Olodum – The Drums of Bahia


The mighty Olodum. Started as a Bloco-Afro of the Carnaval in Salvador in 1979, Olodum is currently a cultural group considered a non-governmental organization. After their first appearance in 1980’s Carnaval, the band acquired almost two thousand associates and began to talk about historic themes about African and Brazilian culture. The power of their drums made them well known all over the world, attracting many tourists and celebrities every year. Even our beloved king of pop, Michael Jackson had one song recorded with the magic drums of Olodum, “They don’t care about us”.



As it is obvious in the name, Samba Reggae is the blend of the traditional Samba from Bahia with the Reggae music. It all started with the bloco Ilê Aiyê. The founders aimed to create a music blending from the revered Jamaican artists, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, with elements of the older, Bahia style of samba (samba de roda). Ilê Aiyê wanted to distinguish their music from the samba of Rio de Janeiro, so they chose a slower tempo than is used in Rio, and avoided the high-pitched percussion instruments that are particularly associated with the Rio Carnival (cuíca and tamborim). These musical choices were consciously made as a political statement. All of Ilê Aiyê’s lyrics always have political and social content, and typically profile some aspect of African history, but that is another story.

The second major development in this new genre occurred in 1979, with the main subject of this post, Olodum. By 1986 they had established themselves as the premier performers of a new genre of music. Olodum was led during these years by the leader Mestre Neguinho do Samba, who had previously been drum leader for Ilê Aiyê. Neguinho introduced a key innovation: the old, samba-derived, style of playing the repinique, with hand and stick, was eliminated, and the repiniques switched instead to playing rapid rolls with two wood or plastic rods. This style of playing is derived from Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion. The resulting rapid-fire clatter of the repiniques, along with the distinctive driving roll of the 3rd surdo, gives samba-reggae an unmistakable sound.

During the carnival of 1986, this new style of music, made its debut. The toques, or “drumming patterns”, that categorised the samba-reggae beat was composed of “a pattern in which the surdo bass drums divided themselves into four or five interlocking parts. Against this, the high-pitched repiniques and caixas (snares) filled out the pattern with fixed and repeated rhythms in a slow tempo, imitating the shuffle feel of reggae. In 1986, the phrase “samba-reggae” was used for the first time to describe the music of Olodum, and, by extension of the other blocos-afro as well. Over time, most blocos-afro converted to Olodum’s style of playing the repinique. In the 1990s, Ilê Aiyê finally converted to the Olodum two-rod style.


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