When I look back at the time I spent volunteering in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil in 2006, it seems so natural, so inevitable that I would end up in there at some point in my life. I often forget about what drew me to it in the first place: Banda Didá, an all female drumming ensemble that is based there. Before learning about that group, I hadn’t even heard of Salvador, an Afro-Brazilian city in the northeastern part of the country.
Music as it pertains to social movements or social justice has always been a topic of interest for me. When I came across a documentary called Girl Beat: Power of the Drum, I was automatically drawn by the synopsis. It highlighted the Banda Didá organization and the work it did to empower females of African descent in Salvador.
Banda Didá was powerful. I couldn’t believe this group of women whose hands and arms pounded out the rage of the remnants of European enslavement to the beats of West Africa. At the same time, their bodies moved fluidly and rhythmically and their faces beamed with pride in their heritage.
The documentary revealed another world, one that I had not yet been privy to, but in which I felt I likely belonged: Afro-Latin culture. In mainstream grade school education in the United States, the fact that Africans were enslaved in many other parts of the Americas is often ignored. The vivacious modern cultures of Latin America and the African influence on many of them is often overlooked. At that point in my life, I was vaguely aware of Afro-Latin America, but that was the first time I’d seen it so tangibly.
As the daughter of immigrants from a small West African country, I’d grown up on the periphery of belonging. I’d accepted that position at that point. But Salvador da Bahia seemed like a place where the distinct mix of cultures that went into my creation was very much the norm in a very visible way. And sure enough, it was.
There’s a bit of drumming at the beginning of this, but skip to 1:00 for the good stuff. Those drums are heavy, and these women make dancing with one attached to your hips look easy.
I saw Banda Didá for the first time in person just a few days after I arrived in Brazil. Every Tuesday night from August until Carnival, they have a big party in Pelourinho, Salvador’s historic center. They call it a “rehearsal” for Carnival and it’s an insanely fun night of government sanctioned partying. There are concerts, street food and drinks, and baterias (drumming ensembles) marching down the cobblestone streets.
A drum circle with an intrinsic sense of spirit and all kinds of soul.