The Terreiro in Olodum

The African Brazilian Candomblé “terriero” (an open space and also a community) is a repeating word and theme in Brazilian song lyrics that embodies African Brazilian resistance, unity, and pride. The multi-layered metaphor of the terreiro and the way that it’s meaning is re-charged (as it moves from song lyric to the physical site of Olodum’s community-based youth education projects) through the empowerment of the African Brazilian and Axé community. This piece will provide a closer look at how the terreiro is incorporated into an Olodum classic entitled “Processão de fé” (the procession or unfolding of faith).

A particularly powerful version of the mentioned song appears on an unofficially released live recording from the early 1980’s that I was fortunate enough to have written down while listening. It features the legendary Margarete Menezes who sings the following verses with Olodum’s percussive ensemble resounding powerfully behind her:

Vou seguir o Olodum,
o Olodum,
do Terreiro até a Sé.
Vou fazer do Olodum,
do Olodum,
Minha procesão de fé!                                

Spatially, temporarily, and spiritually, these lyrics establish the terreiro as Olodum’s center. Beginning at the Candomblé house, the speaker will follow the group to the main plaza of the Pelourinho (Praça da Sé), and it is that procession – from religious house to public gathering space, and from religious entity to music group – that reflects the speaker’s desired faith. Interestingly, this faith or religious concept modeled on the example of the group Olodum (a name that comes from Olodumare, a word used to describe and praise the Yoruba supreme God), is one which links Candomblé to action both inside and outside of the context of ritual.

Several verses later, the song returns to the terreiro and alludes to the direct connection that Olodum maintains with the religious house as a theme, metaphor, source of inspiration, and creative force:

Olodum que vem do Pelourinho
dança como dança
o cavalo Mario
Olodum seu balê
lembra no terreiro a dança de Oxumarê

The last line links Olodum’s dance and rhythm to the Terrerio de Oxumarê: the very religious house that would end up hosting the group’s community-based education project nearly fifteen years later. This uncanny foreshadowing is further developed in the following lyrics:

Olodum seu batebom
faz qualquer um
achar o seu caminho
Nunca fico triste
Nunca estou sozinho
É feito um carinho esse toque do Olodum
[…]
Está aqui meu Olodum
Olodum, que vem meu axé

Here, the speaker describes the capacity of Olodum’s art to reunite one with their spiritual path. This characteristic of the group’s music and philosophy – one that (re)generates Axé – is brought into action during the education project that they will run (again, almost two decades into the future) at Ilê Oxumarê. The manner in which this particular song describes the empowering aspect of Olodum’s commitment to the community, and the accuracy with regards to the actual site, is a fine example of how deep within even the most “secular” African Brazilian music lies the endless vision of the Orixás and their capacity to creatively bring about change.

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