia, power circuits, symbolic significance, visited tourist spot, Paul Simon, governance structures, Bob Marley, London, Nationalism, Pelhourino Centro Histrico de Salvador, Gideon Rosa, Sociological Theory, References Anderson, latin carnival, trios, Reflexivity, Fundaco Culturaldo Estado da Bahia, The Rhythm of the Saints, institutional spaces, cultural movements, escola de samba, Olodum, Casa de Olodum, Stewart Clegg
Content: The Rhythm of the Saints by: Stewart Clegg Introduction Reflexivity isn't what it used to be. Reflexivity, no longer the preserve of a largely formalist, formulaic and limited theoretical conversation, is, according to Lash and Urry (1994) a property of a system of flows. Created and recreated in these flows are spaces and signs, significations and semiotics, symbols and mobile subjects and objects moving through circuits of power framed by meaning, space and time. The critical variable in meaning is reflexivity: some subjects are able to be more acutely reflexive than others because of specific configurations of space and time which flow through them. Flows channel through institutional spaces characterized by different 'governance structures'. Institutional spaces are both regionally and organizationally elaborated through space and time by different constitutions of meaning-governance structures. Regionally, some are thickly fabricated by multifarious flows channelling through contiguous nodes, such as the capital cities of the postmodern world. Others are spaces from which flows retreat or remain absent in a vicious circle that empties out life chances thus contained: the ghettoes of the UK and the USA, the wastelands of Eastern Europe. Within the saturated spaces of rich flows governance is less by either market or hierarchies and more by either or both of these being embedded in networks. Many flows are risky as organization power circuits stretch and spill beyond the capacities for reflexive monitoring and management that they are inscribed within. At risk are embodied selves seeking to manage whatever circumstances they are in, circumstances of escalating existential uncertainty. Reflexivity, in thick circuits, defines these states increasingly in aesthetic terms, in both work, where design and symbolic manipulation overtake traditional labour processes, and in play, where subjects check in and out of different avenues for self expression. The absence of resources for reflexivity in work means heightened opportunity for reflexivity through low-cost stylistic innovation through ghetto culture. Initially, I want to consider one such, as a case study, expanding the horizons of the project begun by Lash and Urry (1994) to the Atlantic Shores of Brazil and the city of Salvador. Salvador, Bahia Salvador was founded in 1549 by Tom De Souza, first Governor-General of Brazil, on a hill overlooking the Bay of Bahia, in a strong defensive position. At the centre of the settlement was a plaza, known since 1807 as Pelhourino, named thus when the authorities established there the pillory at which slaves were whipped. The old historical district of Salvador takes its name, Pelhourino, from that instrument of torture once located in its heart. In times past, at the dawn of the eighteenth century, Pelhourino housed the elite and the aristocracy of Brazilian society. They lived in large mansions and townhouses, built from fortunes amassed from the profits of the Recncavo sugar plantations, the expropriation of slave labour. In and amongst their homes were many beautiful churches, ornate in the Portuguese way, testament to the economic surplus extractable from slaves, sugar and surveillance reinforced by the whip. By the nineteenth century sugar was not the staple that it had been. New colonists elsewhere in the Caribbean had realised the profitable combination of black bodies, green fields and white expropriation, and the profits accruing to the prime movers lessened greatly. By the end of the nineteenth century the old elite were down at heel. New bourgeoisie took their place: businessmen and bankers - capitalists - who, influenced by the prevailing positivist philosophies of progress, sought a space outside the unhealthy, crowded and unsewered historic city. Slowly Pelhourino changed. No longer the social magnet of this city, its population shifted as the wealthy formed homes elsewhere. Not all abandoned Pelhourino but seepage produced a net outflow. The 1930s saw the complexion of the district rapidly change. Many Syrian, Lebanese and Italian migrants moved there. In 1932 the police moved the prostitution district into Maciel, in Pelhourino. The area declined rapidly into a largely ungovernable space of drug addicts and prostitutes in which 1
few people ventured easily at night, in which many people lived illicit lives, the old town houses being subject to multiple occupancy, often by squatters, who practised lifestyles far removed from those of the rich and famous who had once lived there. Fires, started by unsafe and illegal tapping into the electricity supply, decay and dereliction, threatened to wipe out the legacy that imperial settlement had bequeathed to the world in Salvador - the finest collection of Portuguese baroque colonial architecture in the Americas. By 1991, the area was completely derelict, with over thirty buildings a year collapsing, despite it having been placed on the World Heritage Registry of UNESCO in 1984, after an initial report on the district in the 1960s. By 1994 the picture had been reversed totally. Today the whole district has been sewered, repaired, refurbished, and repainted in the vibrant pinks, blues and yellows of the colonial stucco that fronted the buildings. Today, Salvador, the city in which Pelhourino exists, is the second most visited tourist spot in Brazil (Lamb 1994: 42). Just four years previously it was only the eighth most visited. Today, many bars, restaurants, museums, arts and crafts shops, workshops, cultural troupes and schools occupy space that previously was virtually ungovernable, non-taxable and unliveable. Few spaces can combine the elements for marketing place-image as successfully as Pelhourino, but, it is worth recalling, just four years previously it existed as such a place-image hardly at all. It appeared, to all intents and purposes, an ungovernable space, peopled by an underclass. The initiative for cultural revitalization was taken by the state government in 1991 to commit the funds necessary to save Pelhourino before it was too late. Why, in 1991, after the need had been evident for many years, did the project start? Many explanations have been advanced - that the State Governor, newly embarked on a third term, had intimations of mortality and wanted to have done one really big good thing while he still had opportunity, is a popular explanation in governmental periodicals. This, however, is not the whole story. As Caetano Veloso (1994: 83) points out, one contributory factor was the organizational basis provided by cultural resistance. Non-Brazilian audiences may know of this resistance through The Rhythm of the Saints. The Rhythm of the Saints The Rhythm of the Saints was the title of a best selling record released by Paul Simon in 1990. The opening track introduced a new sound to many ears - recorded in Pelhourino Square, Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil - the sounds of Olodum. A martial, insistent, hypnotically rhythmic beat, the sound of a troupe of drums, percussive and shuffling, behind a typical Paul Simon lyric, 'The Obvious Child'. The name of the troupe of drummers was Grupo Olodum. Olodum and Pelhourino have become inseparable since the founding of the former in on April 25th 1979, in Pelhourino, the centre of old Salvador. Olodum means The God of Gods or The Supreme God in YorubЯ. Although music fans may know Olodum as a band, they are, in fact, much more than that. They are a social and a cultural movement. Inspired by the profound example of Bob Marley for black consciousness they began as a movement of cultural resistance, of the outcast, the dispossessed and the despised, drawn from the ranks of the droguistas and prostitutas who congregated in Pelhourino, the then decaying heart of Salvador, Bahia. While the voice was inspired in part from the reggae music of Marley, and the Bahiano traditions of tropicalismo, to be found in Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Maria Bethnia, to name only the most famous Bahian artists, it also drew nourishment from the surrounding culture of syncretic religion, the blend of African animism and Catholic rite that is institutionalized as the church in Bahia. Samba is the music of the people of Brazil, the people brought from Africa as slaves to work the sugar plantations and the latifundia economy of imperial Portugal in the New World. Forced to adopt the religion of their oppressors, the people infused it with a parallel system of beliefs, deities, and saints, in the Macumba, which preserved and recreated the animism of traditional belief-systems in Africa. Olodum built on this heritage, taking it further to create an imagined community (Anderson 1983) through its imagery of Africa, especially in the recreation of the Ashanti rhythms of Ghanaian music. Moreover, it had a particular liminal space in which to develop - the traditions of Bahiano Carnival. 2
Carnival, derived from the latin carnelevmen, has common characteristics wherever we encounter it: theatricality; being, however briefly, what ordinarily you are not; a zone and a space in which one can try out various masks, sometimes literally, sometimes, more metaphorically, as identities which define sensibility. Traditionally, carnival reversed social orders and sanctioned transgression - a space of release prior to Lent, a space of pleasure prior to a period of denial. In Bahia, since about 1950, carnival has been synonymous with the trios electricos. Evolved from a simple old 1929 Mustang, with a loudspeaker transmitting the music of Dod and Osmar, musicians from Recife, the trios are now a spectacular procession of articulated trucks, with musicians and dancers on top of a revolving platform, itself built over a massive bank of speakers, flanking each side of the truck. The amplification is loud, the music pulsating, the costumes colourful and the dancing marvellous. The trios are today predominantly the voice of the Afro-blocos, the black Bahiano version of the escola de samba, that, starting historically with the Filhos de Ghandy, first imagined, and thus created, a space in the latin carnival in which black people could parade with dignity and without fear. There are exceptions - some trios are more commercial and often somewhat paler in complexion, but in the music of the trios, and especially in Olodum, is to be found the heart of Bahianian carnival. Through the cultural innovations associated with carnival, Salvadorб became revalorized from a space that was declining and dangerous to one that was considerably entrepreneurial. Salvador provides an object lesson in how cultural innovation can seed and produce embryonic industry, even in the least likely circumstances. Moreover, it stands as a case of an authentic and glamorous postmodernism emerging from a space previously bleak and borderline, a place of darkness and dangerous desires. Pelhourino, as its social mobility went inexorably downward, had become the authentic Heart of Darkness in Bahia. From an eighteenth century slave market, through a nineteenth century pillory, to the twentieth century revival, it had always had an Afro-Brazilian connection. In Bahia it is impossible not to have this. But the recent revival would have been almost unimaginable without the efforts of the cultural movements like Olodum to positively valorize the cultures of colour in Bahia through (re)imagining Africa in Brazil. The headquarters of Olodum, Casa de Olodum, were formed in Pelhourino in 1985 and the social movement that they represent, as well as the thousands who form their bloco at carnival, are what made revitalization possible. As a social movement they recruited from among the drop-outs in Pelhourino to teach them skills, such as dance, musicanship, craft work, through a medium that positively valorised the black, Bahian experience, from Africa to Brazil. The rediscovery and creation, (not always recreation), of black culture was the major instrument of resistance through pride. Because of the resistance orchestrated by the blocos, the Filhos de Ghandy, Olodum, and all the others, there was a cultural capital waiting to revalorize the space. Postmodern Pelhourino Black consciousness provided a hermeneutic reflexivity, one that inscribed cultural innovation, meaning-making and resistance through the creativity of carnival, that gave Pelhourino its 'postmodern' form, as a visual form of 'de-differentiation'. Postmodernity involves de-differentiation. There is a breakdown of the distinctiveness of each sphere and of the criteria which legislate within each vertical dimension. There is implosion as a result of the pervasive effects of the media and the aestheticization of everyday life. Cultural spheres are much less auratic. There is a shift from contemplation to consumption from 'high culture' to 'high street'. . . Some of the differences between the cultural object and the audience dissolve as legislation is replaced by interpretation. And finally postmodernity problematizes THE RELATIONSHIP between representations and reality. Since what we increasingly consumed are signs or images, so there is no simple 'reality' separate from such modes of representation. What is consumed in tourism are visual signs and sometimes simulacrum; and this is what is consumed when we are supposedly not acting as tourists at all (Lash and Urry 1994: 272). 3
We might say that postmodernity represents the carnivalization of everyday life. In Pelhourino, carnival has escaped its liminal space, seeped out into the streets of every day's life, and transformed a baroque masterpiece into a postmodern space. The buildings may be the recreation of premodernity but the cultural activities and spaces that they house are the context that valorizes Pelhourino. The physical context is also a symbolic and semiotic context. The place that is Pelhourino is marketing less the image of a dead colonial past and more a lively Afro-Brazilianpresent and presence. Its creation as such can be said to begin from the 1930s, with the picaresque novels of Jorge Armado. However, it is through the popular music of the more recent past that the contemporary inhabitants of Pelhourino found their identity. It should be understood that this identity, one here labelled postmodern, was never consciously contrived as such from the outset. (Perhaps, one might wonder, is it a form of authentic postmodernity?) Instead, it was a form of resistance to the rationalizing tendencies of modernity, that marginalized certain spaces and the people who occupied them, as premodern, as almost anti-modern, in their resistance to the disciplines of modernity. In the case of Bahia as a whole, its blackness, its Africaness, marked it out as different to the southern industrial cities, notably So Paulo. Pelhourino, special home of those excluded or expelled from Civil Society, was clearly the most marginal and least colonized zone, a wild space where the rhythms that disciplined every day of modernity barely registered. Pelhourino's rhythms were resistant. While they were resistant of the labels attached to the marginalized space occupied, their resistance was orchestrated not just against discipline but through discipline - the discipline of the drum school. The identity of Pelhourino is, above all, symptomatic of racial resistance creating a centre of consumption grown from black consciousness. Olodum's project began in April 1979, to restore dignity to those outcasts who, from the 1930s, had moved into Pelhourino; dignity built through collectivist organization (Fisher et al 1992). Here, collectively orchestrated, the experience of participation provided a crucible for cultural revivification through an imaginary of Africa, signified in part through colour. In Pelhourino, Olodum's imaginative use of symbols expresses itself most symbolically in its colours of green, red, yellow, black and white. Each colour has a symbolic significance: green represents the rain forests of Africa; the deep red is symbolic of the blood of the people, shed in so many centuries of suffering, from the slavery days; golden yellow represents the colours of gold, for prosperity; black is for the colour and the pride of the people, while white is symbolic of world peace. Together, these colours are symbolic of the African diaspora, 'the movement of Jah people', as Bob Marley (1977) once put it. The vision that Olodum developed latched on to the dereliction of what had been the architectural heritage of the Americas. The blocos aesthetic interest in projecting a positive image of Africa, and of negritude of, for, and to the dispossessed, created not only a counter-hegemonic project that became, in its own space, hegemonic, but one that also became so as a space for a cultural entrepreneurship that The Rhythm of the Saints broadcast globally. The local project of cultural hegemony, plus the resources that the State Government brought to the restoration of Pelhourino, produced a conjuncture that mirrors almost exactly that which Lash and Urry (1994: 216-7) propose as the scenario of a successful postmodern, consumption and tourist based place-image. Born from resistance, matured through a type of collectivist organization, and articulated in accord with other, more official, projects, the relation of Olodum and Pelhourino is a perfect example of an embryonic industry forged from cultural innovation. It is also wonderful music, the rhythm of the saints. 4
References Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. Cherqueira, N. (ed.) (1994). Pelhourino historic district of Salvador - Bahia: The Restored Grandeur, Salvador: Fundaco Culturaldo Estado da Bahia. Dantas, M. (1994). Olodum - de bloco afro a holding cultural, Salvador: Edies de Olodum. Goldstone, J. A. (1987). Cultural orthodoxy, risk, and innovations: The divergence of east and west in the early modern world, sociological theory, 5, pp. 119-35. Lash, S. and J. Urry (1994) Economies of signs and space. London: Sage. Marley, B. (1977). Exodus, New York: Bob Marley Music/Almo Music Corp. (ASCAP). Veloso, C. (1994). Cateano Veloso erudito -fragmentos de entrevista coletiva a; imprensa para Gideon Rosa, pp. 82-4 in N. Cerqueira (ed.) Pelhourino Centro Histrico de Salvador -Bahia: A Grande Restaurada, Salvador: Fundaco Culturaldo Estado da Bahia. 5

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