Follow us:

Ich mache mir die (ägyptische) Welt, wie sie mir gefällt!
Image Alt

Eu Falei Faraó! Ancient Egypt in Brazilian Carnival, by Thais Rocha da Silva

Eu Falei Faraó! Ancient Egypt in Brazilian Carnival, by Thais Rocha da Silva

Ancient Egypt has made its mark in Brazil, not just in museums but also in various aspects of Brazilian popular culture. From music to soap operas, memes, and even the Carnival, we have produced a unique and tropicalized version of ancient Egypt.

Just recently, a German Egyptologist friend of mine reached out for help in translating a Brazilian song about ancient Egypt. As we chatted, I realized how Brazil has its own take on Egypt, with pyramids, pharaohs, and the sphinx reimagined and adapted to the Brazilian reality. This got me thinking about Egypt’s influence on Brazilian pop culture and its connection to the Carnival, a massive cultural phenomenon in our huge country. The Brazilian Carnival is a wild mix of regional and cultural influences, from African beats in the Northeast to the flashy samba parades in Rio and São Paulo.

During the 1970s, several movements advocating for the celebration and recognition of black culture emerged worldwide. Examples include the Négritude movement, the incarceration of Angela Davis in the USA, the establishment of Africa Day by the UN, and the independence of numerous African nations. Afro blocos emerged in Brazil within this context in Salvador, the capital of Bahia. It was an adaptation of samba schools to the Brazilian street Carnival, where the electric trio plays a fundamental role, unlike traditional samba schools influenced by the Rio de Janeiro model. The first bloco was Ilê Ayê (‘our home’ in Yorubá), created by Antônio Carlos dos Santos dedicated entirely to black participants. These blocos were not just music groups, but true institutions that transmitted history and culture.

Many aspects of African, Afro-Brazilian, and indigenous history, now present in official school curricula, were introduced through the songs of these blocos. They played a crucial role in disseminating information about prominent African figures such as King Axanti, Ossei Tutu, as well of countries like Senegal, and historical events such as the Buzios Revolt. The songs featured in the Bahian carnival aimed to promote a positive image of Africa and black people around the world, highlighting their participation in history beyond their historical role as slaves.

Fig. 1: Margareth Menezes performing Faraó. Source: Youtube

The Buzios Revolt, also referred to as the ‘Revolt of the Tailors’, marked a rebellion in Bahia against Portuguese rule. Inspired by the Haitian Independence, it was orchestrated by black individuals and mestizos, including both free people and slaves, who faced discrimination. The blocos like Ilê, Olodum, Malê Debalê, and Muzenza were responsible for sharing these stories and legends with the public, playing a vital role in preserving and promoting Afro-Brazilian culture.

In this new vision of Africa and the African past, ancient Egypt was crucial in creating a positive image of African people. The song Faraó, divindade do Egito (‘Pharaoh, deity of Egypt’), a song from 1987 by Luciano Gomes reflects a pivotal moment in Brazilian history, with people fighting racism and democracy after years of military rule (1964-1985). Gomes worked as composer for many blocos in the Bahian carnival and was inspired by this new moment in which African history started being seen in a more positive way. Some Brazilian intellectuals and artists from 1980s, such as Abdias Nascimento e Lelia Gonzales, started seeing ancient Egypt as a symbol of black civilization, inspired by African independence movements and ideas of racial equality.

Fig. 2: Cover of the single Faraó by Djalma Oliveira and Margareth Menezes. Image: Wikicommons.

The composer of Faraó shared in an interview for UOL (see here) how he found inspiration in an old black and white book (unknown) about pharaohs in the library. He said he was keen to learn more about the history of the pharaohs. The lyrics, however, are not concerned with historical accuracy, and mix different time periods, characters and mythologies.

Faraó was an instant samba-reggae success, launched as a single by Epic Records, featuring Margareth Menezes (today Minister of Culture). Initially, the producer Nestor Madrid, who worked on the song with Djalma Oliveira and Margareth Menezes, expressed surprise at the lyrics. “The lyrics are this? All this? Who’s going to memorize this? This is impossible…,” he said in a statement to the documentary Axé – Canto do Povo de um Lugar (Axé – Song of the People from a Place; Chico Kertész, 2017, Brazil).

The song celebrates the perceived blackness of ancient Egyptians and their role the ancestors of the black community. It references Egyptian mythology and famous rulers such as Tutankhamun and Nefertiti, tapping into our fascination with Egypt’s rich history. In Faraó, the main message is fighting racism. It became at that time a way for black Brazilians to connect with the powerful black Egyptians of the past and challenge the narrative of slavery.

Since then, Faraó has been performed every year at the carnival, and Brazilian groups such as Olodum have incorporated ancient Egypt and pharaohs into their music. They set up their base in Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador. Pelourinho, also known as ‘Pelô’; this translates as ‘whipping post’ in Portuguese, referencing a location in Salvador where slave auctions took place during colonial times. This adds to the song a political undertone, echoing the ideas of Cheikh Anta Diop, who viewed ancient Egypt as the birthplace of black civilization. As much as problematic these associations are, to many Brazilians, specially in Bahia, Egypt isn’t just a distant history lesson: it is a source of inspiration, empowerment, and cultural identity.

You can listen and watch “Faraó” here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdNHfnnNvV8

 

Faraó, Divindade do Egito lyrics:

 

Deuses, divindade infinita do universo.

Predominante esquema mitológico.

A ênfase do espírito original, Shu,

formará no Éden o Ovo Cósmico.

 

A emersão, nem Osíris sabe como aconteceu.

A emersão, nem Osíris sabe como aconteceu.

A ordem, ou submissão do olho seu,

transformou-se na verdadeira humanidade.

 

Epopéia do Código de Geb.

E Nut gerou as estrelas.

Osíris proclamou matrimônio com Ísis

e o mau Seth, irado, o assassinou, em Empera Há.

 

Hórus, levando avante a vingança do pai,

derrotando o império do mau Seth,

o grito da vitória é que nos satisfaz.

 

Cadê? Tutankâmon

Ei Gizé

Akhaenaton

Ei Gizé

Tutankâmon

Ei Gizé

Akhaenaton

 

Eu Falei Faraó

Êeeee Faraó

Eu clamo Olodum Pelourinho

Êeeee Faraó

Pirâmide a base do Egito

Êeeee Faraó

É eu clamo Olodum rebentão

Êeeee Faraó

Batendo na palma da mão

 

Que mara-mara-mara

Maravilha-ê

Egito, Egito Ê

Que mara-mara-mara

Maravilha-ê

Egito, Egito Ê

Faraó-ó. Ó-ó-ó

Faraó-ó. Ó-ó-ó

 

Pelourinho, uma pequena comunidade

que porém o Olodum unira, em laços de confraternidade.

Despertai-vos para a cultura egípcia no Brasil:

em vez de cabelos trançados, veremos turbantes de Tutankâmon.

 

E as cabeças se enchem de liberdade.

O povo negro pede igualdade

deixando de lado as separações.

 

Cadê? Tutankâmon

Ei Gizé

Akhaenaton

Ei Gizé

Tutankâmon

Ei Gizé

Akhaenaton

 

Eu Falei Faraó

Êeeee Faraó

Eu clamo Olodum Pelourinho

Êeeee Faraó

Pirâmide a base do Egito

Êeeee Faraó

É eu clamo Olodum rebentão

Êeeee Faraó

Batendo na palma da mão

 

Que mara-mara-mara

Maravilha-ê

Egito, Egito Ê

Que mara-mara-mara

Maravilha-ê

Egito, Egito Ê

Faraó-ó. Ó-ó-ó

Faraó-ó. Ó-ó-ó”

Author: Thais Rocha da Silva, Universidade de São Paulo

Featured image: Olodum drummers wearing Egyptianizing costume in Bahian carnival. Image: Marcos Costa/Ag Haack (Link here)

Write a Comment


Project Manager

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Researchers

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel - Rogério Sousa - Eleanor Dobson - Filip Taterka - Guillermo Juberías Gracia - José das Candeias Sales
Nuno Simões Rodrigues - Samuel Fernández-Pichel - Sara Woodward - Tara Sewell-Lasater - Thomas Gamelin – Leire Olabarría
Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio - Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier - Marc Orriols-Llonch


egypopcult.lisboa@gmail.com

Total Visitors: 19690
Today Visitors: 9

Visitors online:

The Egypopcult Project is hosted by the Center for History of the University of Lisbon.