Melodius Thunk is now present in Brazil, one of the most important sites of the African diaspora in the modern world.
In 1441 the Portuguese became the first modern Europeans to enslave Africans. And throughout the sixteenth century, they would take advantage of political instability in Africa to become the largest importers of forced laborers to the Americas. During the Portuguese occupation of Brazil (lasting until September 7, 1822), approximately 3,650,000 Africans were imported to work the sugar plantations upon which Brazil’s early colonial economy was based (compared to the estimated 427,000 brought to the U.S.). After the decline of sugar in the late 17th century, great numbers of slaves were sent to the Brazilian gold and diamond mines. Brazil officially abolished its slave traffic on Sept 28, 1850 (though illegal slave trafficking continued), and on May 13, 1888 Brazil became the last nation in the western hemisphere to officially abolish slavery. Among the Africans carried to Brazil were Afantis, Axantis, Jejes, Peuls, and Muslim Hausas (also called Malês), as well as Nago and Yoruba peoples. Each of these people carried with them their intangible culture: culinary traditions, their gods, rhythms, mannerisms and dances. Thrown together in the senzalas under conditions of unusual duress, new combinations arose. Adaptations, fusions, reactions. Influences from various parts of Africa met with indigenous traditions and those of the Europeans to produce a vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture — its most famous products: samba, capoeira, Candomblé, and the tastes of feijoada, moqueca. and acarajé.
Melodius Thunk is currently steeped in the polyrhythms of Brazil, recording street festivals, parades, and manifestations of popular religion in Bahia. Dreams and investigations of over a decade have culminated in recordings of such popular festivals as the Lavagem do Bomfim, the Festa de Yemanjá, 2 de Julho (Bahia’s Independence Day), as well as special workshops on dance movements of the orixá and Silvestre technique. We are especially pleased that “The Goddess Rolls Out: A sonic portrait with photos of Salvador’s Yemanjá Festival,” with sound recordings by Nelson Eubanks and photography by Jamie Davidson, has been accepted for publication in Indiana University Press’ forthcoming volume Yemoja: Water Goddess, Fluidity and Tradition, edited by Solimar Otero and Toyin Falola. Dancer, ethnographer, and Ph.D. candidate Jamie Davidson has been participating in and researching Afro-Brazilian religious manifestations such as the Tambor de Mina and the Brinquedo de Cura, and secular music and dance traditions such as Tambor de Crioula and Bumba meu Boi in Brazil’s northeastern state of Maranhão since 2005 and most recently with a Fulbright-Hays award. Watch for these projects on Melodius Thunk.