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Music & clubs

Brazilian Beats in Berlin: Introducing Bantunagojêje

Spearheaded by Brazilian musician and composer Paulo Cedraz, Bantunagojêje are a Berlin nine-strong collective that fuse together Afrobeat, fusion jazz and funk.

Photo: Damian J Charles

Their music is rooted in the drumming style of Candomblé, an African diasporic religion that developed in Brazil during the 19th century. Both in style and substance, Bantunagojêje are an energetic force that need to be seen as well as heard. Playing at Durchlüften, a new festival taking place at the Humboldt Forum later this summer, we caught up with the band to find out more.

Who are Bantunagojêje and how did you all get together?

Bantunagojêje is a band led by me, Paulo Cedraz. It began as an appreciation for Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat but developed beyond the idiosyncrasies of it. It offers an interpretation of Afrobeat that’s based on the culture of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, which is characterised by a combination of many African diasporas.The formation of the band has changed completely throughout the years and crystallised into a community of skilled musicians and crew who we call family. We’re a diverse family comprised of Latinxs, Blacks, white, females, males, queer, non-Europeans, as well as European individuals. Bantunagojêje is a house. A plural space where everyone is invited to a conscious celebration, a catharsis and (hopefully) an exercise of radical imagination and radical questioning. Dystopia is a forced construct. Let’s carry the torch of utopia one generation further, because that’s the only possible reality in which we can live and not just survive.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Many popular Bahian artists and music styles were and are a huge cultural and political inspiration. Pioneering artists and groups like Ilê Aiyê, Olodum and Gerônimo Santana had massive hits in the 80s with songs about race issues and Black pride in a country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. It would take a long list to name all our musical influences and to do justice to their contribution to the band. We have organised an artist playlist with this goal in mind. In terms of sound, it’d be safe to name Fela Kuti and Gilberto Gil as great sources of inspiration, as well as Latin Jazz power groups such as Irakere.

Photo: © Jannik Steusloff

The music is connected with the religion of Candomblé, what’s so special about it?

Candomblé is ever present in Bahian daily life and music. It is a religion of renewal and resistance. Orixás (spirits) are celebrated in song and dance with countless lessons and meanings. While many of these spiritual lessons and concepts are accessible to the public via culture, the liturgy is a best kept secret. Our focus is on the drumming tradition of Candomblé that forms and informs Brazilian culture in every way, and has inspired and offered means of expression for so many artists — Brazilians and non-Brazilians alike. Many of Bantunagojêje’s songs talk about or honour the Orixás, but proselytising or representing a religious institution is not our goal. There are a few Orixá devotees in the band, but the focus is on offering an experience of togetherness, and inviting bigger reflections.

Can you go into detail a bit more about your music, its origins and meaning?

Growing up in Bahia in the 80s shaped my taste for politically infused dance music without me being aware of it. That would definitely be the first formative element for my music. In my teens I discovered Fela Kuti’s music and the Afrobeat genre, at the same time that I was discovering John Coltrane. It wasn’t until I had been living in Germany for a few years, when a wider public was becoming aware of Afrobeat, that I realised that I might have a unique take to present. That’s when I started writing specifically for this project, which I wanted to be danceable, live instrumental music with a dose of political content.The three components of the band name – BANTU, NAGÔ, and JÊJE – refer to the three largest groups of Candomblé, while also referencing the African peoples who originated it. Nagô would refer to the Yoruba people, while Jêje is a term associated mainly with Fon peoples.

Photo: Candomblé, Wikipedia Commons

What music have you released so far, and what more can we expect down the line?

We have released five singles independently so far. Like many other artists, the pandemic ruined many of our plans. With the help of funding from the Music Board Berlin we were able to record the first half of a now completed album which is coming out soon, and there’s a second album already in the making.

Where can Berliners see you play?

We’re totally stoked to be part of the line-up of this year’s Durchlüften Festival at the Humboldt Forum, organised by the mighty Melissa Perales. We hope you come so that we can play for you! We’ll be also playing at the Conscious Madness Festival around Berlin and a couple more dates TBA on our website.

Bantunagojêje will be playing at Durchlüften at the Humboldt Forum on August 4.

For more information about the festival, visit the website here.