I had the pleasure of meeting Afrocidade in September and accompanying them as part of their London tour, watching them play at Rich Mix, run a dance workshop at the Black Cultural Archives and perform at Brixton Hootananny. The band took me in as a friend and as a member of their community from the start and even with a language barrier it was a truly enjoyable experience to be with such lovely musicians. The interview took place over two days with different translators and band members at different times. I have occasionally mentioned when specific viewpoints have come from José Mecado and Eric Mazzone.
Is the name Afrocidade and the visual look a core part of your band?
“The band was formed because we all met in a place called Cidade Do Saber. There was a course meant to empower the community through social inclusion and many courses that will be taken get the individual to engage. Most of the courses were connected to white European culture; it was really Eurocentric. We decided to use Afrocidade to break through this whiteness that was inside the institution and to represent ourselves as artists who live in Camaçari, a city that has a lot of quilombos. Quilombos are resistant spaces where enslaved people ran away to when they had a chance, so there was a lot in Camaçari. We decided to have the name Afrocidade as an affront and to show what we are connected with. This atmosphere of really white culture but not really a black environment, it was a way to have balance.
The name has a function of passing through history; the colonial mark that we suffered and passing from plantations to going to the city brings this necessity to occupy all of the spaces, so basically it is also a mission of Afrocidade of being whatever it can be, invading space that before was invaded for foreigners and colonisers…take it back.
Also, this urban spirit of the Afro-culture in Salvador, Bahia for example, it is really urban and for example, José Macedo is a skater who sings hip-hop. He brought the rap and urban elements to break the vision of this rural Africa and safaris, the kind of view that people always want to put in this box. We found that the name is a way to break this kind of stereotype.”
What is the intent of different musical elements from different regions? Were these a choice in creating the band?
“The band was formed in a laboratory. We were experimenting a lot and every individual would bring their best and put it together in a way we would celebrate the music of the African diaspora. So, we listened to a lot of afrobeat, a lot of African based music and there is also a style of music from Bahia that is called pancadão, a type of music that used to be and is still quite marginalised in Bahia. It is funny because in Brazil we have this social class difference that if white people listen to the music it is going to be nice, and this music pancadão is a music that comes from the boundaries, the borders of Bahia. It is a type of music that is really important in showing the individualities of Bahian people because it brings a lot of elements: the music, the dance, the jokes that we have. The double sense of meanings was something that was really present. The pagode is something discriminated against and something that is really important within the culture. It brings a lot and talks with the people, with the masses… When we think of the mass in Brazil we think about the black people that are mainly on the periphery in the boundaries. We want to elevate the pagode, the pancadão and show how powerful and popular it is.”
Can you explain what the lyrics in your music are about?
Macedo: “They basically talk about their day to day life and all the struggles that black people in Camaçari go through, and all the denial. Camaçari is a super-rich place but we have a huge social difference; very few people are rich and the huge majority is poor, and by this majority, we mean black people. The lyrics talk a lot about this the struggle and the racism and the killing, genocide, youth. This is my mission and the mission of the band: freedom through the music and dance.”
What is the difference between your own music and music created with the band and Afrocidade’s social message? Is your music changing because of the band’s goals?
Macedo: “The band is kind of a follow up of my previous projects and my ideas are quite similar to Afrocidade. I was an MC before singing in Afrocidade and I have always been engaged in all the social issues and educating young people. I have done some workshops in schools about hip hop. When I say hip hop I mean all elements of the hip-hop culture, and how to MC as well to compose.”
Mazzone: “I am a cultural producer and art educator for many years now and I have always been in many projects. I believe in music as a weapon and a form of transformation for young people, and a way for these young people to get to know their own histories and to make questions about what is going on – not only political but everything around.”
Both of you are saying that young people are an important part of what you are trying to create. Is that a really strong element of the choices you make within the band? Is it a band for young people?
Mazzone: “I believe that music is universal and that it goes through all of the hearts of all possible ages, but I believe that the young people have an important part in all the things that are going on. They are the little seeds that can grow and flourish. This is why we always say ‘young people’”.
Translator: “The events that Afrocidade make and/or play at are basically all young people, who are consuming, listening to and are fond of the music over there [Bahia].”
Macedo: “Another important point is that we live in a very dangerous place and criminality are really into (sic) these young people’s houses; they are living really less than before and people are dying of a young age, 20 years old and even less. It is important that these messages get to these young people who are dying and getting into drug traffic. We try to show that there is always another way or a different way to follow and it’s possible to just go after your dreams; “Look at us, we are here just like you, we could have been drug dealers or be killed just like our friend next door but we are on a stage and representing all of these societies and yeah you can do it as well just like us.” It is a huge message to the young fellow over there. We believe that all these drugs and traffic things and genocide is a trap/ plan of the white system to get these people killed and to get in their heads and to put them into a marginalised place.”
How old are the young people that you are talking about? The people who come to your gigs?
“In statistics, these people we are talking about don’t get to 20 years old. They are killed before. The public that goes to our events ranges from 15-30 years old. If these young children who get in the trafficking (sic) get older than 25, he is probably a big boss; a huge drug dealer. I mean, if he made it he is really good. If he is in jail, he is commanding all of the traffickings in the favelas from inside the jail. Then these guys who get into the corruption system also stay inside the jail to survive because if they come outside they get killed so it’s not really an option it is just a surviving way of life.”
Where does your dancing come from? You have choreographed movements that you do together. Are these heritage pieces that you have taken specifically from other places or have you created them yourselves? Where does the dancing come from?
“We have the same living experiences and I believe that is a heritage because we didn’t have a base, like a formal base, you know, something that is more intuitive. I believe that is the heritage that comes from our diaspora; it came from the African people and went to Bahia and somehow it came to us, so we represent it today.
Every African is born knowing how to dance, it is something very natural. In the pagode that rhythm is a derivation of the samba. So, it is something that comes out of the African/Brazilian tradition that was revered as samba and they revealed that and turned it into pagode. So, it is trying to build that line, to draw that line, first samba and then pagode.”
Within specific acts, you perform within your set like jumping into the crowd and making a big circle and calling people to dance in the circle and onstage. I see a very communal way of engaging your audience within the performance. Why do you choose to involve the audience in that way?
“We have a long relationship that is connected to the carnival. Usually, this is what happens in the carnival. We open a circle to complement the entertainment. It is a moment of the highest connection between the audience and the group. Sometimes the people get a bit stuck, so they need some of the energy; to feel a little bit of what the carnival in Bahia is about.”
Do you picture your Afrocidade performance as carnival? Is that what you are aiming for?
Macedo: “We are showing the reflection of carnival, but also the social aspect about the carnival, and especially the oppression that black people have during the carnival because they work to make everything work and they are isolated from some of the most important routes where just people who pay a lot of money are allowed to go inside, so I am demonstrating that part… This sound specifically has a social reflection about the carnival as well – Not just a social reflection, but also the social aspect of it and the oppression that the black people have during the carnival as well, black people that make that party happen.
The blocos afros are the groups made by many black people from different areas of the city and they have a lot to do with the history and the vein of the carnival, and the blocos afros are getting more marginalised, so it is also to mention their contribution.”
Does this impact the way that both of you dance for Afrocidade?
“This sound specifically has many dance movements that come from Male de Bale and other blocos afros.”
Just before we close, is there anything else you would like to add, or a question that I have not asked?
“The rhythm the pancadão, the pagode, is very popular. We do it in a different way than it is normally done. It reflects a daily living day. The pagode is a rhythm associated with the way people live in Bahia, just like reggae is associated to Jamaica, so it really reflects the popular spirit that can be seen in the daily life of Bahia.
Pagode is our biggest identity, it is the place that we come from and the discrimination that pagode is, we will hold that flag because that is our truth.