Olodum shows social awareness in music

by Jack Vaitayanonta | 9/26/96 5:00am

Bonded by the dual purposes of creating an innovative rhythm and forging a cultural and societal bond, the Afro-Brazilian percussion group Olodum will appear tonight in Spaulding Auditorium.

Olodum (pronounced oh-lo-DOOM) uses rhythm, melody and folklore to create a societal bond that fosters the individual and collective self-worth by providing a cultural point of reference from which to be inspired and grow, according to Music Professor Hafiz Shabazz.

The group's name is the shortened form of the Yoruba word olodumare, translated into English as God of Gods or God Almighty.

Shabazz wrote in the journal Bossa, a Brazilian jazz music guide, that the group is an important unifying force in Brazil through both its music and community service, especially for Afro-Brazilians.

Their sound is samba-reggae. The band, based in Salvador, is comprised of percussionists, instrumentalists, singers and dancers offering an evening of pleasure for the senses of the audience.

The concert will be preceded by an informal discussion about the group's inspiration, style, the roots of African music in Brazil and Olodum's role in the community. Shabazz, an expert in ethnomusicology, will lead the discussion in the Faculty Lounge of the Top of the Hop.

Olodum is widely known for its performance of "The Obvious Child" on Paul Simon's album "Rhythm of the Saints" and for creating a unique sound that has attracted and influenced artists such as David Byrne, Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Cliff, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

Their most recent CD, "Filhos do Sol (Children of the Sun)" was praised by Beat Magazine as "a consummation of the beauty and strength, the wild abandon on Carnival, the Race and the culture."

They have recorded seven other albums and appeared in Michael Jackson's video "They Don't Care About Us" from the album "HisStory"

The group is also known for the beat of the surdo, or large drum, that is played in the streets during carnival, an annual celebration in South American countries. Shabazz wrote that the surdo seems to be the most powerful of all Brazilian percussion instruments.

"This large, cylinder-shaped drum functions as the bass drum. Drummers refer to it as the sound of thunder -- it's the drum that causes the earth to quake," Shabazz wrote.

As for the sound of the band, the group's samba-reggae is a fusion of Brazilian samba, Jamaican reggae and African ijexa, all rhythms rooted in Africa.

They also incorporate modern pop instruments into their African drum choir to form their percussion base.

Olodum was originally formed to perform at carnival, and was established in 1979 as a permanent organization to promote African-Brazilian pride and culture and to give neighborhood youngsters an opportunity to participate in the festivities.

The band is committed to helping educate children and providing employment opportunities.

Olodum manager Bill Arquiminio said in an interview with Bossa, "Although we didn't have any money, we gave homeless children something to focus on. We gave them the drum and taught them how to survive through music."

Olodum speaks out against racism and sexism in society through its lyrics. They are strong advocates for AIDS awareness, community health, the homeless and human rights.

They do so through theater and dance groups and workshops on social issues, as well as by promoting the development of African-Brazilian culture.

Shabazz wrote, "From my perspective as an educator and musician, the idea of art, music, dance and business all functioning together is actually a form of diverse concepts coming together in unity. The operative word today in business and on many college campuses is cultural diversity."

"Olodum not only contributes to this sought-after diversity, but also brings new paradigms for education and business."

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