Jon has been teaching Afro-Brazilian hand drumming and carnival drumming in the UK for well over thirty years. He first travelled to the city of Salvador da Bahia in Brazil’s North-East some twenty-five years ago, where he began studying the rhythms, songs, dances and practices of Candomblé, the religion that gave us the music and dance of Samba and Samba-Reggae.
Eleven years ago Jon was initiated into Candomblé and honoured by being made an Alabé, a drummer and song-caller for ceremonies. As well as teaching the music and dance of Candomblé, Jon has been responsible over the years for both starting and/or teaching many Samba and Samba-Reggae groups here in the UK. He considers it important that groups and individuals playing these Brazilian rhythms outside Brazil, have at least some understanding of the roots of the music they play and the instruments they use.
Samba-reggae arose in the context of the black pride movement that occurred in the city of Salvador de Bahia, around the 69, and it still carries connotations of ethnic identity and pride for Afro-Brazilians today. Bahia's population has a large proportion of dark-skinned Brazilians who are descendants of African slaves who were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese in the 17th and 18th centuries.
These Afro-Brazilians played a major role in the early development of samba, which first took form in a Bahian style of dance and music called "samba de roda", probably in the late 19th century. Samba de roda was brought to Rio de Janeiro by Bahians around 1900, where it was combined with harmonic and rhythmic elements from European influences (such as chorinho and military marches). By the 1930s, samba de roda had developed into the faster, more harmonically complex Rio-style samba that is now played in Rio's Carnival. Through the middle of the 20th century this new Rio-style samba spread throughout Brazil. Of note, the low pitch bass that was heard on beats 1 and 3, and the higher pitched surdo on beats 2 and 4 in Bahia, brought by the slaves, was changed in Samba-the low pitch was moved to beats 2 and 4.
The paradoxical result was that samba was brought back to Bahia from Rio, but now in a highly altered form, and no longer associated with Afro-Brazilians. Thus, in the mid-20th century, the city of Salvador had many samba schools that were modeled on the samba schools of Rio, as well as blocos (informal street percussion groups), both of which performed Rio-style samba in Carnival parades every year. Yet, ironically, black Brazilians did not participate in these Carnival parades or in the blocos. They were not allowed to participate.
Samba-reggae represents an effort by black Brazilians to develop a Carnival parade music that they could call their own, and to form all-black or mostly-black blocos with which they could parade during Carnival. The afro bloco music was very different because they aimed to recreate and strengthen their community through their music.
Jon will be teaching both beginner and advanced Samba Reggae at this year's World Music Workshop Festival.
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