African American History Culture : ILE AIYE (HOUSE OF LIFE)


Well-Known Member
Jun 8, 2004
November 1998

Life School
Ilê Aiyê means house of life in Yoruba. Ilê Aiyê is also a musical group and a way of thinking and appreciating the black way of life. In Bahia the group is an institution and Vovô, its founder and director, an inspiration.
Kirsten Weinoldt
I could hardly believe my own eyes, when I read the phone message the desk clerk at Hotel do Farol in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, handed me. Conceição Boaventura, producer of Ilê Aiyê, had called and requested that I call her back. She spoke no English, but I understood that she was asking me if I would like to interview Antônio Carlos dos Santos, Vovô, the director of Ilê Aiyê, a musical group, one of whose CDs I had bought a couple of years earlier and enjoyed very much.

I had even attended one of their rehearsals in the old house of detention in Barbalho, a neighborhood of Salvador. I asked her if that's where she wanted me to meet Senhor Vovô, but she explained that they had moved back to Liberdade, and that she would have a car pick me up. I had but two days to research the group and come up with appropriate questions of the man I had seen in Barbalho on a couple of occasions—a tall, dark man whose shy demeanor was apparent.

Though a musical group, Ilê Aiyê, whose name is a Yoruba phrase that means House of Life, has a more important focus, namely of the appreciation of the black way of life. Furthermore, it stresses self-esteem of its members through education and training in music and Afro-Brazilian traditions.

Ilê Aiyê was founded on November 1st 1974 by Vovô and his friend, the late Apolônio de Jesus. They chose the neighborhood of Liberdade, Freedom, for the headquarters of their movement. Liberdade was settled by former slaves after the abolition of slavery in 1888 to celebrate their newly found liberty.

However, as is the case with many groups with no political influence, its people are largely overlooked and neglected by local and national politicians as well as sponsors. When Vovô founded Ilê Aiyê, he took on his shoulders a lifetime of commitment to improve the conditions of his neighborhood of some 400,000 people as well as those of all Brazilians of African descent.

Music is the main argument of Ilê Aiyê. At Carnaval in 1975, it became the first Afro bloco, Afro group, to march in a Carnaval parade. The Associação Cultural Bloco Carnavalesco Ilê Aiyê, Cultural Association Carnaval Group Ilê Aiyê has as its aim to preserve the Afro culture in Brazil. During the past 24 years, the organization has been responsible for awakening within the black population of Bahia, the awareness of its African roots. And at the center of it all is Mãe Hilda, mother of Vovô, and mãe de santo, priestess, of Candomblé. She is the spiritual leader and foremost authority of Ilê Aiyê.

Inspired by the Black Power movement of the United States and the struggle for independence in many African nations, the backbone of the movement is to be found in Candomblé, the religious expression brought from Africa under the most horrendous of circumstances—that of the slave ships with their inhumane cargo.

In spite of opposition from slave owners and other hardships endured, the survivors managed to preserve tradition, religion, music, and language, which today is part of the Portuguese spoken by some 160 million Brazilians. Every Brazilian, however far removed from African descent, now uses expressions brought by people hundreds of years ago, who had nothing left but the contents of their minds.

The Afro-Brazilian organization begun by Ilê Aiyê spawned many other similar groups in the 70s and 80s. They helped spreading the word and rhythm of Afro-Brazil around their own country as well as throughout the world. Even the most mainstream of musicians in Brazilian Popular Music, MPB, have been touched by those rhythms. People like Caetano Veloso, Lecy Brandão, Gilberto Gil, and Martinho da Vila, have included the influence in their own work.



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