Afro-Sampas is a documentary film about musical encounters. Such encounters are also that of diverse world communities in Africa and Brazil. The documentary film illustrates the orality of music, emerging from collaborations, improvisations and non-written music. In so doing, it illustrates the uniqueness of film to disseminate music, through a combination of intimate performances and interviews about the place of Africa in São Paulo, Brazil and more broadly, in the world. The project shared audiovisually gathers musicians from Senegal, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Angola and Brazil in order to reflect about Being/Becoming African in Brazil. Afro-Sampas is an insightful piece that invites us to think about “cultural hospitality” and the strong link between music, identity and migration.
Authors: Jasper Chalcraft & Rose Satiko Gitirana Hikiji · University of São Paulo
Format: Documentary Film
Published: October 2022
The African presence in Brazilian music manifests itself in different ways. If in 1966, Baden Powell “Rio-fied” candomblé with the album “Os Afro-Sambas” he composed with Vinícius de Moraes, half a century later we experienced an unprecedented moment with the arrival of musicians migrating from different African countries to Brazil’s megacity, São Paulo, known affectionately to locals as Sampa (also the title of Caetano Veloso’s song – a brilliant migrant narrative on the host city).
Inspired by both the 1966 album and this new creative musical diaspora, we set-up a research project to explore and better understand the meanings of music making for this young generation of African migrants in Brazil. Since 2016, the project has followed musicians and artists from Senegal, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Angola. Following their stories and life experiences through collaborative filmmaking we explore how music relates to becoming / perceiving oneself as African in Brazil.
The research project “Being/Becoming African in Brazil: migrating musics and heritages” is a partnership of a British and a Brazilian anthropologist, members of the Team Project “Local Musicking – New pathways to Anthropology” (2016-2022), funded by FAPESP – The São Paulo Research Foundation.
In Afro-Sampas we are trying to better understand what we call the ‘creative diaspora’ of African migrants to Brazil in recent years. In the film we explore this through promoting encounters between African musicians (recently arrived in São Paulo) and Brazilian musicians who live and work in this megacity, all with personal interests in Afro-Brazilian music traditions and urban afro-diasporic genres.
Yannick Delass (Democratic Republic of Congo), Edoh Fiho (Togo), Lenna Bahule (Mozambique), and the Brazilians Ari Colares, Chico Saraiva and Meno del Picchia meet for the first time and by sharing their sounds, memories and creativity they also tackle difficult issues at the core of Brazilian life: race and the politics of identity. Afro-Sampas reveals the complexities of life and aesthetics in the megacity for both African and Brazilian musicians.
This research approaches translocal musicking (Small, 1998), understanding that it is a way of producing localities. How are African musicians negotiating their identities in Brazil? How does the Brazilian music scene incorporate these new bodies, and how does it deal with their ideas and representations of contemporary reality? And what theoretical tools can encompass these complicated processes of musical and social belonging/becoming? We use – and try to extend – the concept of transcultural capital (Glick-Schiller and Meinhof, 2011), testing it against the ways in which musicians actively construct themselves as subjects.
This work is a contribution to the increasing number of studies on music and migration, focusing on themes such as music and identity, performers and audiences. If “music offers a possible insight into migrants’ own interpretations of their migrations and visions of their new societies”, as John Baily and Michael Collyer (2006: 180) contend, we address this knowledge through the personal stories of the African artists in our project (Chalcraft & Hikiji, 2018).
A number of themes run through our research: we wanted to know the impacts of migrant musicking on local music scenes, and how the city itself enabled or constrained the ‘creative diaspora’. Over time it became clear that migrant musicking was co-opted into (and inserted itself into) a number of important political movements in Brazil that preceded Jair Bolsonaro’s ascent to power. These included migrant and refugees’ movements, as well as the movement for homeless citizens. This said, this film approaches this theme through a more intersubjective perspective, that of the encounter of migrant musicians with their Brazilian peers, confronting perspectives, experiences, musicalities and problems.
Our references in ethnographic filmmaking are collaborative films, from Jean Rouch’s seminal works in West Africa to the Brazilian-based project Vídeo nas Aldeias. At the University of São Paulo, we have been working with ethnographic filmmaking since the beginning of the 2000s, supported by LISA (Laboratory of Image and Sound in Anthropology), vice-directed by Rose Satiko Hikiji, and many of our film and research works have been focused on musical practices relating to youth cultures and life in the city’s peripheries.
We have located the series of films produced thus far as part of this research project, very much as a continuation of collaborative practice, but with experimental approaches – different for each film – that have catalysed new forms of collaborative production. We have written about some of these aspects in a recent chapter ‘Collaborative Post Production’ (Chalcraft & Hikiji, 2021). This film, Afro-Sampas, was quite literally a collaboration between the protagonists, and one that we instigated with the full support of the artists themselves.
We situate our work in the field of audio-visual ethnomusicology (D’Amico, 2020) that explores new musical phenomena related to transnational diasporic exchanges, and realising how music both produces locality and is re-shaped by it. From a theoretical stand-point the film brings together Christopher Small’s idea of musicking with the kind of ideas of creative cosmopolitanism recently theorised by veteran ethnomusicologist Steven Feld in his work on Jazz in Accra (Feld, 2012). This film was developed within a large thematic project which included more than 80 individual research projects, all exploring local musicking (mainly) in Brazil. Our research and its goals is further detailed in a chapter in the Routledge Companion for Local Musicking (Chalcraft & Hikiji, 2018). In this context our research has always pushed the idea of what film could do, not simply as a representation of musical worlds, but rather as a form of research itself.
Despite the overtly political nature of much of our research, this film takes a more intimate look at creativity and exchange, letting musical exchange between the migrant musicians and Brazilian peers become the context. At times this is aesthetic, at other times political: frequently it is blackness, or what it means to be a black African in Brazil, that the musicians focus on. However, the film reveals how different institutional realities and racisms in Brazil can be when compared to the hospitality of ordinary Brazilians, and indeed of the city – Sampa – itself.
This film is the third in a series that offer different aesthetic and thematic expositions of the African ‘creative diaspora’ in Brazil. The first film Tabuluja (Wake Up!; 2017), shortlisted for the AHRC Research in Film Award, was co-created with Shambuyi Wetu, an artist from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a refugee in São Paulo, while he constructs narratives about the diaspora experience and the situation of l’homme noir in the world. Instigated by a visit to the Afro Brasil Museum, the film is part of Shambuyi’s artistic reaction to Brazil’s history of slavery (the last country to abolish it) and the struggle of black Brazilians. As a collaboration between the artist and the anthropologists, the film also explores improvisation in the narration and in the soundtrack, created by the Congolese musician Yannick Delass.
The second film, Woya Hayi Mawe – Where are you going to? (2018), winner of Pierre Verger Prize 2020, follows Mozambican musician Lenna Bahule from her adopted home of São Paulo, back to a stage show she organises in Maputo. The film reveals her discovery of a new music culture, combining traditional and popular music and artivism. The film deals with music and diaspora, identity politics and transcultural capital.
In Afro-Sampas, winner of Pierre Verger prize 2022 and Ana Maria Galano prize 2021, we see what happens when musicians from both sides of the Atlantic are brought together in the city where they live. Meeting for the first time, six musicians – 3 Brazilian, 3 African – share their sounds, memories and creativity, while they also tackle difficult issues at the core of Brazilian life: race and the politics of identity. Afro-Sampas reveals the complexities of life and aesthetics in the megacity for both African and Brazilian musicians.
We are both anthropologists who make ethnographic films that focus on musicking. Inter- and transdisciplinary practices characterise our research: anthropological fieldwork, collaborative filmmaking, audiovisual ethnomusicology. Through filmmaking we try to find ways to bring out what Steven Feld describes as the “intervocality, intermediality and intersubjectivity” of the sonic, visual and textual conjunctions of the art worlds our subjects engage in (Feld, 2012, p.5). This bringing-out is structured by the collaborative ethics that underpin the actual research, themselves derived from decolonial approaches in anthropology but also a longer tradition within both Brazilian visual anthropology (Eckert & Rocha, 2016) and ethnomusicology (Lühning & Tugny, 2016).
Afro-Sampas is an experiment with collaboration and audiovisual ethnography. Given its trans- and interdisciplinary underpinnings it helps reveal a number of unexpected conjunctions, as well as crucial contradictions in how music-making and society interact. For example, the broader social interactions, agency and sometimes activism of the African artists – referenced in this film but more explicit in the others of the series – have been discussed with great interest by anthropologists to whom we’ve shown the film. Musicians and ethnomusicologists have learnt from the film the positives but also the difficulties of the encounter between two different cultures (that tend to be seen as close), and people embedded within different intersectionalities. Musician-practitioners can see the innovative possibilities of collaborative approaches between artists and audiovisual anthropologists, and how the process of producing work together is mutually revealing, contributing to both anthropological knowledge and creative processes. When we discuss the film with both researchers and practitioners we find it highlights many ethical questions around positionality, privilege, voice, and the complexities of both creating and performing genuine collaboration.
From the beginning of this project, the artists themselves have been careful to use our work in ways that has helped their careers. At its most minimal, this has seen us provide audio-visual assistance for their own projects, at its most extensive we have collaborated in ways that have explicitly brought their work greater attention. Tabuluja and another short film made with Shambuyi Wetu, Bagagem (Baggage), have been shown in cultural institutions throughout São Paulo state, together with commissioned performances by the artist. Indeed, helping artists gain greater recognition through performing in the city’s institutional spaces, like SESC, has been a major benefit. Afro-Sampas was finished in the beginning of the Covid pandemic, and we were organising a series of concerts and workshops with the artists involved at the main cultural institution in the country – SESC – but which had to be paused. The impact here then is on both the “Paulistano” public (improving access to different cultural expressions), on the understandings mainstream institutions have of African musicians (helping them move them out of an often stereotyped and folkloric categorisation), and on the comprehension of African perspectives in a country that despite having roots in this continent, knows very little about them.
Chalcraft, J. & Hikiji, R. S. (2020). Collaborative post-production. In: P. Vannini, ed. The Routledge international handbook of ethnographic film and video, Abingdon, Routledge, 2020, pp. 214-223.
Chalcraft, J. & Hikiji, R. S. (2018). Opening eyes through ears: migrant Africans musiciking in São Paulo. In: S. Reily & C. Brucher, eds. The Routledge companion to the study of local musicking, Oxon, New York, Routledge, v.1, 2018, pp. 473-486.
D’Amico, L. (2020). Audiovisual Ethnomusicology: Filming Musical Cultures. Bern: Peter Lang.
Eckert, C. & Rocha, A. L.C. (2016). “Antropologia da imagem no Brasil: experiências fundacionais para a construção de uma comunidade interpretativa”. Iluminuras, 17(41), 277–297.
Feld, Steven. (2012). Jazz cosmopolitanism in Accra: five musical years in Ghana. Durham: Duke University Press.
Glick-Schiller, N. & Meinhof, U. H. (2011). “Singing a New Song? Transnational Migration, Methodological Nationalism and Cosmopolitan Perspectives” [in Special Issue: Music and Migration]. Music and Arts in Action 3 (3): 21–39.
Leaha, M.; Hikiji, R. S.; Chalcraft, J.; Lopes, A.; Brandão, J. (2021). Dialogue over time: reception, improvisation, and mediation in collaborative ethnographic filmmaking. Trajectoria: anthropology, museums and art, v. 2, p. 1-20.
Lühning, A. & Tugny, R. eds. (2016) Etnomusicologia no Brasil. Salvador: EDUFBA.
Reily, S. (2021). ‘Local musicking and the production of locality’. GIS – Gesture, Image and Sound – Anthropology Journal, 6(1).
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: the meanings of performance and listening. Middletown, Ct: Wesleyan University Press.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement
The presence and impact of the African heritage in Brazil has been the object of political, academic, and artistic inquiry for centuries. And for a good reason. During the three and a half centuries of the transatlantic slave trade nearly five million Africans forcibly relocated to Brazil, leaving an indelible mark in Brazilian culture that touches all aspects of life. But transatlantic movements between Brazil and Africa are not limited to the slave trade. Emancipated Africans and creoles relocated from Bahia to West Africa in the nineteenth century forming communities along the coast between Lagos and Accra that today still identify as Brazilians. Commercial routes between Lagos and Bahia were maintained after abolition facilitating bi-directional migration. Many practitioners of African and Afro-Brazilian traditional religions have visited each other in a bid to reestablish historical connections. Activists, musicians, dancers, and other types of artists have followed suit.
The recent arrival of Africans from various nationalities to São Paulo in search of new lives is the most recent, but surely not the last, episode of this transatlantic saga. The 43-minute film Afro-Sampas documents this migration focusing on a handful of musicians from Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique who use music to navigate the challenges of integration into the largest metropolis of South America. Through arranged encounters between them and various local musicians, the newcomers express their aspirations, frustrations, hopes for a better life, longing for home, and insights into Brazilian culture and racial politics. In this sense, the film accurately and compellingly reflects the research project that its co-directors designed to support it: Being/Becoming African in Brazil: African musics and heritages. The film portrays harmonious encounters between pairs formed by a Brazilian and an African musician where both parties are mutually curious about and respectful towards each other’s musical backgrounds, personal stories, and world views. We see and hear a variety of instruments ranging from traditional African and Afro-Brazilian drums and rattles of different sizes and styles, to the emblematic Brazilian pandeiro, and to “Western” instruments such as the guitar and the double bass.
Although the presence of percussion is relatively heavy, it is refreshing to see a Congolese musician playing the guitar as his main instrument and a Togolese percussionist playing a xylophone. This tempers the myth that African music is all about rhythm and percussion. The featured Brazilian musicians seem genuinely invested in learning from their African counterparts and in creating meaningful musical connections with them. And for the most part they do. Beautifully so. I was particularly taken by the jam sessions between Yanick Delass and Meno del Picchia; especially when they play each other’s songs. But there are a couple of cringeworthy moments where Brazilian percussionist Ari Colare seems to impose a way of understanding musical time to Togolese percussionist Edoh Fiho. The latter ends up complying to Colare’s insistence that Africans do not count while playing music, when Fiho was precisely doing that. This resulted in a strange image where the Brazilian was “explaining” African people how “African” rhythm works. At a deeper level, the exchange reflects Colare’s homogeneous view of African music, which he justified by reiterating the trope that Africans united their culture in Brazil to survive the horrors of slavery and colonialism.
It was good to hear Fiho’s setting the record straight: “Africa is a continent; the culture, music, and rhythm in every country is different.” These tensions were highlighted by Colare’s whiteness, which in a later instance he addresses but then downplays by claiming that he, like all Brazilians has African blood. Surely some viewers will ask why none of the Brazilian musicians in this film looked like the featured Africans when there are so many black musicians to choose from in São Paulo. Save from these instances, the film succeeds in revisiting the topic of the African presence in Brazil and making a unique contribution to the complexities of its musical expressions in a contemporary urban setting. Musicians explore their identities and connections in real time and in historical perspective. For instance, we learn that a rattle used in an Afroreligious tradition called Congado Mineiro may have a Mozambican predecessor. Regardless of the plausibility of this genealogy, the film reflects the real desire of Brazilian musicians to discover and affirm their connections to the African continent. In this reviewer’s view, it would have been more appropriate to close the film with one of the many songs where Delass, Bahule, or Fiho reflect on their experiences in Brazil or remember their countries rather than the Afro-Brazilian maculelê song that we hear as the credit pages roll up.
Review 2: Accept submission for publication with no amendments
Afro-Sampas is an interesting and original production. The directors managed to evidence the impact of the constant reinvention of Brazilian music through the recent African diaspora in Brazil. It also contributes to questioning prejudices about locality of samba in Brazil (there is samba in São Paulo!!). The dynamic chosen for the film, the one of dialogue in ideas and music, makes the discussion on topics such as race, identity, miscegenation, and prejudices in Brazil clearly embodied in the relation Ethics-Aesthetics. Methodologically the work is a good example of audio-visual ethnography. The relations director-research-actor-audience is well designed and challenges traditional perceptions of roles in research/art. The film is scholarly oriented and discussions on decolonization are well arranged around the interviews and performances. What I would comment as a risk –perhaps deliberately taken by the directors – is that the artists are still sometimes depicted as the object of the research, rather than participants of it. The line between a colonial objectification of this other migrant music/musician and their own agency in guiding the script of the film is very thin. At some parts of the film is like the ‘Brazilian’ voice is the one giving meaning to this ‘migrant’ voice.
In sum, this is a very relevant film for an ethical-aesthetical discussion about identity in music in Brazil. It is timely, considering that it comes in the year of the celebration of the centenary of the Modern Art Week in Brazil, a foundational event for Brazilian modernism and for discussions on identity, influence and originality in Brazilian music. The film is to be seeing having as background a critical reading of Mario de Andrade’s book, Aspectos da Música Brasileira (Aspects of the Brazilian Music), as the film contributes to the demystification of what were considered for years as the canonical understanding of what is Brazilian music. The title deserves a note. Very creative intertextual connection to the Afro-Sambas by Banden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes, and Sampa, by Caetano Veloso.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.
Rose Satiko Gitirana Hikiji is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of São Paulo. Vice-coordinator of the Laboratory of Image and Sound in Anthropology. Author of the books Imagem-violência and A música e o risco, she made several ethnographic films, including Woya Hayi Mawe – Where are you going to? and Tabuluja (Wake up!).
Jasper Chalcraft is a British anthropologist, filmmaker and heritage activist working with how music and cultural heritage can be used for greater social inclusion. Co-editor of the book The Making of Heritage: seduction and disenchantment. Co-director of Afro-Sampas, Woya Hayi Mawe – Where are you going to? and Tabuluja (Wake up!).