A mix of white and black. A mix of religion and spirituality. A mix of cultures, class, and race. Brazilian Bahian musical group Grupo Zambo does its best to look beyond miscegenation, to really get to the root of Brazilian musical folklore and experimentation. Bahia, Grupo Zambo, quite rightfully, holds a mystical memory to anyone who has heard it. The sounds of otherworldly Afro-Brazilian chants communing with barely there maximum-minimal percussion has obvious roots in the pioneering work of Baden Powell and Vinicius Moraes’s Os Afro Sambas. Here, though, the trickle of information gleamed from that excursion bursts forth into a full wound, opening up to this whole other world of exploration of what true, Bahian music was and how it could still be taken even further.
Grupo Zambo was a 7-piece group led by Jocafi Onias Camardelli, percussionist, singer and composer who wrote dance music that drew from Bahia’s capoeira and candomble traditions. Years before, Onias’s “Catendé”, the same song that would kick off this album, had been heard in skeletal form on the other masterwork from Vinicius and Toquinho: 1970’s “La Fusa” with Maria Creuza. Now on Bahia, Grupo Zambo Onias would get us listeners closer to the source. Casting a wide net of musicians, for what they could add to his compositions, percussionists Lula (Aloisio do Anjos Flores) and Plata (Elizael Ribeiro Gomes), would be the main points for propulsion, moving songs along where a full rock band would normally be needed. Both versed in candomble, they would help create the polyrhythmic, varied percussion that switches from floor-shaking groove to unplaceable textural sound here. Rounding out the rest of the group would be a guitarist and four vocalists made up of women from all races who really took to the “African” call-and-response lyricism employed by Onias as a starting point to explore the more mystical variations on the past as they themselves switch off from harmonizing to play guitar, flutes, and violin.
Perfectly capturing the largely unknown and unheralded, vital work of Bahian record label Discos Marcus Pereira, Grupo Zambo had a sound that ventured through the past — not out of pastiche — but because of the expanse still available there. For a record company that stuck their necks out to release important works from others like Cartola, Quinteto Villa Lobos, and Renato Teixeira, and this record, when the market seemingly didn’t exist for it, took guts to take a chance on a group like theirs willing to experiment with and from tradition, rather sign yet another rock or funk group. I’d hate to pinpoint any track as a highlight, since this record works truly better as a whole piece, but a song like “Salomão” gives you just a hint of the deep spirituality ebbing throughout the release.
You’ve heard bits of this song before — Caetano took inspiration from it for his epic Bahian folk-influenced “You Don’t Know Me“. A song for a candomble axexê, it captures the other unexplainable gradient of Brazilian emotion: the joy in a final departure. Even through the death of something, there is a great joy to be had for those that can keep the spirit alive. The album ends with a send off to Angola, but heaven knows this is just the beginning. Quite simply impossible to find anymore and well in need of more champions, in the end, I’ll let the liner notes to this epic release better tell the story than I to get something new going forward…
“Perhaps Bahia is, among the regions of Brazil, the highest cultural “specific weight”. Brazil was born in Bahia, samba was born in Bahia, the richest Brazilian cuisine in Bahia. You know Bahia already, from the invitation by Caymmi, contained in the question we are “You already went to Bahia”, mortal sin in the most elementary catechism “of Brasilidade”. That Bahia is a Brazilian legend and Salvador is among our cities the most courted by tourists. In this very rich and important scene created by nature and man, music plays a fundamental role. However, it is, among all its manifestations, the least publicized and least known. There has been a great deal of confusing music by composers from Bahia, such as Gil and Caetano, with Bahian music. Sometimes, many of these compositions can not be strictly classified as Brazilian music, because they are often far from the musical and literary values of our culture. It is true that the neglect of the great record companies for our really popular music is very old. It is common to publish, in the economy record labels and those of lesser expression, composers and interpreters of high quality and representativeness. It is not that the price of the disc necessarily has to do with the quality of what it contains, but the fact that the public interested in information and culture has become accustomed to associate the economy record label with music of bad quality, and this is because of the record companies. It happens then that the market range capable of attaining the greatest value from these disks eventually ignores them and the consumer of shoddy, economic musical records, unable to understand them, not sharing them, truncates their career.
From the beginning of the activities of “Discos Marcus Pereira” we were interested in divulging Bahian music authentically popular or directly inspired by its sources. And we have been facing the difficulties traditionally faced by our popular culture, which is lack of information, widespread ignorance of regional music throughout the country, the only symbolic existence of research work, the limitations and difficulties faced by the few composers or interpreters who are dedicated to research, composition and interpretation of this general music in Brazil. In fact, almost everything to be done, the hereditary captaincies of “ié-ié”, “hully gully” and “rock”, if not destroyed, has contaminated almost everything. And we are aware that we often run the risk of making mistakes, opening the drawer so that we can then get it right.
Aware of the importance of what Bahia represents as popular culture, we look for representative and recognized composers and interpreters. That is how we found Onias Camardelli and his “Grupo Zambo”. Zambo means mulatto and racial miscegenation has its cultural correspondence in musical syncretism, which is the main characteristic of the work of the Grupo Zambo. The music of mixed black and white, the religion of white and black mixed and this having a surprising sound and visual version, as witness by all who have already heard and have seen Grupo Zambo.
Onias Camardelli responsible for the most serious works done with Bahia’s Afro-Brazilian cultural raw material – such as the album “Eu, Bahia” and the “Olodum Mare” dance group that excited the most demanding audiences in Europe – won the best prize instrumentalist of the Festival of Salta, in 1967, in Argentina, where the Olodum Group was the great winner. Group Zambo plays black-white music from Bahia. And this is reflected in their literary themes, the musical instruments, the instruments they use, the costumes they wear, and visual, plastic and even olfactory resources – such as flowers of strong perfume and incense used in rites. And also in the composition of the group. Lula and Plata, are closely linked to Candomblé.”