Forty-three years ago, Afro-Brazilians living in Pelourinho -- the historic city centre of the capital of Bahia, Salvador -- founded Olodum, a group of musicians and artists inspired by their African heritage. Their contagious brand of Afro-Brazilian percussion has become synonymous with the sound of Bahia.
Olodum is a word that originated in the Yorubá language, from Nigeria. It finds its roots in Candomblé – the religious ritual which translates as "God of Gods" or "the Greatest God.”
For decades, Olodum has also been singing about ancient Egypt, its Pharaohs and mythology, using several ancient Egyptian motifs in their symbology and dressing. Thanks to this band, generations of Brazilians have by now sung about Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, Osiris, Seth, Geb, Nut, among other ancient Egyptian references.
The House of Olodum, the headquarters of the NGO, is located in the Historic Centre. The three-storey building keeps alive the struggle and resistance against prejudice and racism. The house was built in 1798, at a time popular movements emerged, advocating for the end of slavery and the establishment of a republican form of government. The house underwent a complete restoration under the supervision of architect Lina Bo Bardi. It was reinaugurated in 1991.
Olodum is widely credited with developing a musical style known as samba reggae and for its active participation in the organidation of the Bahia carnival each year. Neguinho do Samba, the lead percussionist, created a mix of the traditional Brazilian samba beats with merengue, salsa, and reggae rhythms in 1986. This mix became known as samba reggae. With time, it gained recognition as a specific African-Brazilian percussive group, through performances in Europe, Japan, and South America.
Olodum has been featured on recordings by top Brazilian performing artists and on albums by foreign musicians. In 1990, Olodum was featured on Paul Simon's “Rhythm of the Saints” album. In 2013, the band played live with Kimbra on Rock in Rio's sunset stage, performing a cover of "They Don't Care About Us". The following year, they participated in "We Are One (Ole Ola)," the official song of the FIFA World Cup 2014, with rapper Pitbull and various singers.
There is an interesting coincidence between the history of Brazil and the history of Egyptology: the independence of Brazil from Portugal took place in 1822, the same year when the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs was first published. That year, exactly two centuries ago, is considered both as the year of the birth of Egyptology as a science and the birth of Brazil as an independent nation.
Here in Egypt, 2022 brings yet another important celebration as the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun on 4 November 1922, the very date when Olodum will perform in Egypt for the first time, at the Cairo Jazz Festival, lending an even greater symbolical value to this event, and also in the Opera House in Alexandria, on 5 November.
*Antonio Patriota is the Brazilian ambassador in Egypt.