November 20th is Dia da Consciência Negra, or Black Awareness Day. It’s a public holiday in several states including São Paulo, but the entire month of November usually sees many cultural activities, discussions and events to commemorate black resistance and talk about current issues important to the black Brazilian community. This date marks the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, a hero of resistance and the last surviving leader of the settlements founded by runaway slaves (quilombos).
The song “Alienação,” or Alienation, by Ilê Aiyê caught my attention, and works well to commemorate this holiday.
- Se você esta de ofender
É só chamá-lo de moreno pode crê
É desrespeito a raça é alienação
Aqui no Ilê Aiyê a preferência é ser chamado de negãoSe você esta de ofender
É só chamá-la de morena pode crê
Você pode até achar que impressiona
Aqui no Ilê Aiyê a preferência é ser chamada de negona
A consciência é o motivo principal
Eu quero muito mais
Alem de esporte e carnaval, natural.
Chega de eleger aqueles que tem
Se o poder é muito bom
Eu quero poder também
O sistema tenta desconstruir
lhe afastar de suas origens
Pra que você não possa interagir, construir.
Já passou da hora de acordar
Assumir sua negritude é vital para prosperar
Ser negro não questão de pigmentação
É resistência para ultrapassar a opressão, sem pressão.
Lutar sempre igualdade e humildade
Vou subir de Ilê Aiyê
E mudar toda cidade
- If you want to offend
You just need to call him brown, you know
It’s disrespect to the race, it’s alienation
Here in Ilê Aiyê he prefers to be called a black man.If you want to offend
You just need to call her brown, you know.
You can even believe it makes an impact
Here in Ilê Aiyê she prefers to be called a black woman.
Awareness is the main motive
I want much more
Than sports and carnival, naturally.
Stop electing those who have
If power is so good
I want power too.
The system tries to destroy
Distance you from your origins
So that you can’t interact, create.
It’s about time to wake up
To assume your blackness is vital to prosper.
Being black is not a question of pigmentation
It’s resistance to overcome oppression without pressure
Always fight for equality and humility
I will rise as Ilê Aiyê
And change every city.
The song calls for a rejection of the term moreno, a far-reaching term that can mean anything from brown-skinned to having dark hair. Instead Ilê Aiyê embraces the terms negão and negona, which are usually ascribed to dark skinned blacks and can often have a negative subtext to mean large and threatening. The song seeks to reclaim these terms to mean unapologetically black.
It’s also powerful for the song to talk about wanting more than sports and carnival, the few spaces where black Brazilians are featured prominently, whether as soccer stars or samba queens. Instead, the song calls for blacks to rise up and lead politically, instead of depending on those who already have power, or the white elite.
The song’s straightforward, audacious message is on par with Ilê Aiyê’s history. Founded in 1974 as Salvador’s first afro Carnaval group, it was immediately controversial for permitting only black people to participate. (In 2010, they decided to allow others in.) They paraded in Salvador’s carnaval, celebrating different African countries and playing traditional African rhythms, changing the way the city would create music and view its identity. Ilê has grown to be a cultural institution in Salvador with numerous cultural and educational initiatives with the goal of educating, celebrating and empowering black Brazilians.